Canvas Tips & Tricks: Volume II!

We here in Online Learning Services get asked, from time to time, for some Canvas “tips and tricks,” or, in simpler terms, how to use Canvas more effectively. Here’s a roundup of some of these ideas! Don’t forget to check out Volume I for our first round of advice.


During your Canvas trainings with us, we suggested you steer clear of MasteryPaths. At the time, they were too much to learn. But we inadvertently set ourselves up for trouble doing this, because MasteryPaths ties to other things and can cause problems!

MasteryPaths are basically intended to customize the “path” a student can take through your course. If a student demonstrates “mastery” of some concept, they can skip extraneous content and move to the next whole idea. On a Page in a Canvas course, for example, there’s a checkbox that says “Allow in mastery paths.” Checking this box will make it so that only students who are on that MasteryPath can see that page. We had a rash of issues where people were checking this box and then no students could see that page, because no students were in a mastery path!

All this to say, if you aren’t intentionally using MasteryPaths, don’t check any boxes that relate to them. If you want to learn more about MasteryPaths, start with Canvas’ documentation!

“Concluded Courses”

This is another thing we didn’t cover in Canvas trainings, and it hasn’t mattered until now, at the close of our first full year on Canvas.

Two weeks after the end of each term, Canvas will mark your courses as “concluded.” This doesn’t really mean anything to you, unless you need to copy a concluded course from more than a calendar year ago into a new course. To do this, you’ll follow the usual procedure for copying courses, but you’ll make sure to check the box that says “Include completed courses” to see the old courses in the dropdown list.

A screenshot indicating the "Include completed courses" checkbox on the Import Content screen.

Course Dates

Similarly, there’s another small checkbox that’s very important, and it lives on the Course Settings page. It comes into play if you have incompletes, if you have to give a student an extension beyond the term date, or if you teach a 12-week Summer course.

Canvas courses inherit the “normal” term dates as dictated by Banner (+2 weeks on both ends). Since the courses are within the Summer I term Canvas thinks they are six weeks and turns them to read-only after the term end-date. However, you can override this by setting your own course start/end dates and checking the box, “Students can only participate in the course between these dates” as shown in the below screenshot from a course Settings screen. You need to do three things here: 1) specify a start date, 2) specify an end date 3) check this little box!

Screenshot of the term dates section of the Course Settings tab, indicating the "Students can only participate in the course between these dates" box.

Late and Missing Policies

You may know that you can set a course late or missing policy through the Canvas gradebook. What you may not know is this doesn’t play nicely with certain external tools. We’ve noticed VoiceThread becoming more and more popular on campus, and VoiceThread is a pretty good example of this.

VoiceThread passes information back to Canvas so that you can grade VoiceThread assignments. One thing it doesn’t know how to correctly pass back is a submission date. So, Canvas makes up for this by marking the submission date as the date you grade the work – which almost always is after the due date. When you grade after the due date, and Canvas records the date you grade as the “submission date,” your students’ work gets marked as late. When you have a course-wide late policy, your students will then be docked points for their late submission.

We’re hoping this will change in the future, but for now, beware of combining VoiceThreads and late policies!

That’s all for now from us in Online Learning Services. See you for Volume III!