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Canvas Experts Corner

Welcome to the Canvas Experts Corner!

The Canvas Experts Corner blog is your weekly dose of inspiration and expert guidance to elevate your Canvas experience.

This blog goes beyond your initial course setup. We'll dive into advanced features, explore innovative teaching strategies, and share expert tips to help you create an engaging and effective online learning experience for students. Whether you're a seasoned Canvas user or just starting out, you'll find valuable insights to enhance your teaching and student learning.

Think of this blog as your weekly chat with an expert friend. Remember, this blog is just one part of your comprehensive support system. Explore our other resources, including detailed help articles, 1:1 consultations, interactive workshops, and self-paced training courses


Roles and Permissions in Canvas

July 15, 2024

Author: Michelle Donaldson, Learning Systems Analyst IV

In Canvas, roles and permissions govern access to features within courses and accounts. Course roles are assigned per course, either through our automatic integration or through manual methods. Account roles, on the other hand, apply at broader levels such as university, college, or department, and follow a hierarchical structure. This post provides information to help you understand how those roles impact access to functionality within Canvas.

Understanding Roles and Permissions

In Canvas, permissions allow users certain access to features and functions within a course or the system. Roles are a collection of these permissions. There are two classifications of roles within Canvas, Course and Account. Within each of those classifications, there are several unique roles.  This post will help you to determine which course role is appropriate for extra users in your course, such as a Teaching Assistant.  It also gives an overview of some account roles used by Colleges and Departments.

Course Roles

Course roles apply only to the course for which the role is assigned. For example, the same person may be a student in a training course and an instructor in another course. Another way to think of this is that roles are applied on a course-by-course basis. Course roles can be granted in two ways: by the data integration with our student information system, PeopleSoft, or manually.

If our student information system, has you listed as being the instructor of record for a course or being enrolled in the course as a student, then the corresponding role in that course will be automatically provided by the data integration between the two systems. Eight weeks before the course's start date, the courses and any known instructors of record are automatically enrolled in their Canvas courses. Two weeks before the course's start date, students are automatically enrolled in their courses.  The timeline and process for adding enrollments to Canvas is the same as it was in Blackboard.

Manually adding users to courses can be done two ways, through self-enrollment or by using the rostering tool, called People in Canvas. If you have a manually created course, such as a training course or an orientation course, you can have that course set up to allow students to enroll themselves in the course. This only works for manually created courses, academic courses cannot allow self-enrollment. For more information, please visit this support article: Enabling Self Enrollment in your Canvas Course. For instructions on adding users to your course using the People tool in Canvas, please visit this support article: Adding and Removing TAs, Instructors and Other Users in a Canvas Course.

Now that we know how to add a user to a course in Canvas, let’s talk about the roles and corresponding permissions available.

TeacherThis is the role given to instructors.  It has all available permissions needed for instruction.
TAThis is the role designed for teaching assistants.  It can create content and perform grading tasks. This role cannot publish, cross list (merge) or reset a course, or manage Outcomes.  TAs can only add students to a course, they cannot add any other roles and they cannot remove any users from a course.
DesignerThis role is like the course builder role in Blackboard.  Those with this role can build content in a course, they can publish and reset a course.  They cannot access grades or cross list (merge) courses. Designers can only add students to a course, they cannot add any other roles and they cannot remove any users from a course.
StudentCan access and interact with content that has been made available to them by one of the other roles.

For additional information about course roles in Canvas, please visit this support article: Roles in Canvas.

Account Roles

Before we dive into the specifics of Account roles, let’s take a moment to discuss what Account means to Canvas. Canvas has a hierarchical structure that I like to think of in terms of nested folders. Canvas calls these Accounts and Sub Accounts. So, our Account is Ohio University. The Sub Accounts are the Colleges. And the Sub-Sub Accounts are the Departments. Courses can be found in the department level folders. Here is an example:

  • Ohio University
    • College of Arts & Sciences
      • Mathematics
        • Intro to Algebra

Account roles can be applied at the Account (University), Sub Account (College) or Sub-Sub Account (Department) level.  Below is a table explaining the options available at the College or Department level.

