Preparing Your Online Course in Canvas

The material on this page is geared toward those who are importing from a previous Canvas section.

Note: If you are still teaching in ANGEL, or if this is your first time transitioning a course to Canvas, view the following pages before reading the remainder of this page.

*NOTE: If you have a preexisting course in ANGEL and you are using Canvas for the first time, you will need to make a choice about how to transition to Canvas. The article "Start from scratch in Canvas or import from ANGEL?" can be helpful, but note that we recommend building new in Canvas rather than exporting and migrating from ANGEL. The exception to this is if you have something complex in ANGEL that needs to be carried over to Canvas. Building from scratch is the perfect opportunity to review your course materials, make updates, and evaluate and rethink how you have organized your course and how you might modify it going forward.

Several Weeks (or more!) Before Your Class Begins...

Review Best Practices and Expectations for Online Teaching.

Add Learning Designer to Course

Go to Canvas and search for your course. After you find your course, click on "People," then click "+ People," and search for and add your learning designer's userid as "Course Admin," NOT as "Designer."

Merge Course Sections, if applicable

Import Content From Another Canvas Course

  • See How do I import content from another Canvas course? for help.
  • NOTE: If you want to adjust the due dates associated with the course events and assignments, be sure to click the "Adjust events and due dates" checkbox. If your course has an Orientation, your beginning date begins one week prior to the official start date of your course. You must have a start date in the empty course shell you are importing into in order for this to work.
  • NOTE: Unless you have selected the "delay posting" feature for an announcement in a previous offering the date won't carry over to an imported course. Instead, it will show all announcements to students (and then you will need to go into each announcement and manually check the "delay posting" box and assign a date.)
  • See How do I adjust events and due dates in a course import? for help.

Update Course Settings in Canvas

Update Navigation Structure

If necessary, update the navigational structure by following the University Task Force Recommendations for course navigation. Note that we use these recommendations because research has shown that consistent and limited navigation reduces student confusion.

Set your Notifications

You can set notifications in Canvas to be sent to your email or your cell phone number. You can choose to be notified "right away," in a "daily summary," in a "weekly summary" or "not at all." Keep in mind that these settings are global, so they apply to all of your courses and cannot be set by course. You are not able to set preferences for your students, but you can recommend that they do so themselves. We have an orientation page you can use for this purpose.

The following are Dutton's suggestions for how to set your notifications for optimal teaching.

  • Discussion and Discussion Posts - We recommend setting this to "daily summary."

  • Conversations - We recommend setting this to "Right Away" so you don’t miss anything. This is Canvas’ version of email, but is doesn’t work exactly like mail. It is more like a group text.

  • All Submissions - If you want to see when students are submitting assignments and quizzes as they are submitting them, set this one to "Right Away."
  • Submission Comment - If a student responds to a comment that you make while grading, you may want to be notified of that "Right Away."
  • See How do I set my Canvas notification preferences?

Update Syllabus

  • The Syllabus in Canvas does not need to contain all of the elements you have in your complete Drupal syllabus. Many of our faculty use the Canvas syllabus as a course schedule rather than a traditional syllabus with policies, grading, textbooks etc. To do this, add a short overview of the course and then link to the full syllabus in Drupal.
  • Include a note in the Canvas syllabus that students are responsible for the info in BOTH syllabi.
  • See How do I edit the Syllabus description in a course? and Example of the Recommended Syllabus Format for help.

Double-Check/Update Course Calendar

  • When you import from one Canvas course to another Canvas course, you can set up the dates upon import by clicking the "Adjust events and due dates" checkbox. It's helpful to double check to make sure the dates imported correctly.
  • As you add due dates to assignments, quizzes, etc., the Calendar will be built automatically.
  • Add additional events/assignments to the calendar (reminders to start a lesson/reading, semester notices, SRTE dates, etc.)

  • Remove extraneous dates as necessary. Keep in mind that if you have more than one course, you will see those dates, too. Make sure you don’t delete a Calendar entry from a different course. See "How do I filter the Calendar view by course?" to avoid this problem.
  • See What is the Calendar for instructors and How to add an event to a course calendar for help.

