How do I get started with Canvas?

Getting Started with Canvas in 10 Steps

You can access Canvas directly by visiting and logging in using your SJU credentials.

1. Modify Your Canvas Settings
2. Customize your Notifications
3. Access a Canvas Course
4. Upload a Syllabus
5. Add Assignments (Grading columns)
6. Create Modules and Upload Files/Weblinks
7. Hide Unused Course Navigation
8. Select your Homepage Layout
9. View the Course as a Student
10. Publish the Course


1. Modify Your Canvas Settings

Within Canvas you have the option of customizing your Settings by adding a Display Name and Pronouns, adding a Profile Image, and/or changing your time zone.

  • In Global Navigation, click on the Account link and go to the Settings link.
  • Click on the icon to the left of your name to add a Profile Image (this can be a picture of yourself or any picture that you would like to represent you).
  • Click on the Edit Settings button on the right to modify your "Display Name" (what students see your name as) or to change your time zone.

Screenshot of a user's settings

If appropriate, update the following settings:

  • Full Name [1] is used for the Gradebook and Grades pages, Chat, People, and SIS imports.
  • Display Name [2] is how other users will see your name in Announcements, Conferences, Conversations, and Discussions.
  • Sortable Name [3] defaults to your last name, first name and appears in sorted lists so admins can search for it.
  • Pronouns [4] display after your name in various areas throughout Canvas.
  • Language [6] can be set to your native language and is the language you want to use in Canvas (does not apply if an instructor sets a specific language for a course).
  • Time Zone [7] can be set to where you are located and displays assignments in your local time.

Click Update Settings to save your changes.


2. Customize your Notifications

Your Notifications in Canvas is what tells the system WHAT information you wish to be sent outside of Canvas, HOW OFTEN, and WHERE it is sent.  Check your Notifications the first time you access Canvas so that you can customize the messages you may be receiving from Canvas.  These settings only apply to you; they are not used to control how course updates are sent to other users. To learn more about each notification, default settings, and notification triggers, view the Canvas Notifications resource document.

  • In Global Navigation, click on the Account link and go to the Settings link.
  • Under Ways to Contact and Web Services, add any additional contact methods to have messages from Canvas sent to (e.g., add a second e-mail address, Google Drive account, LinkedIn account,  Twitter account, SMS/Text message phone) and confirm each as directed
  • In Global Navigation, click on the Account link and go to the Notification link. Review and customize each.  

Screenshot of the Notification Settings

Each notification is set to a default setting. To change a notification for a contact method, locate the notification and click the icon for the contact method [1].

To receive a notification right away, select the Notify immediately option [2]. These notifications may be delayed by up to one hour in case an instructor makes additional changes, which prevents you from being spammed by multiple notifications in a short amount of time.

To receive a daily notification, select the Daily summary option [3].

To receive a weekly notification, select the Weekly summary option [4]. The date and time of your weekly notifications are posted at the bottom of the notifications page.

If you do not want to receive a notification, select the Notifications off option [5].

Unsupported notification types display the Unsupported icon [6]. Unsupported notification types cannot be enabled.

The recommended instructor settings would be to receive the ‘Conversation’ messages ASAP to your preferred contact method.  Students can always send you messages via the ‘Inbox/Conversations’  in Canvas so it is important for you to view these or have them forwarded to your preferred contact method.


3. Access a Canvas Course

When you are logged into Canvas, you access your courses under the Courses menu.  Any course you have been scheduled to teach will automatically appear within Canvas.  

Screenshot of the Courses Menu Item

  • In Global Navigation, click the Courses link [1], then go to the All Courses link [2]. Courses are always listed alphabetically, you cannot reorder your courses manually.

Note:  You can favorite any published course that appears in the My Courses section on the course list page. Course favorites also display in the Dashboard.

Screenshot of where to click on the star to favorite a course

  • To favorite a course, click the star next to a course [1]. Courses with filled stars show the course is a favorite [2].


4. Upload a Syllabus

In Canvas you can upload your Syllabus as Word or PDF Document or you can choose to copy/paste the text of your syllabus directly into Canvas.

Screenshot of the Syllabus Tool

The syllabus includes the syllabus description [1], the Course Summary [2], and the sidebar [3]. The Syllabus Description is where you can post your course description, a brief introduction, class guidelines, weekly reminders, and other important information. You can copy content from Word documents or create original content inside of the Rich Content Editor. You can also link to your Syllabus by uploading it into Course Files as a PDF and linking it in the content selector. Canvas will automatically create a preview of your document so your students don't have to download it before reading it.

Screenshot of how to edit the course syllabus description

  • Access Syllabus within the course menu at the left. To edit the Syllabus, click the Edit button.

The Course Summary is automatically generated for the course and contains a list of course assignments and course calendar events.

Screenshot of the Course Summary section of the Syllabus

Assignments are indicated by the Assignments icon [1], and events are indicated by the Calendar icon [2]. Non-graded items with a to-do date show the to-do date [3]. All assignments (unpublished and published) are listed in the syllabus for instructors, but students only see published assignments.

Changes to dated items can be made in both the Assignments and Calendar features and will be automatically updated in the Syllabus. Click the title to view the details of the assignment or event. Any assignments or events that are past the due date are highlighted in gray. Undated items are listed in alphabetical order [4].


5. Add Assignments (Grading columns)

Create an Assignment for everything you grade a student on during the semester, this may include quizzes, written assignments, participation, attendance, a final, a midterm, etc.

Screenshot of different Assignment Types

The Assignments Index page displays all gradable assessments in the course. Each gradable assessment displays an icon representing the assignment type: Assignment [1], Discussion [2], Classic Quiz [3], or New Quiz [4]. Every assignment will automatically align with a column in the gradebook. Assignments cannot be directly added to the gradebook.