RoleAccess LevelRole PurposeWho can request
Sub Account AdminCollege or DepartmentThis role is for college or department staff that need full access to the college or department folders to support their students and instructors.  This role may also be granted to college or department staff that need elevated access for accreditation needs.

College=Dean, Associate Dean, or Assistant Dean

Department = Department Chair

Sub Account Outcomes AdminCollege or DepartmentThis role was created for the colleges and departments that are interested in piloting Outcomes and Rubrics.

College=Dean, Associate Dean, or Assistant Dean

Department = Department Chair

If you would like to learn more about the Sub Account admin role, this recorded training session is a good resource. If you would like to learn more about Outcomes and Rubrics, please view this recorded training session.


In Canvas, roles and permissions govern access to features within courses and accounts. Course roles are assigned per course, either through our automatic integration or through manual methods. Account roles, on the other hand, apply at broader levels such as university, college, or department, and follow a hierarchical structure. This post provides information to help you understand how those roles impact access to functionality within Canvas. 

Communicating with your Students in Canvas

July 1, 2024

Author: Michelle Donaldson, Learning Systems Analyst IV

Canvas handles communications between instructors and students very differently than Blackboard. This blog post will explain those differences and provide recommendations on how to communicate with your students most effectively.

Learn more about communicating with your students in Canvas



Canvas supports direct messaging within Canvas between instructors and students through their 'Inbox' tool. Inbox is a two-way messaging tool that is used instead of email to communicate with a course, group, or individual user. Anywhere in Canvas that you see the envelope icon indicates that you can have direct communication with your students. 


While the Inbox tool may seem inconvenient or unnecessary, it does add some benefits. There is an audit trail of all messages sent between the instructor and students within Canvas, should there be a grade dispute or other area of concern. Students have said they find it convenient to have all the related course materials and communications collected in one location. All their messages about a specific course are searchable within that course.  

Here are some guides from Canvas that explain the Inbox tool in more detail:


In Blackboard, many instructors used the Announcements functionality to force an email message to be sent whenever they posted an announcement. Canvas does not have this functionality. Announcements will appear for students in their Recent Activity Dashboard, their To Do list, and within their course.

In Canvas, there are a few new features that were not available for Announcements in Blackboard. Instructors can enable the ability for students to reply to Announcements. Canvas has recently undertaken a redesign of its Announcements feature which you can enable now, or it will be enabled automatically on July 20, 2024.


So, if you can’t directly email students through Canvas, and you can’t force your Announcements to be sent via email, how do you ensure that your students are receiving your communications in a timely fashion? We recommend that you take a bit of time in your first class session to talk with your students about the Notifications options in Canvas.  

While you cannot force an email message to your students, you and your students can opt to receive email notifications about certain types of communications and notices within Canvas. You can select whether you want to be notified immediately, daily, weekly, or not at all for a vast list of course activities. And if you are using one of the Canvas mobile apps, you can set push notifications for these areas as well. (Please note that you will have to enable push notifications for the app on your mobile device as well.)

Here are some guides from Canvas that explain notification settings in more detail:


Canvas’s different approach to communications between instructors and students means that you cannot email a student from within Canvas. You can, however, use the Canvas communication tools along with notification settings to receive some Canvas updates via email. These messaging and announcement features in Canvas can be used to support dynamic communication with students in your course.

Microsoft Teams Integrations and Canvas

June 17, 2024

Author: Michelle Donaldson, Learning Systems Analyst IV

You can leverage Microsoft Teams in several different manners within Canvas. This blog details the differences between Teams Classes and Teams Meetings, and how to appropriately use either for your courses.

Learn more about Teams integrations

Welcome back to the Canvas Experts Corner. This week we are going to discuss the Microsoft Teams integrations in Canvas. Integrations are a way to utilize the functionality provided by other vendors within Canvas. For Microsoft Teams there are two integrations: Teams Classes and Teams Meetings. We have had some questions about the best option for setting up Teams Classes and how to find information about using the Teams integrations in Canvas.

Enable Microsoft Sync

Before you can use any Microsoft integration (Teams Classes, Teams Meetings, or OneDrive) in your Canvas courses, you must enable the Microsoft Sync functionality.

