Canvas’ Gradebook and SpeedGrader

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: 

  1. View student submissions (text entries, website URLs, media recordings, and/or file uploads); preview supported file types in Canvas DocViewer;  
  2. Make annotations on supported files 
  3. Assign a grade based on your preferred assessment method (points or percentage) 
  4. View Rubric to assist with grading (if one is added to the assignment) 
  5. View comments created by you or the student about the assignment 
  6. 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. 

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. 

Canvas Notifications and Preferences

We know that communication is a cornerstone of both learning and relationship.  We also know that students value clear communication and that many find great value in having a clear understanding of what they need to do in order to “pass” their courses.  We have also witnessed that many of our students are still developing their time-management skills and rely upon external cues. 

In Canvas, notification settings are set by the user and relate to how and when you receive information about upcoming events, dates, and, in the case of instructors, student activities (like the submission of a discussion post or the submission of an assignment that is ready to be graded.) 

You are in complete control of how you receive notifications.  For email notifications and notifications that appear in the Canvas window (whether in the browser or in your “Teacher” app on your mobile device) you can make a number of changes to the default settings by going to your “Account” profile and clicking notifications. 

Finding Account Notifications

Setting notifications here will be a global choice.  You can override these settings in individual courses by navigating to course settings in your course and going to the “View Course Notification” button, as shown below.


Note that your notification settings do not have any bearing on your student’s settings.  By default, students will get all course announcements and the assignments with dates will be viewable, but they have complete control over their settings. 

Also note that the notifications for the mobile apps default to a less aggressive notification (lock screen) regime than do commercial apps.  If a smartphone or tablet user wants notifications outside of the time they are using the app, they will need to set those notifications specifically on their smart device and these notifications, though they have a similar name and function, are outside of the operation of Canvas. For more app information:

Viewing Course notifications

Notifications work best if instructors use the syllabus tool and calendar in a way that has specific date requirements for all assignments and other student “to dos.”

How does this align to Canvas training materials?

Canvas logoPriming the Canvas: Module 1.2 “Getting Started with Canvas” Canvas Basics 

Additional Resources: 

Our next article will highlight Modules vs Pages vs Filesvisit Canvas Blog to see all our Canvas articles. 

Strategies and Tools for Fall Class Planning

The Coulter Faculty Commons often entertains questions throughout the summer about ideas for fall teaching. Here, we share some of those commonly asked questions and our responses.

Q. Can a shift in the syllabus verbiage encourage a better learning environment?
A. Ken Bain, who conceptualized the term “the promising syllabus,” argues yes, in his book What the Best College Teachers Do. You can find an excerpt – and strategies for incorporating self-determination theory into a course, visual design elements, and more, on the Montclair State University website. You can find his book in the WCU library.

Q. What can I do in the first week of class to keep my students engaged all semester?
A. A professor from the University of New Mexico, Gary Smith, has shared a strategy he used on the first day, after many years of feeling his students were only learning at a surface level.

On the first day of class, he asked his students the following question: “I’d like you to think about your college education and this course in particular. Which of the following is most important to you?

1. Acquiring information (facts, principles, concepts)?
2. Learning how to use information and knowledge in new situations? or…
3. Developing lifelong learning skills?

He writes about the back-and-forth negotiation – and the wonderful outcome it had on his students and his course – in an article entitled First-Day Questions for the Learner-Centered Classroom (Smith, 2008). A highly recommended reading!

Q. Am I required to use the WCU syllabus template?
A. The WCU syllabus template has been offered for many years as a single document/place where institutional policies are maintained and updated.

Q. Is there anything new in the WCU syllabus template for fall 2020?
A. Yes, and they have been substantial. Over the past few months, the Coulter Faculty Commons has been steadily making changes to the university syllabus, based on the impacts brought about by COVID. In May, we included a statement about the use of Respondus Lockdown Browser and Lockdown Monitor, including instructions for students to download the software. In June, we provided the university statement on the wearing of masks (this was revised again in August to include faculty processes when students are non-compliant). In August, we also published an update to the Course Recording and Broadcasting sub-section. The two major changes are 1) the need for faculty to obtain student waivers (to adhere to FERPA), 2) the particular need for waivers if faculty intend to use a video for a governed research project (outside normal class use case), and 3) language in a faculty syllabus if they intend to use Lockdown Browser or Lockdown Monitor.

Q. Have there been recent changes to the CFC Syllabus webpage?
A. Yes. In early August, we added a MWF and TR calendar document for faculty to use and distribute to their students. These are for fall 2020. We also added a link to Rice University’s Course Workload Estimator tool, to help faculty allocate hours and minutes to each activity, assignment, or lecture in an assigned week for a course in development (note: this tool is useful at any week in the term, for what lies ahead in a class). Due to the shift in online and remote teaching, we have had a lot of questions about “how much work is too much?” This tool helps you decide.

Q. Do I need to include all the institutional policies in my syllabus?
A. As stated above, if your syllabus includes a statement pointing to the Academic Toolbox, then you do not need to include those statements in your syllabus.