Review Modules Page

Review all module pages to make sure everything came over correctly. NOTE: If items in ANGEL were not in folders, they will not have come over if you migrated rather than built new.

Prepare Online Readings

If applicable, use the Reserve Reactivation Request Form to reactivate course e-Reserves. Visit the PSU Libraries Durable Link Builder page to create links to full-text articles in library databases that can be added to your courses in Canvas. Or, visit the E-Books at Penn State page to choose the appropriate texts from a variety of academic publishers that are available through the library

Hide Select Class Materials From Student View (optional)

Some faculty like to lock Module items to automatically be hidden until a certain date. Your dates should have updated when you imported your previous course section, but it's a good idea to check to make sure this happened.

Review Assignments Page

Review Course Content in Drupal

Update the syllabus and instructor information page, fix broken hyperlinks, update outdated information and images, etc.

Send Students a Welcome Letter Prior to the Start Date (via LionPath)

  • Visit Emailing Your Class Roster in LionPATH in the Knowledge Base for detailed instructions on using the LionPath Faculty Center for emailing students.
    • The URL/location of the course
    • The URL/location of the syllabus
    • How to login (typically using their Penn State Access Account user ID and password)
    • What materials they need to purchase and where they can get them
    • Who to contact if they need technical assistance (Resident instruction students should contact the ITS Help Desk and World Campus students should contact the Outreach Help Desk)

    NOTE: We suggest that instructors send a class welcome letter to the class at least once per week through the first week or two of class in order to catch any late adds.

Sample Welcome Letter

Sample Welcome Letter to come later


One Week Before the Class Starts (a.k.a. "Orientation Week")

A standard practice for online courses is to give students an "orientation week"—access to the class one week before it officially begins. This practice enables distance learners to try out their Penn State Access Accounts and familiarize themselves with the class environment so that they will be comfortable and ready to learn on the first day of class.

Set up ANGEL (really, you have to do this even though you are teaching in Canvas)

Set the Angel redirect link

  • Until ANGEL is officially taken off line, it is imperative that you set a redirect link from ANGEL to Canvas. See the link below for directions.
  • Visit Redirect ANGEL Course to Canvas for help.  

"Enable" your class in ANGEL so the redirect link will work

  • By default, a new class section is "disabled" in ANGEL, meaning that registered students will not be able to see it when they log in. As the instructor of record, you are responsible for "enabling" your class so students can access it (unless other arrangements have been made). NOTE: Students are automatically given access to your class as they register.
  • See Learn how to "Activate a Class" for help.

Provide Formal Orientation Materials

Formal orientation materials help students orient themselves to the class and the class environment.

EXAMPLE: Most College of EMS online courses include a Class Orientation lesson that students complete before beginning the class. See the GEOG 497C "Class Orientation."

Post a "Welcome" Announcement

Canvas Announcements are a great way to communicate with all of your students at once. Students can see course announcements by clicking on the Canvas navigational area called "Announcements." The announcements will appear on the "Course Activity Stream" page as well. As faculty, you have the ability to create delayed or scheduled announcements to appear on particular dates. Announcements can be transferred from semester to semester.

NOTE: There are a few things we recommend that you mention in your welcome message:

  • Tell your students to begin the class by reviewing the syllabus and working through your class orientation materials...and provide directions for accessing those materials!
  • Remind them of the official class start date.

See the following links for help.

Example Welcome Announcement

Hello and Welcome to GEOG 472!

This class will officially begin on Monday, May 16, 2016.

Meanwhile, feel free to familiarize yourself with the material in our class orientation. You'll find the course itself at: Click on the Orientation link to get started. A link to each lesson of this course website can also be found in the corresponding module for that lesson here in Canvas.

We'll use Canvas for all the things you've used ANGEL for previously - grades, assessments, assignment submission, course communications, and the calendar. Make sure you read our syllabus (link to syllabus) thoroughly for information about the course grading structure, late policies, and our schedule.

Rather than emailing questions directly to me, I encourage you to post any question that you would ask in a traditional class to the General Questions and Discussion forum. Asking questions on our forums can benefit all students in that everyone will see the discussions and answers regarding class questions.

For questions that are more personal in nature, please contact me through the course e-mail system in Canvas.

See you soon!

- Joe Smith, class instructor