  1. Navigate to your Canvas course
  2. Select Settings from the course navigation menu
  3. On the Settings page, select Integrations
  4. Ensure the Microsoft Sync is set to on (the toggle switch should be pushed to the right)

Teams Classes

There are three ways to set up Teams Classes at Ohio University. Below are those options and some information to help you select which is best for your use case.

  1. You can use the integration in Canvas. (This is our recommended method)
    • You must wait until student enrollments are loaded to Canvas, two weeks before the course start date.
    • The Team will be given the same name as your Canvas course.
    • The membership of the Team will be automatically updated based on the enrollments (users) in your Canvas course.
      • This includes if you have cross-listed (merged) courses, and anyone you may have manually added to the course.
      • If students add the course after the Team is created, they will be automatically added to the Team. If they drop the course after the Team is created, they will be automatically dropped from the Team.
    • There will be a link within your Canvas course navigation menu that will take your students directly to the Team.
  2. You can use the Teams self-service tool.
    • This creates a Team that is accessed directly in the Microsoft Teams app, rather than through Canvas.
    • This method pulls its information from the data feed between our student information system, PeopleSoft, and Blackboard.
    • Since it uses Blackboard data, you must wait until student enrollments are loaded to Blackboard, two weeks before the course start date.
    • The enrollments in this team will be based on the enrollments in your Blackboard course, so it will not see anyone who has been manually added in Canvas.
    • If someone adds the course after the Team is created, they will be added to the Team. But if someone drops after the Team is created, they are not dropped from the Team.
  3. You can create a ticket requesting that our Microsoft admins create a Team for you.
    • This Team would be named whatever you request the name to be.
    • The enrollments will be static and will include only the list of people that you provide at the time you request that the Team be created.
      • Any enrollment changes would have to be processed manually within the Team.

Teams Meetings

The Teams meeting integration within Canvas allows instructors to schedule Teams meetings with all or select students from within the course. The meeting invitation will show up in the instructor’s Outlook calendar and the recipients, as with any normal Teams meeting invitation. In addition, the meeting will also appear within the Canvas Course, under the Microsoft Teams meeting link in the course navigation menu. It is important to note that the meetings do not appear in the Canvas course calendar. If you would like them to appear in the Canvas course calendar, you would need to manually add the calendar entry. Please review this guide from Microsoft for additional information about using Microsoft Teams meetings in Canvas.

Naming of the Links

Another common question we are asked regarding the Teams integrations in Canvas is about the way they are named in the Canvas course navigation menu - "Microsoft Teams classes" vs. "Microsoft Teams meetings."

When we add an integration into Canvas, the way the third-party vendor (in this case Microsoft) builds the integration determines what the integration is named and where the integration appears.  Unfortunately, we cannot change that.  So, we are not able to capitalize classes or meetings in those integration names.

Pro Tip: If you do not plan to use the Microsoft integrations in your Canvas course, you can hide them from your course navigation menu.

  1. Go to Settings in the course navigation menu
  2. On the Settings page, select the Navigation tab
  3. On this page, you can drag anything you want to remove from your course navigation menu from the top section to the bottom section
  4. Select Save to confirm your changes


Microsoft offers two Teams integrations for Canvas, Teams Classes, and Teams Meetings. You can use Microsoft Teams Classes to create a Teams Class space that is named for your Canvas course and syncs with your Canvas course enrollments. You can use Microsoft Teams Meetings to create meetings with your students and have those meetings appear within the Teams meeting link in your Canvas course.   

Organizations and Manually Created Courses in Canvas

June 3, 2024

Author: Michelle Donaldson, Learning Systems Analyst IV

Blackboard had two primary types of containers for delivering content: Courses and Organizations. In Canvas, we only have one type of container: Courses. So how do we replicate our Blackboard organizations in Canvas? This blog will discuss the various ways we can achieve this. 

Read more about organizations in Canvas

Welcome back to the Canvas Experts Corner. In this week’s blog, we are going to talk about Blackboard Organizations and how we can accommodate those in Canvas. One of the biggest questions we’ve been asked is “If Canvas doesn’t have an Organizations feature, then what will happen to my Blackboard Organizations?”

