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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

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. 

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.

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: