A Minimalist Approach to Canvas


Avila University offers various academic courses in different formats to include on-ground classes and online sessions as well as blended formats that combines the best of the two. Using Canvas for online and blended courses is widely accepted, but why should you consider Canvas for on-ground classes? The benefits for faculty and students may surprise you.


Canvas and MyAU

Even if you do nothing in Canvas, Avila will synchronize your class roster daily with the student information system as shown in MyAU. In Angel we had to do this manually so it was not uncommon for your Angel class list to be outdated; and, although it was optional for students to upload a picture into their MyAU account, they rarely did so. Canvas is different.


As a social media app students will maintain a profile that includes their picture as well as connections to networking sites like LinkedIn. You will know more about your students than before.

megaphonePlus, you will be able to communicate with your students in ways not previously possible. Both faculty and students can register multiple contact methods like personal email and text messaging as well as additional services like Facebook and Twitter. If you need to get the word out fast like what to do when classes are cancelled due to snow days, you can just add an announcement or broadcast a message to all students in the class. Canvas will figure out how to message each student based on their personal notification preferences. No longer do you have to maintain a spreadsheet with personal email addresses or use Avila email that students check infrequently. Click here to see what students are asked to do when they first receive their Canvas account.

Canvas Assignment Lists

So you have some new benefits even if you do not upload any content into the system, but let’s consider what else is possible with just a minimalist approach in using Canvas to list your assignments for the course.

time mgCanvas tracks assignments in all courses for a student in a consolidated assignment list and publishes assignment due dates in a single calendar. Students are able to keep up with requirements across all their courses using their mobile phones, tablets, and laptops. Managing their time and meeting their course commitments has never been easier. Of course this assumes that each course has assignment due dates in Canvas. If not, the student will have gaps in their assignment list and schedule; the view of their total course load will not be accurate.


updateNow both benefits (notifications and assignments) combine to give us a very powerful capability. How many times have you updated an assignment and you needed to get the word out to all your students before the next class? Well in Canvas you simply update your assignment, for example change the due date, and indicate with a simple check box that you want Canvas to notify all students. That’s it! You do not need to email students or even post an announcement. Canvas will figure out how to contact students based on their preferred notification settings.

Adding assignments to a course in Canvas does not mean you must create an online learning activity. While the Department of Education reported that blended learning with online learning activities significantly contributes to student learning (read the report here), what I am actually suggesting is that you only need to enter assignment due dates to begin realizing benefits for both you and your students. Adding assignment due dates in Canvas is easier than you think as shown here.

Publishing your Course

Finally, your students do not have access to your course in Canvas unless you publish it. You should not publish the course until you are ready so that any changes you make do not send notifications to students. Once the course is ready, or near ready, publish the course from the Home tab to open the course to your students. You can continue to make changes and your students will be aware of these changes through notifications.

Learning How to use Canvas

This is one of those rare occasions where you can truly make a difference for your students with very little effort on your part. Contact Katrina Stansbury to enroll in the introductory class on Canvas if you have not already done so. Within an hour you will have the knowledge and skills to begin using Canvas and with just a minimalist approach you can realize immediate benefits for yourself and your students.

Later if you want to go further with developing online learning activities contact Andria Stokes or Mark Eaton at the Center for Transformational Learning on educational opportunities in applying pedagogical designs in Canvas.


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