Getting the Most out of the Gradebook and SpeedGrader in Canvas

What’s Different about the Canvas Gradebook? 

The Gradebook in Canvas and the Grade Center in Blackboard are similar in many respects. The Grades link is how you and your students access the course gradebook – just like the Grade Center in Blackboard.  The gradebook is where you will view and grade student submissions and assign weights to assignment groups for Total grade calculation.  Unlike Blackboard, you can’t weight a column without putting it an assignment group. Also, you can’t manually create a column in the gradebook like you could in Blackboard, so you must create an assignment for a column to be created in the gradebook, even if that is activity is not submitted through Canvas.   

Enhancements to Gradebook include the options to automatically assign a zero score to missing assignments or deduct points for late submissions.   

Activities can be graded by simply entering a grade, using a rubric, or using SpeedGrader in Canvas, which is similar to Blackboard’s in-line grading function.   

With SpeedGrader you can:

  • View student submissions (text entries, website URLs, media recordings, and/or file uploads); preview supported file types in Canvas 
  • Make annotations on supported files 
  • Assign a grade based on your preferred assessment method (points or percentage) 
  • View Rubric to assist with grading (if one is added to the assignment) 
  • View comments created by you or the student about the assignment 
  • Create text, video, and/or audio commentary for the student 

How does this align to Canvas training materials?

Canvas logoPriming the Canvas: Module 1: Getting Started “Assignment, Grading and Quizzes”


Additional Resources:

Our next article will highlight Mobile Apps – Student & Instructorvisit Canvas Blog to see all our Canvas articles. 

New Canvas Features for October 2021

New Canvas Features for October 2021

Canvas at WCUCanvas New Features
October 2021

Canvas provides updates to the platform every month without disruption to service. Some of them are minor fixes and others provide additional features and functionality to users.  As we reach the middle of the first full semester with Canvas we thought we’d highlight for you some of the most recent updates that may make your work in the online learning environment more efficient and effective.

New Feature Details

Navigation Menus will be “Sticky”

In the past, the left-hand navigation items would scroll with the page so that users would have to scroll back up to navigate.  With this change, the navigation menu will “stick”, making the menu visible at all times without having to scroll.

SpeedGrader: Ability to Edit Submission Status

The SpeedGrader sidebar now includes an Edit icon that can be used to change submission status for assignments. Status can be edited the same way as was previously only available in the Gradebook. Adjusting a status in SpeedGrader, will, of course, also update the Gradebook.

Some details about Status

  • Setting the status to missing will add a “missing” label. This additional signal could be used to help nudge students toward the completion of assignments.
  • If a late policy is enabled, setting the status to late displays the “late” label. Additionally, a text field allows the grader to enter a value for the days/hours late.
  • Setting the status to “excused” displays the Excused status, and the grade field displays as “EX” and is grayed-out, and will not be counted in the total for that assignment category. (The excused function will not work well if you are using total points and not using the assignment category weighting).
  • Setting the status to “None” removes any labels that were previously displayed for the assignment.

Figure A: SpeedGrader Status Edit Menu Examples

The Edit Status icon is not displayed in the following assignment scenarios:

  • Previously submitted submissions (only the most recent submission is supported)
  • Concluded user enrollments
  • Inactive student enrollments
  • Assignments that require moderated grading
  • Assignments in a closed grading period

Gradebook: Assignment Search

Another updated feature is the addition of a search field in the Gradebook that can search for assignment names.  This gives instructors another way to sort and control their workflow.  This allows for a search of student names as well in a separate search box.

Improved Navigation for Course Notification Customization

Canvas allows users to customize their notification preferences for their entire account and to create special notifications for specific courses.  For example, an instructor might choose to create a more frequent notification schedule for a fully online course than for a course that is only offered face-to-face.  In the past, making granular course level changes took going deeper into the course settings.  Now course notification preferences can be customized on the main notifications page using a drop-down menu.

Please note: Students are also able to set their own notifications per course. If you are using notifications to students as a strategy for engaging them, make sure to specify how they should set their notifications for your course so they are not missing out on communication from you.