In Blackboard we had two primary types of containers for delivering content: Courses and Organizations. The main differences between the two are that courses are term-based, and the enrollments in those courses are maintained automatically by an integration with our Student Information System, PeopleSoft. 

Using Canvas for “Organizations”

In Canvas, it is true that we only have one primary container type: Courses. But we have different ways of organizing those courses within Canvas. There are options when an administrator creates a course (what we call a “manually created course”) that allow us to identify this course as one that is not term-based and is not populated by the PeopleSoft data feed.  These type of courses effectively recreate the same functionality we had in Blackboard Organizations, within a Canvas manually created course. 

The only thing we cannot recreate in Canvas is the option to have a separate menu item for Organizations vs. Courses. This was possible in Blackboard because there were two container types; as Canvas only has one container type, we cannot recreate this functionality. So, this means that your manually created courses (organizations) and your academic courses will appear in your Dashboard and your Courses list intermingled.

If you would like a new space in Canvas to recreate what you had within a Blackboard Organization, you can request that by requesting a manually created course.

Appropriate use cases for an organization replacement course in Canvas are: 

  • Program, department, college, or campus orientations. 
  • Training and evaluation (such as placement exams) 
  • Continuing Education 

Use cases that may not be appropriate for an organization replacement course in Canvas are: 

  • General communication 
  • Resource sharing 

Alternatives to Canvas

We know many of the communication and resource-sharing organizations were created in Blackboard long before the Microsoft options existed.  While a space within the LMS would have been the appropriate tool at the time, we now have better tools for those tasks. Some examples include:

  • Large file sharing: Canvas has a maximum file size of 500MB. OneDrive does not have that limitation. 
  • Communications: From a communication perspective, Canvas does not have a means to force emails to the users. Each user can control their own notification settings around announcements or messages and can choose whether to receive notifications about those items. A Teams message or direct email may be a better approach. Canvas also has additional resource-sharing tools that were not available in Blackboard, such as Commons and direct content sharing. 

If you aren’t sure if Canvas is the right tool for your organization replacement, you can schedule a consultation with our Instructional Technology team, and we can help you determine which tool might best fit your needs. 

Additional Blackboard Course Types

Now, you might have caught that I mentioned that there are two primary container types in Blackboard. This is because we have manually created courses in Blackboard, too. Manually created courses in Blackboard, like Blackboard Organizations, are not term based and their enrollments must be handled, well, manually. These can also be replicated in Canvas as manually created courses.

Blackboard manually created courses were used for the following purposes:

  • Test Courses – these are courses that allow an instructor to become familiar with the system or to try new features.
    • This use case is also relevant in Canvas.  All instructors will automatically have a test course created for you within Canvas, and additional test courses are available upon request.
  • Master Courses – these are courses that are used to build and maintain a clean copy of the course materials, a ‘master’ copy.  Instructors then copy from these courses into their academic courses each term.  Making the needed adjustments in these courses rather than their live courses, to maintain the integrity of the live course.
    • As part of the transition to Canvas,  we have renamed these as Prime courses if the content is going to be shared with multiple instructors, or Development courses if the content is meant just for the instructor creating it.
    • OIT retired the name ‘master’ to use more inclusive technology terms, something OIT has instituted across our organization. To learn more about these language changes in technology, check out this great reference on inclusive language in technology from UC-Irvine.

If you are interested in developing a course for a future term or for building an organization-type of space, you can get started by requesting a manually created course.


Blackboard organizations, test courses, and master courses can all be supported in Canvas by requesting a manually created course.  Appropriate uses for manually created courses in Canvas include orientations, training, evaluations, and continuing education. However, for general communication and resource sharing, tools like OneDrive and Teams are likely more effective. 

Managing Course Visibility in Canvas

May 21, 2024

Author: Michelle Donaldson, Learning Systems Analyst IV

Did you know that Canvas handles Course Visibility differently than Blackboard? Our Canvas experts have provided a detailed explanation of these differences and resources to help you navigate these changes.

