Canvas Tips & Tricks: Volume 1!

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! This will likely be the first in a series.

Attendance tool (Roll Call)

Roll Call/Attendance Points

Did you know you can change the amount of points attendance is worth? Roll Call will default to counting out of 100 points, but it’s simple to change.

  1. Go to your Assignments page and click on Roll Call Attendance.
  2. The tool will load, but look to the right (or bottom, if your window is small) for “Edit Assignment Settings.”
  3. Scroll down to the points box, and change the points to be whatever you want!

The first time you change the Roll Call points, the grade will become a little wonky. Don’t worry, it will fix itself the next time you take attendance!

Excused and Unexcused Absences

Do you allow your students some number of excused absences? Although Roll Call doesn’t have an “excused” category, here are some ways you could manage this.

Method #1: Just Ignore It

If a student is absent one day, and you (for example) allow two unexcused absences, just don’t take attendance for that student that day. Leave them on the default “unmarked” category. To keep track of how many times a student was absent, use badges!

Roll Call allows you to create “badges” within its attendance tool. You can follow the steps for creating a badge listed in this article, and create a badge called “Excused.” Then, apply it to students who have used up one of their excused (or unexcused) absences. These badges are a private “tag” that only you can see. This will help you keep track, but has no effect on the score for the column.

Method #2: Go Back and Fix It

You can always retroactively mark a student as present or absent for a day that has passed. At the end of the semester, click the arrows in the date section of Roll Call to go back to a past date and change the student’s attendance.


Participation Grades

There are about as many ways to record participation grades as there are leaves on trees. Here are some examples I see folks using that I think are clever.

Some people like to make one single Participation assigment (and therefore one column in the Gradebook), and then either update it in the Gradebook after each class meeting, or perhaps keep track on paper and update the Gradebook at some other interval (at midterm & finals time, maybe, or maybe just finals time).

Some people like to make several Particpation assignments; for example, one for each time the class meets or one per week. Then you can add a grade for each week, and put Participation in a weighted grade group (so I might have 15 columns in my grade book, one for each week of class, that add up to be 20% of my course grade).

I personally like to tie participation to class discussion – so I have one No Submission assignment for each reading we do, and if the student participates in the class discussion to a degree that convinces me they’ve done their reading, I will give them full marks for the reading, and therefore full marks for that day’s participation.  This is pretty similar to the previous method, and has the added benefit of sending students “To Do” items and reminders to complete their reading.

Feel free to mix or match these as feels appropriate!

“Assign To” +Add Button

The “+ Add” button in the Assign To box is for adding an exception to a due date. For example, if you had a student who needed a due date extension, you would click that button and put that student in as the exception. Lots of people are thinking that the +Add button “saves” the due date, but that’s what the Save button at the bottom of the page is for!

Here’s an example:

Assign To box with no exception added

The Assign To box by default is set to assign this due date to everyone in the course. Clicking the +Add button will add a second due date.

The Assign To box with an exception added.

When you click the +Add button, you get a second place to write a due date for one or more specific people (or sections, etc), and the top one changes from Everyone to Everyone Else.


I know we told you in the Canvas trainings not to worry too much about Files, this page can actually be fairly useful to you as an instructor – but it’s not designed for your students. You can organize content within folders here, and it makes it a lot simpler to sort through.

However, a word of warning: folders and files have their own publishing permission levels, separate from the modules you may have put the files in! I know, it’s a lot to get used to.

You may find it useful to just take a glance down your Files page to make sure that any folders or files you’re using are published. If students are telling you that certain files are “locked” (as opposed to simply “I can’t see that file”), the Files page might be the solution.