  • Access Assignments within the course menu at the left.

Screenshot of the +Assignment button

  • Within Assignments click on the + Assignment link. Complete the Assignment details before clicking on the Save button. (Make sure that you publish each assignment to make them available to students by clicking the circle icon.)

Assignment details include fields for the assignment type, name, description, points, assignment group (if desired), grade display, submission type, and due dates. Note: Extra credit assignments should have 0 points possible so that they are calculated as extra points. 


6. Create Modules and Upload Files/Weblinks

Modules control the entire flow of your course and its content. Modules are used to organize course content by weeks, units, or whatever organizational structure works for your course. With modules, you are essentially creating a one-directional linear flow of what you would like your students to do. Once you create modules, you can add content itemsset prerequisites, and add requirements.

Screenshot of the Modules Index Page

The Modules Index Page is designed with global settings at the top of the page [1] followed by individual modules [2]. Course content items are nested within each module [3].

Create a Module

  • Access Modules within the course menu at the left.

  • Click on + Module on the right for each learning unit of your course (some instructors break their course into Chapters, Weeks, Sections, Modules, etc.).

  • Type in the Module name, edit settings, check mark the box if you wish to lock the contents of the module until a specific start date.

  • Click on Add Module.

Add/Organize Content

  • Within a Module, click on the + icon to add items and content to the Module

  • Select one of the following item types: Assignment, Quiz, File (document and media file types), Page, Discussion, External Tool, External URL, or Text Header (not recommended)

    • Add course content as module itemsNote: If you are adding new items look for the New option at the top of the list (New File, New Assignment, New Content Page etc.)

  • Click Add Item

Note:  Make sure that you publish each module and item you add to a module to make them available to students by clicking the cloud icon. A video tutorial: (


7. Hide Unused Course Navigation

As an instructor, you can control which links appear in Course Navigation. Canvas includes a set of default Course Navigation links that are shown by default and cannot be renamed. Prior to publishing a course, it is recommended that any unneeded navigation links at the left are hidden from the student so as to simplify their navigation and direct them.

  • Access Settings within the course menu at the left.

Screenshot of the Navigation tab in Course Settings

  • Select the Navigation tab at the top center

Screenshot of how to hide unused Course Navigation Links

  • To hide a navigation link, click the link Options icon [1] and select the Disable option [2]. You can also drag and drop unused menu items from the top to the bottom.

Note: Hide as many navigation links as possible to simplify the student view.  Hiding a link does not disable the tool, it just hides it from the student. If you have the links to your Quizzes, Assignments, and Discussions within your Modules, it often makes sense to hide these from the navigation in order to direct students to sequentially access materials in the Modules.

  • Click Save.

Note: The following course navigation links will still be visible to instructors even if they have been hidden or disabled: Home, Announcements, Assignments, Collaborations, Conferences, Discussions, Files, Grades, Modules, Outcomes, Pages, People, Quizzes, Rubrics, Settings, and Syllabus.


8. Select your Homepage Layout

The ‘Homepage’ of your course can be customized as you prefer.  You can change your Course Home Page to reflect one of five layout options: the Recent Activity Dashboard, Pages Front Page, the Course Modules, the Assignment List, or the Syllabus. Note: You must set a Front Page before selecting the Pages Front Page option. Additionally, only Published pages can be set as the Front Page.

  • Access Home within the course menu at the left.

Screenshot of Choose Home Page link

  • Click on Choose Home Page.

Screenshot of the Home Page Layout options

  • Select an option and click on Save.



9. View the Course as a Student

Prior to publishing a course, it is a good idea to view the course under Student View in order to test it fully before it’s published. To see the student's perspective on Canvas, use Student View to view the course, post and reply to discussions, submit assignments, view grades, view people, view pages, view the syllabus, view quizzes, view the calendar, and view the scheduler.

  • You can access Student View from most areas of the course including: Home, Modules, Assignments, Announcements, Discussions, Quizzes, Pages, Syllabus, and Outcomes.

Screenshot of Student View button

  • Click on the Student View button.
  • You can now view the course as a student user would see it. You will know if you are in Student View because of the persistent box on the bottom of the screen indicating you are logged into Student View.
  • Click on Leave Student View at the bottom right, when you are done with the preview.

Note: Attendance, conferences, conversations inbox, collaborations, differentiated assignments, external apps, groups, peer reviews, and profiles do not work for the Test Student. You will see only what you, as the instructor, allow your students to see.


10. Publish the Course

In order for students to see a Canvas course, the instructor must publish it.  It takes just a few seconds to publish a course.  After publishing a course, changes you make may send students a notification if they have opted in to receive notifications (students may receive an e-mail every time a date is changed, every time a new assignment is added, every time the point value is changed, etc.)  It’s recommended that the majority of changes are made prior to the course being published.  

  • Access Home within the course menu at the left.

Screenshot of the Publish course button

  • Under Course Status at the top-right of the course, click on the Publish button. A message will appear at the top of your screen confirming the publishing of your course.

  • We recommend adding a "Welcome Announcement," as students may be new to Canvas.

Note: Publishing a course does not publish content that has been designated as "draft" or unpublished. To publish content, assignments, modules, etc. you must click the publish icon next to each item. Published items are designated with a green check mark. Unpublished items are represented by a gray circle with a strike-through.


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Article ID: 46111
Wed 1/10/18 8:20 PM
Wed 5/10/23 2:22 PM

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SJU currently uses Canvas to enhance the teaching and learning experience.