Canvas Best Practices: Faculty

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Canvas is the learning management system used to deliver our online courses at Penn State. The information on this page provides some useful tips that we recommend in our online courses. This is not a comprehensive list of how to use Canvas. To see all Canvas documentation visit the Canvas Instructor Guides.


One way to help personalize you in the course is to create a Canvas profile with your picture. The picture appears small in the course so it's a best practice to use a picture where they can see you clearly.

For steps on adding a profile picture please visit the Canvas guide 'How do I edit my profile in my user account as an instructor?'.

In order for your announcements to appear dynamically for students when they first log into your course, set your announcements to appear on your Canvas course homepage.

For steps on adding recent announcements to your homepage visit the Canvas guide 'How do I show recent announcements in the Canvas Course Home Page?''


Communicating with individual students

For the online courses, it's a best practice to use the learning management system (Canvas) email tool (Conversations) for all private communications between you and an individual student. This keeps all communication in one place.

For more information on using Conversations in Canvas visit 'How do I use Conversations as an instructor?'.


For whole class communication, we recommend using canvas announcements. These communications would not contain personal student information related to grades or other information. Use Conversations for individual student concerns and grades.

The announcements provide a full editor as well as the ability to add video or audio posts. The students receive the full text of announcements in their school email and any other email they set up in their notifications.

See the following guides for details and additional information on Canvas announcements.

Canvas Discussions

Canvas discussions allow students and teachers to discuss asynchronously in a threaded forum. When using discussions in your class consider the following tips:

  • Select 'users must post before seeing replies' if you're asking a question and would like to see original thought on the student's replies.
  • If you have a general open question forum then do not make users post before seeing replies.
  • Consider using 'group discussions' if you have a large class. The smaller groups can create less anxiety in some students.
  • Remember that just like in class, students must first build community before you can expect to see a free flow of ideas.
  • Providing them with netiquette rules can help reduce inappropriate or unhelpful posts. (Netiquette - College of EMS)

For more information regarding Canvas discussions view 'How do I create a discussion as an instructor?'.


Adding assignments to the gradebook

Any graded assignment, quiz, or discussion will appear in the gradebook as soon as the item is created in Canvas.

Exporting to LionPath

The 'final grade' listed in the Canvas gradebook may not be the exact grade that exports to Canvas. If you have any ungraded submissions the grade in Canvas reflects as if that assignment did not count. If you export with ungraded submissions, Canvas will turn that score into a zero. One way to verify the score you are exporting is to export the Canvas gradebook into a CSV file. The last column in the CSV file reflects the grade that is exported to LionPath.

The directions on how to prepare your grades for export to LionPath can be found in the STAT Online Faculty guide as well on the Penn State Knowledge Base: Canvas: Prepare Grades for LionPath.

There are two ways to enter the grades into LionPath. View the following tutorials for assistance in each:

There are many ways for students to communicate with their instructor in Canvas. If your notifications are not set correctly you may not receive them. Here are a few of the commonly missed ones that you should set your notifications to receive.

For more on how to set your notifications view the Canvas instructor guide 'How do I set my Canvas notification preferences as an instructor?'

The following are notifications recommended that you should set to receive immediately.

Announcements New announcements posted by your TA
Announcements created by you Great way to verify your announcement went out to the students
Invitation Students or TA may invite you to a collaboration or web conference
Late Grading This will let you know when an assignment was submitted late and requires grading
Submission Comment Students may leave a comment when they submit their assignment. Without a notification, you will not see this comment until you grade the submission.
Discussion Post Will send notifications of any new posts in a topic you're subscribed to. I would subscribe to any 'help' forums.
Added to Conversation When you are added to a conversation
Conversation Message You will get a notification when a student messages you via the inbox
Administrative Alerts I would sign up for this as a daily report


The following video addresses how to update your Canvas quizzes with new or updated questions from another course or master course.


Navigating the course in Canvas should be smooth and not require any extra cognitive load on the student. It also is important to have a consistent navigation across the STAT program as students move from course to course.

The World Campus user interface study recommended the following order for your course navigation (in order):

  • Home
  • Announcements
  • Syllabus
  • Modules
  • Grades
  • People

After people, add ‘Discussions’, as well as any other 3rd party tools like ‘’ and ‘Piazza.’

View the Canvas guide on how to order your course menu links, 'How do I manage course navigation links?.'

The first time students enter the course what do you want them to see? How do they get started? Introduce yourself (video?) and the course to engage their interest both socially and cognitively.

Examples of mobile-friendly home pages with Penn State styling can be found in the STAT Online Faculty Resources Canvas site (PSU STAT instructors access only).

Organize by nicknames

Too many Canvas sections to sift through? Too long of a course title? You can fix this in Canvas by using ‘nicknames’. Course nicknames show up in the dashboard, course navigation menu, ‘all courses’ list, course breadcrumbs, and notification emails. Your ‘all courses’ list will arrange alphabetically by your nickname. So if you like to group by courses you could use ‘415.002 SU19’ or if you want to group by semester you could use ‘SU19 415.002’.

The short nickname is extremely helpful when trying to find your course while composing a message in the inbox.

The nickname is different than the course name in the settings of your course. The names in the settings sync with Examity so it's best to not modify them. This is why nicknames are so useful. Only you see it!

View the Canvas guide to see how to set a course nickname, 'How do I view my favorite courses in the Card View Dashboard as an instructor?'.