Learn more about course visibility

Welcome to the Canvas Expert Corner, our new blog to support instructor's deeper and fuller understanding of Canvas. We'll be sharing weekly(ish) bonus content to help us all become more comfortable with Canvas. Topics will be addressed based on common questions and recent changes. As we are at the end of our first semester of teaching in Canvas, it seems to be an opportune time to discuss how Canvas handles course visibility, as it is quite different than what we are familiar with in Blackboard.

In Blackboard, instructors control when students can see course content by using the Make Course Available/Unavailable lock inside Original courses, or by the Open or Make Course Private option from the Course menu. Additionally, Instructor access to courses is controlled by the data feed between our student information system, PeopleSoft, and Blackboard. Instructors have full access (the ability to see and edit content) to their courses beginning eight weeks before the course start date and ending two years after the course end date.

In Canvas, there are varying degrees of access and visibility for students and instructors, and three main ways to configure it.  

Option 1: Publish

First, there is a Publish option. When an instructor has their course ready for students to view it, they will Publish that Canvas course. However, unlike Blackboard, a course cannot be Unpublished if there are any student assignments submitted in the course.

So how do we end student access to a course if we cannot Unpublish it?  

Option 2: Term Dates

By default, this is handled by the Term Dates within Canvas. Term Dates are like Semester start and end dates, with a slight modification. In Canvas, OHIO has three terms per academic year: Fall, Spring, and Summer. First, Full, and Second summer semesters are all contained within the Summer term. You can find the official semester start and end dates by viewing the official Academic Calendar on the Registrar’s website.  

For Canvas, OHIO’s Terms begin three weeks before the official semester start date and end the Thursday following the semester end date. For example, Summer Semester 2024 begins on May 13 and ends on August 17. The Canvas Summer Term begins on April 22 and ends on August 22.

By default, students will have full access to Published Canvas courses only within the dates of the given Term. After the term's end date, student access will become read-only, meaning they can see content available to students but can no longer participate in the course.  

When the student access switches to read-only, what Canvas calls “Concluded”, this not only impacts how these courses appear to students but also how the students appear within those courses to instructors. For students, their courses will disappear from their Dashboard and they will need to go to Courses in the left navigation menu and select All Courses to find an area called Past Enrollments. This is where they will find their Concluded courses.

For instructors, when your student’s enrollments are concluded in your course at the end of the term, the students will disappear from your roster, which Canvas calls People, and from your Gradebook. The information still exists in the course, it just becomes hidden from your view by default. We have a help article with detailed instructions for Viewing Student Information After Their Course Access Concludes.

Option 3: Customize Course Availability

As noted, Term Dates are the default control for when students will have access to course content. But there is another option as well. Instructors can set their own custom availability options on a course-by-course basis. You can set a custom date when students can start or stop having access to your courses. There is one thing to keep in mind when adding custom dates for your course.  Canvas allows students to submit assignments after the Due Date has passed. So, if the students have full access (not the read-only Concluded access) to your course, that includes the ability to submit assignments, participate in discussions, and use the Inbox feature to message their classmates. We have a help article that has instructions for Controlling Student Visibility in your Canvas Course.

Just like the student access changes in Canvas, there are some additional changes in Canvas for instructor access as well. In Canvas, six months after the end date of the Term in which the course took place, the course becomes read-only or Concluded for the instructor. This will allow you to view the content of the course and copy content from this course to a future course, but will no longer allow you to edit content in the course.

And lastly, in a discussion about Canvas Course Visibility, we would be remiss if we did not include a short explanation of the Visibility field within your Canvas Course Settings. There are three options for Course Visibility: Course, Institution, and Public. Canvas has a help document that explains Canvas Course Visibility Options.  The one thing that differs for OHIO from the Canvas documentation is that Public access does not work with our system. Since you must have an OHIO ID and password to be able to log into Canvas, if you give a course link to someone without that access, they will get an error message that they do not have the permissions to view the content.


Canvas handles course visibility very differently than Blackboard. When and how students access the content in your Canvas course, as well as how you access it as an instructor, can be controlled by three variables: Publication, Term Dates, and Custom Availability Options. For more information please visit: