20 Time-Saving Canvas Tricks for Teachers

20 Time-Saving Canvas Tricks for Teachers

It’s certainly no secret that teachers are working harder than ever to keep up with the demanding workload caused by the pandemic. Most teachers are using course content delivery systems that may be new for them. One very popular interface is Canvas. Here are some time-saving tricks and tips within the Canvas system to take some pressure off that to-do list. 

1. Undelete

20 Time-Saving Canvas Tricks for Teachers_ Restore deleted items

The “undelete” feature of Canvas is perhaps the best-known “hack” but its usefulness means it’s still worth the mention here. From your Canvas homepage, type “/undelete” at the end of your URL. This will bring you to the “restore deleted items” page and you can opt to restore quizzes, assignments, and discussions you’ve recently deleted. It’s “ctrl z” or “undo” for Canvas and it can be a lifesaver. Make sure any undeleted items are published to the course and you are all set. 

2. Add apps

Add apps

Canvas has a useful feature that allows teachers to add apps to their courses. The apps page lives under settings. From there, select “apps” in the top menu. You can browse apps and read a summary about them by hovering over the app icon, or you can search for favorite apps. A wide array of apps are available, including YouTube, NBCLearn, Amazon Education, and many more. 

3. Redirect tool

The Redirect Tool can be found under settings > apps. It’s a curving blue arrow and it allows you to add any webpage to your navigation menu. Click “add tool,” title your new navigation link, and add a URL. Make sure you select “show in course navigation.” When you refresh your page, your new link will show up in the home page menu. 

4. Internal messaging in gradebook

Canvas has a slick feature that allows teachers to message students from within the grade book. Locate the drop-down menu that says “message students who…” and choose from options like “haven’t submitted yet.” This is an easy way to send quick emails to groups of students who may need a reminder about due dates.  

5. Student view

Student view

The Canvas interface for teachers and students looks a little different. Often, it can be helpful to see the Canvas course modules laid out exactly how your students will view them. To do so, click inside a course like you are editing it. On the left side, you will see a menu with all the pages you can potentially add to your Canvas course. On the right-hand side, you will see a menu with a button that says “student view.” Click it and the course will display as if you were an enrolled student. To return to editing, click “leave student view.”

6. Page Rollbacks

The page rollbacks feature is useful if you want to see what a given page on your Canvas course looked like a week or a month ago. To do this, click on the gear at the top right of your page and to “view page history.” This will open a collapsed menu called “revision history” that allows you to see all the edits you have made to a given page since its birth. If you find a retired page you like better than your current one, you can select “restore this revision” and the old will become new again. 

7. Grade rollbacks

If you’ve made errors while entering grades (and who among us hasn’t accidentally found ourselves entering grades in the wrong column before?), the grade rollback feature might be your new best friend. In your gradebook, if you click on the gear wheel in the top left, the first item on the drop-down menu is “view grading history.” Like with page rollbacks, this allows you to revert back to the previous save point. 

8. SpeedGrader

From the Grades page, locate the three vertical dots on the right-hand side of the screen. Pull down and select SpeedGrader. You will then select a student group. SpeedGrader allows users to quickly and efficiently grade assignment submissions without constantly refreshing the page. 

9. Frame images with a table acting as a background

When editing pages in Canvas, you might desire to spruce up the look of your images – without having to resort to learning HTML. Before adding a new image, insert a single-cell table. Using the rich content editor, you can adjust cell padding, border weight and cell spacing as well as adjusting the color of both the cell and the border. Once you’ve played with these and adjusted them to your liking, insert your image inside the table, and voila, you have a framed photo. 

10. Display multiple documents side-by-side using a table

If you have multiple documents you would like your students to be able to look at side-by-side, insert a blank table on your page and then insert a document into each cell. Students can click on one document at a time to view it full screen or can scroll through documents right next to each other to compare and contrast them. 

11. Customize your dashboard

To declutter your dashboard, you can customize the course tiles that are displayed upon login. From the dashboard menu on the left, click on “courses” then “all courses.” You’ll see a small star icon next to your courses. Get rid of the star next to courses you don’t want on your dashboard. Suddenly, you have a much cleaner front-page interface to work with.  

12. Reorder modules and assignments

20 Time-Saving Canvas Tricks for Teachers_Reorder modules

When you are editing assignments within modules or assignments themselves, you may decide you want to reorder the way they appear. This is as simple as clicking and dragging on the item in question. Click, drag, and drop the items in the order you want them and you’re all set. You may also click on the three vertical dots that appear to the right of an assignment and select “move module item” which will allow you to nest your assignment under the appropriate module. 

13. Drag and drop calendar

To add an event to students’ calendars that is not an assignment (like a virtual field trip, for example), go to calendar and add an event plus details to any calendar square. Once an event is created, you can move them around the calendar using the drag and drop feature. 

14. Add symbols or emojis

Symbols or emojis can be used to add some pizzazz to your Canvas assignments and modules, but they can also be used to categorize content. For example, maybe you would like to include a book icon next to all reading assignments or a beaker next to lab report assignments. To find emojis and symbols, Google “copy and paste emojis.” Find one you like on any website, copy it, and paste it into the assignment line.

15. Duplicate modules

Most teachers structure their classes in a way that certain assignments recur weekly. For example, an English teacher may have journals due each week, or a math teacher may assign story problems each week. Treat your first “module” like a weekly template. Once you have built one module, you can duplicate it for each subsequent week or unit, thus preventing you from reinventing the wheel for each new module. You can, of course, edit each new module. Do this by clicking on the three vertical dots to the right of each module and selecting “duplicate.”

16. Indent items within modules

Indent items

To make the items within your modules look like an outline (or to “nest” items underneath each other), click on the three vertical dots to the right of an item and select “increase indent.” This helps organize assignments and makes modules look neat and tidy. 

17. Add a course card

Using Google Draw or Powerpoint, create a custom background for your Canvas course tiles. Courses default to a single-color background; to liven this up, open Google Draw, go to file>page setup and enter the dimensions of 7.3 x 4. This will give you a square space to design in; add fonts and images until you are happy with your custom design. Back in Canvas, click settings and then choose image. 

18. Check out Canvas Commons to collaborate with other teachers

20 Time-Saving Canvas Tricks for Teachers

The Canvas Commons is what Canvas describes as a “learning repository” with more than 120,000 items including quizzes and assignments. Explore to get ideas for your own classes, or use Commons to share your own work and collaborate with learning communities in your own organization.

19. Create word art “buttons” using Google Draw or Google Slides

Give your students friendly, clickable buttons that help them navigate through Canvas. To do this, open Google Draw (or Google Slides works, too!). Type the text you want to appear on your button (for example, “week one”) and then fancy it up – change the font, size, and color until you are satisfied. Insert the image into a page, then hyperlink it to the appropriate page or module. You can align your buttons vertically or horizontally by inserting them in a borderless table.

20. Hide unused pages

Canvas navigation can feel a little cluttered from the home page, with all sorts of extra pages showing up in the menu that you may not be using. To hide these from the students’ view, click on settings and then “navigation” at the top. Select the page you want to hide, click, and drag it down under “drag items here to hide them from students.” 

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I am an unrepentant lover of words - and lucky me, I spend all day, every day immersed in them. When I'm not teaching, I'm reading. Or writing. Or teaching eager (and sometimes not-so-eager) adolescents about the power of the written word. I live on the scenic Oregon Coast with my dog, two cats, and five-year-old son.

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