Communicating and Understanding Notifications in Canvas

Your friends in OLS conducted a faculty survey to see what you’d like clarity or more information on, and notifications/communicating in Canvas were two of the most-cited topics. Since these topics go hand-in-hand, we created this short video to help you understand the way Canvas notifications and communication work. If you like reading better than watching, keep scrolling for more information.

We told you during Canvas trainings that Canvas is built on a system of notifications. Some of the ways you can communicate with your students are similar to Blackboard, but others work differently. Based on how we know you use the learning management system, here are the essentials you should know.

Inboxes and Conversations are Canvas’ equivalent to Blackboard’s “send email” tool or Course Messages. You can send messages to your students through your Canvas Inbox. These messages can go to an entire course, student groups in a course, or to one or more individual students. Remember, though, there are two prerequisites to sending messages through Canvas:

1. The course is in an active term. Term dates in Canvas are set to start and end two weeks outside of the term date listed on the academic calendar, so you can send messages to your students before or after term starts if you need to. If this is too restrictive, your course can be given wider start/end dates to override the system term dates. Contact Canvas support or OLS for help with this!

2. The course is published. If the course is not published, when you try to send a message, Canvas will display that there is only one person in the course (you).

Like Blackboard, you can also post an Announcement in a Canvas course. The benefit of Announcements is that they sit on the Announcements page, so students can find them even if they skipped over an email.  Announcements in Canvas can even work a little bit like Discussions Рyou can set your Announcements to allow student replies.

So how, where, and when do your students see your Inbox conversations and your Announcements? The short answer: just like in Blackboard, however they choose. The important change is that in Canvas, students are in control of how, where, and when they receive notifications that you have sent a message or posted an announcement. Notifications, even when received by email, are just notifications: alerts that something is going on in your course. This means that you cannot reply to email notifications you receive from Canvas. You can, however, click the links in the emails to be taken to the corresponding place in your course. If you want to receive copies of your own Conversation messages (like you did in Blackboard), you can control this from your own Notifications page. Please note that this is not automatic in Canvas. Think of Canvas’ Conversation messages like email – you don’t typically receive copies of your own emails that you send to others, so Canvas assumes you don’t need to be notified that you sent a message. Unlike Blackboard, Canvas has an Outbox, where you can see messages you’ve sent.

It’s also important to remember that users can choose the frequency at which they receive each type of notification, and the method or channel by which it is sent. Some of the options include email notifications, SMS/text message notifications, or push notifications to your phone, if you have one of the two Canvas apps (Canvas Student for iOS or Android or Canvas Teacher for iOS or Android) installed. Users can choose whether they want instant notifications, a daily summary, or a weekly summary.

Since every individual user of Canvas controls their own notification settings, you might consider talking to your students about the importance of keeping certain Notification types turned on, so that they don’t miss information from you. By default, the notifications that we in OLS think are most important are turned on. We’re not seeing too many users turning notifications off.

One last thing to keep in mind: Canvas does a good job of delaying notifications with each type of activity that occurs in a course. For example, when grading an assignment, notifications are delayed for 60 minutes, so that you have a chance to correct a mistake before the student knows you’ve graded. You can check out Canvas’ Notification Preferences document, which contains all of the time delays for each type of notification.

As always, if you need more help with Canvas, reach out to either Canvas Support through the Help button on your menu bar, or shoot one of us in OLS an email.