Figure B: Notifications Page screenshot

User Settings: Microsoft Immersive Reader Additional Feature Areas

To help engage students at all levels of learning and with all learning differences, we have long advised the use of the accessibility checker in the Canvas page editor.  Our Microsoft 365 account and the Canvas integration now enable a new tool that allows any user to use the Microsoft Immersive Reader to use the Microsoft AI to give students more options for accessible use of content. Students will have this option visible on their screens so they can use it when they need to.

Figure C: New Immersive Reader Button

If you really want to stay up-to-date with Canvas’ new features, become an insider by subscribing to Canvas Releases in the Canvas Community.

Or Feel Free to Watch the Highlight Videos for Each of These Updates

Release Screencast: 2021-10-16 Navigation (Sticky Navigation Menu)

Release Screencast: 2021-10-16 SpeedGrader (Submission Status Label Edits)

Release Screencast: 2021-10-16 Gradebook (Assignment Search)

Release Screencast: 2021-10-16 Notifications (Course Customization)

Release Screencast: 2021-10-16 User Settings (Microsoft Immersive Reader Additional Feature Areas)





Classroom Discussion – Planning Tips for Online, On-Ground, and New Faculty

group of college students gathered about a table talking to each otherLooking for some new ideas for classroom discussion?

Seeking an idea for an online discussion?

What about a guide for setting norms/expectations related to discussion practices?

We have identified some resources to help you think through these questions.


Tips for the new teacher

Are you unsure of the role that discussion should play in your class? This guide by the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Teaching and Learning, Guidelines for Classroom Interactions, frames the discussion, first and foremost, as an exercise in knowing how your course goals align to the discussion as a lens for knowing and learning.

Classroom teachers looking for a quick, digital resource, the IDEA paper Effective Classroom Discussions covers expectation-setting, teacher roles, and student roles, in an attractive and chunked layout. Useful when planning for a future course.

Tips for the online teacher

If you teach online and are looking for ideas on how to maximize engagement in online discussions, Kreiger, Lee, and Zolkover, instructional designers at Penn State, recently presented on this topic at the 2021 CanvasCon conference. In their presentation Change the Prompt, Not the Tool: Developing Effective Discussions, they share information for new online teachers. They suggest that faculty write out their responses to these 5 steps, prior to posting them to the LMS:

  1. What is the context? Why are you asking them to respond?
  2. How does it fit? Write an explanation for how the assignment fits into the course.
  3. How should they proceed? Write out, 1-2-3, what they are to do. Since online students typically have to wait longer for a response, they advise that you “build in” the help. See the course from their eyes.
  4. Clarify grading. Provide some clarity on how they are graded, and remember that in Canvas, discussions can be high-stakes (with a point value or rubric) or low-stakes (with a complete/incomplete checkmark).
  5. Scaffold the responses. Let them know how the response “flow” should work. Are you wanting them to respond to others? (remember that this can require students to log in frequently, just to see if a response has been posted). Or do you want a rotating moderator to collect all responses, and summarize and present those to the class?

All of this information, now typed and on-screen, is tidy and structured for copy-paste into the Canvas LMS discussion rich content editor – so students will then know the big picture, and all the details, associated with the discussion.

Another helpful resource is the book Engaging the Online Learner by Rita-Marie Conrad and J. Ana Donaldson. The book frames the discussion as a small component of online engagement. Faculty will enjoy the foundational frame and theory the authors provide (constructivist and problem-based). You will not only see online classes in a new light but you will also be provided dozens of discussion-based activities and icebreakers that stem from the theory. Grab and use! One of our favorite texts!. The library has a copy; you can search for the call numbers here.

Tips for facilitating challenging classroom conversations

Many university teaching and learning centers provide guidance for handling challenging or controversial subjects. One of our favorites is the tips provided by Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching, Difficult Dialogues, as they don’t just discuss procedures for handling the challenging topic (helpful as that is). Rather, following a discussion they integrate activities for gauging student understanding that is writing- and reflection-based.

In summary, there are a lot of resources to help inspire new and innovative ideas and thinking for both the new and experienced instructor, whether teaching face-to-face or online.

Further Reading/Viewing:
Conrad, R. M., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Vol. 38). John Wiley & Sons.
Lee, L., Krieger, J. M., and Adam D. Zolkover. (2021). L. Change the Prompt, Not the Tool: Developing Effective Discussions. [Video]. InstructureCon.