Q. What technology will be available in my classroom?

A. Upgraded Audio Features in Standard Classrooms
The Instructional Technology Team has been hard at work all summer trying to meet as many of the unprecedented needs of this coming fall as possible.  The CFC wanted to highlight a few things for faculty who are just returning to the university to teach hybrid courses.

As part of the preparations for hybrid teaching in WCU classrooms, additional audio connectivity was installed to allow for the use of a personal microphone, as well as to assist in the use of common software tools using the classroom audio system.

These enhancements include:

  • Expansion of the feed from the existing wireless lapel microphone to feed into audio recordings in Zoom and Panopto.
  • A Standard XLR Microphone Connection
  • Handheld XLR Microphones that are being distributed to the departments by the Provost’s office

For more information


The Instructional Technology Team and the Help Desk will have technicians available during the first two weeks of classes to troubleshoot issues.

Q. If I choose to record my classes, what responsibilities do I have?  Can students record me without my permission?

Students may make visual or audio recordings (Recording) of any class related content, using any approved recording device (e.g., smart phone, computer, digital recorder, etc.) upon the prior permission of the instructor and subject to the following restriction(s).  The Recording, along with the video capture of visible course materials (e.g., visible PowerPoint slides and/or visible lecture notes), shall be limited to the student’s personal, course related, educational use and shall be subject to all applicable copyright laws and institutional policies.  The student may not transfer, transmit, or otherwise disseminate the Recording to any third party, including classmates, without the permission of the instructor.  Any violation of these restrictions, or any other restriction verbally communicated by the instructor, may subject the student to the provisions of the WCU Academic Integrity Policy, the WCU Code of Student Conduct or both.

Meetings of this course may be broadcast and/or recorded. Broadcasting and recording are intended to complement the classroom experience. Instructors may broadcast and/or record courses for pedagogical use, student reference, to meet the accommodation needs of students with a documented disability, or any other reason deemed appropriate by WCU and/or the instructor.

Any recording of class that includes the image or voice of a student, or reference to the student’s name, would be considered FERPA, thus, protected. If faculty intend on making the recording available for future viewing (any viewing that is not live),it will require a waiver by each student.  The waivers may be collected by email or as a Canvas discussion board post or assignment with the following statement attached: By sending this email (by replying to this discussion board, by completing this electronic form – any use of WCU official identity verification) and typing my name below I acknowledge I have read and fully understand the terms of the VIDEO CONSENT AND RELEASE FORM FOR CLASS RECORDING and hereby release the University as stated in the Form.

If a student refuses to sign the waiver, then their likeness may not be included in any video made available. In other words, they would need to be excluded from video and not allowed to ask questions. If this happens faculty would be able to grade consistent with syllabi. In other words, the faculty member has the right to penalize the student by lowering their grade for not participating.  The faculty member is also free to create alternative assignments at his or her discretion.

Course recordings will be available to students registered for the course pursuant to applicable university policy and instructor preference.  All broadcasts and recordings are limited to personal, course related, educational use and may not be transmitted, transferred, distributed, sold, or posted on social media outlets without the written permission of the instructor. Unauthorized transmission, transfer, distribution, sale or posting of the broadcast and/or recording for any purpose other than the student’s personal, course related, educational use is not permitted. Students are expected to follow appropriate university policies and maintain the security of passwords used to access recorded materials.

If the Lockdown Browser and Monitor are being used, it is necessary that the instructor have both a syllabus statement and a waiver on file.

Any course recordings for purposes beyond the normal conduct of a course (promotional videos, videos related to a governed research project, etc.) will require an additional waiver and appropriate approval (such as IRB approval).

University Policy 122

For a more detailed version of when a waiver might be needed see:

Policy Considerations of Classroom Technology Use

Q. What are the supported synchronous streaming platforms?

Zoom.  There is limited support for Microsoft Teams, but it is not recommended for virtual course meetings beyond small groups at this time.

For more information see the Guidelines for Technology Use at WCU

Q. I’ve heard that the CFC isn’t recommending synchronous meetings with students physically present and at a distance?  Why is that?

Research and experience guide us to note that trying to hold class with a small group while trying to moderate interaction with students at a distance will lead to an inferior experience for everyone, including the instructor.  There are advantages and disadvantages to using synchronous and asynchronous activities in online and hybrid learning; in most cases, asynchronous activities provide the best experiences for students.  In our testing scenarios, attempts at synchronous activities using Zoom or Collaborate resulted in less-than-desired experiences, and were not comparable to using Zoom in a private meeting space.

We must recognize that mixing one group with synchronous digital technologies and one group with live synchronous meeting will increase both instructor and student difficulty (i.e., just turning on Zoom for the half of the class who isn’t physically in the classroom).

Consider whether your arrangements and the limitations of the technologies are equitable for all students.Particularly consider whether your activities are appropriate given the computer requirements for students in the university and in your department. Consider the student experience, including their access (or lack thereof) to sufficient broadband speeds.