How to Release Content Conditionally in Canvas

Would you like to require students to participate in a discussion, view a file, or some other prerequisite before moving forward in your Canvas course? Faculty who enjoyed Blackboard’s adaptive release tool will be pleased with what Canvas offers, as it’s easier to use, and more flexible. 

 You have multiple ways to release content conditionally: 

  • By date and time 
  • By requiring completion of another module, in its entirety 
  • By requiring students view a file, or mark it as done 
  • By requiring students participatin a discussion 
  • By requiring students to submit an assignment 
  • By requiring a performance threshold on a submitted assignment  

It’s recommended that you build a module or two before configuring the conditional release settings. However, we encourage you texperiment with the tool at any time, as it opens up ideas for how you can design and facilitate your course.   


To Get Started:  

Go into a Canvas course, navigate to your Modules page, and click the three dots, as shown below, to edit the module. The settings will appear on the page. 

Kebob menu

 Module Conditional Release Settings: 

edit module settings popup window

An Instructure-developed video provides a walk-through on setting up the settings. You’ll need to navigate to the two-minute mark for the demonstration on module settings.

When you set up prerequisite modules, students must complete a module before moving to the next module.

For each module, you can only set prerequisite modules that come before a specific module. You may need to reorder modules to create correct prerequisite availability.

Please note that you cannot prevent a student from accessing an upcoming module unless requirements have also been set for the prior modules. Requirements indicate the order that students are required to complete module items.

Note: You can only add prerequisites if you have added at least one module.

How does this align to Canvas training materials?

Canvas logoPriming the Canvas: Module 6 “Structuring the Course”


Additional Resources: 

Our next article will highlight Gradebook & Speedgradervisit Canvas Blog to see all our Canvas articles. 

Canvas’ Rich Content Editor

Understanding the powers of the RCE in Canvas will enable you to craft information to your students in not only a visually compelling way but also encourage engagement with your content while offering clearer information. 

The following Canvas features use the Rich Content Editor:  Announcements, Assignments, Discussions, Pages, Quizzes and Syllabus. 

overview of the rich content editor

Menus [1] 

Menus are listed above the toolbar where you can find the all features available in the RCE. *Note: There are some less common features only available in the menus and not the toolbar.  

Toolbar [2] 

Buttons on the toolbar are condensed and grouped by related function. Clicking the down arrow next to buttonssimilar to the Apps & Integrations button [4reveals a fuller list of choices. 

Integrations [3] 

The buttons for Panopto and Office 365 are featured as top-level buttons in the RCE. Additional integrations are available by clicking the External Apps & Integrations button [4]. Clicking View All [5] reveals a full list of available integrations. Click on the title of the app from the popup menu to select it. *Note: Recently used apps/integrations will be listed in a quick-list under the plugin button.   

Status Bar [6]

The status bar under the menu is where you can find the Accessibility Checker [7]the Raw HTML Editor mode button [8] and a button to go Fullscreen [9]Note: A Keyboard Shortcuts reminder is also available in the Status bar area.  

Condensed Toolbar

Important to note: If your screen is too narrow to show the entire toolbar, Canvas will compact some of the items into a More button at the end of the toolbar. Click the More button to see the rest of them. 

condensed toolbar snowman menu in the Cavas RCE

More About the Accessibility Checker in the RCE: 

The Rich Content Editor supports multiple accessibility features for easy creation of accessible content: 

    • The Rich Content Editor includes an accessibility tool that checks common accessibility errors within the editor. This tool can help you design course content while considering accessibility attributes and is located in the Rich Content Editor menu bar. Learn how to use the Accessibility Checker in the Rich Content Editor. 
    • Alt text should be added when embedding external images. Learn how to embed images from the web in the Rich Content Editor. 
    • Headings for table columns and rows can be changed in either the Rich Content Editor or the HTML Editor view. 

How does this align to Canvas training materials?

Canvas logoPriming the Canvas: 1.3 Getting Started: Modules, Content, & Discussions 

Additional Resources: 

  • Rich Content Editor lessons for instructors 
  • Rich Content Editor lessons for students
  • Visit 
  • Contact the 24/7 Canvas Help if you need help with issues as you are working in Canvas. (NOTE: 24/7 Canvas Help goes away on June 30 and Help will be taken over by the WCU Helpdesk which is not manned 24/7). 
  • Canvas Migration FAQ
  • Register for one of the Zoom sessions which will be held on Thursdays and Fridays at 11:00 A.M. after reviewing the Priming the Canvas Course. This week’s sessions will cover Canvas modules, Pages and Files as well as using Canvas’ Rich Content Editor.

Our next article will highlight Course Storage in Canvas & Media in Panoptovisit Canvas Blog to see all our Canvas articles. 

Canvas Modules vs. Pages vs. Files

The Canvas platform can be used to create and support an excellent learning environment for all modalities: fully face-to-face, hybrid, and fully online.  When the tools are used well, they can enhance communication, understanding, and faculty and student experience.   

Canvas has three different organizational structures for content that overlap but have different functions.  Modules serve as a curated path for a specific unit of learning.  A module will walk a student sequentially through the stages of learning created by the instructor.  An example might be: 

    • A concise introduction to the concept in the form of a brief video lecture or text 
    • A link to a discussion board post for initial thoughts and reflections (graded assignment scheduled on the calendar) 
    • A link to a longer reading (or an instruction to go to the textbook) 
    • A specific set of questions as an assignment (graded, linked, and scheduled on the calendar) 
    • Other assurances of learning 

Canvas is designed so that Modules are the primary point of access for students and so that their path forward in the course is clear and navigable.   Best Practice is to think about modules in terms of staging one’s home for important guests who have limited time.  What do you want them to experience?  Where would you like them to sit?  What is the best direction of flow?  Which restroom is the best for guests? Etc.  Modules allow you to create this experience in a linear fashion. 

Pages are digital objects in Canvas that contain most of the content, direction, and instruction.  Every course should have a home page that serves as a “landing page” for students and that allows for them to get their bearings and navigate from module to module as needed.  Best Practice for quality course design (OSCQR Standard 1.2QM 1.2is that your Course Home Page and module introduction pages be the most carefully crafted part of your Canvas course.  It will help your students understand what you want them to accomplish, what sort of navigational freedom they have, and what specific paths you would like for them to take.  Canvas recommends that the Pages navigation be hidden from the student and that all pages in the course be tied to specific modules or other pages. 

You can think of Pages, metaphorically, as the scenes you wish your guests to see at specific times.  When the path of their visit takes them to the kitchen, you would like them to notice the hand-made cutting board, the carefully placed drinkware, the stained glass in the window that highlights the view of a mountain in the distance which might start an amiable conversation, etc.  You probably do not want for them to open a folder that has all possible views listed in alphabetical order. Canvas recommends that the Pages navigation be hidden from the student and that all pages in the course be tied to specific modules or other pagesBest practices for quality course design (OSCQR Standard 13.6) advise that navigating through your course be organized simply for students. The navigational experience for students will be different for students and instructors.  Instructors are designing a learning experience as experts. Students should be learning. 

Files are an even deeper part of the underlying infrastructure of the course and, even more so than Pages, the recommendation is to hide the left hand navigation tool from students unless you have a compelling reason to do otherwise. In our metaphor, files are things like the stained-glass in the kitchen window.  It should be seen only in that window (Page) and only in the part of the learning journey in which it is important, the kitchen (Module).  You can think of the Files navigation for faculty as a quick way to see everything that you have associated with the course (a sort of home inventory), but for the most part, as in our lives at home, sharing a long, browsable list of everything you have is rarely helpful for moving forward a specific learning agenda. 

In summary, think about using the tools effectively and according to best practices: 

    • Use modules to move your students through the learning process. 
    • Use pages in the appropriate places in the modules to help direct students in that learning and to highlight external links and introduce assessment and activities. 
    • Use a home page to aid in navigating the whole course 
    • Use the Syllabus Tool and the Calendar to help with sequencing and giving student scheduled “To Dos” that align with your teaching goals. 
    • Insert files in their proper places using the rich content editor in Pages, Assessments, and Quizzes.

How does this align to Canvas training materials?

Canvas logoPriming the Canvas: Module 1.3 “Getting Started with Canvas” & Module 5.1 ”Gathering, Making, and Structuring Content” 

Additional Resources: 

Our next article will highlight Canvas’ Rich Content Editorvisit Canvas Blog to see all our Canvas articles.