What is Canvas?

What is Canvas?

Canvas is a learning management system (just like iLearn which was powered by Blackboard). Courses that are provided through Canvas make it possible to access assignments, discussions, quizzes, and grades via your laptop, desktop, phone, and/or tablet.


Canvas dashboard view



Common Canvas Terms

Below is a glossary for many important terms used in Canvas. We have included an explanation of the feature as well as our recommendation for how/when to use it. For a quick and easy way to incorporate our suggested settings and feature use cases, import the XCITE CANVAS TEMPLATE into your course (it includes a syllabus page with all the required UCR information). To learn more about these items, refer to the Canvas Guides.



Announcements is a communication tool that allows instructors to post announcements for all users in a course. Announcements can be created in courses and groups. Canvas admins can also make announcements for an entire Canvas account. Instructors can allow students to reply to announcements.


In Canvas, an assignment is an assessment that is created by the instructor. Unlike "quizzes" (which is any multi-question quiz or test) and "discussion" (which is a public discussion board), Assignment creates a place where students can turn in papers, presentations, demonstrations, links, and other files. You can choose to have assignments submitted offline but tracked in the Canvas Gradebook, or they can be submitted online. You can also integrate external tools (e.g. Hypothesis, Flipgrid) in an assignment so it appears in Speedgrader.


The Calendar is a communication tool that shows users all events and assignments in their courses and groups all in one place. You can export a calendar feed for use on other calendar applications.

Canvas Community

The Canvas Community is an external resource provided by Canvas for all Canvas customers. The Canvas Community includes the Canvas Guides, which provides all Canvas documentation and videos, Canvas Feature Ideas, community groups, and more.

Course Home Page

The Course Home Page is the first page that students see in a course. The Course Home Page can be customized to display content based on an instructor's preference.

Course Navigation

Course Navigation is a menu on the left side of a Canvas course. Course Navigation consists of navigation links directed to all the feature areas within a course. Instructors can customize Course Navigation for each course. We recommend that you keep your Course Navigation as short and simple as possible to make it easy for students. Home, Announcements, Syllabus, Modules, and Grades are the only items students need to access all of your course content. 


The Dashboard is a panel of content that acts as the Canvas default landing page and provides an overview of your courses. The Dashboard shows all courses and groups, recent activity, to-do items, upcoming assignments, and recent feedback. It's typically the first screen you see when your first log in to Canvas. Click the Dashboard button on the global navigation (left sidebar) to go to your dashboard.


Discussions is a discussion board designed to facilitate interaction between students in a course. Discussions can also be created as assignments for grading purposes, but make sure you click the "graded" box when editing your discussion. Students can also respond to informal and graded discussions in the context of a group. All Discussions content is public, and all course students can view and reply to a discussion.


Files are where you upload course files, readings, or other documents. We recommend that you not include direct access to all the course files from the Course navigation, but rather place the files in the appropriate Pages. Files and folders are put in alphabetical order and cannot be rearranged.


The Gradebook stores information about student progress in Canvas. Canvas includes two types of gradebooks: a standard gradebook that provides a collection of numerical or letter-grade assessments, and a Learning Mastery Gradebook that compiles assessments based on learning standards and outcomes.


Groups are like a smaller version of your course and are used as a collaborative tool where students can work together on group projects and assignments. They enable you to separate students into smaller course units. To create groups, go to People on the Course Navigation. Groups can be created for students or by students to enable efficient collaboration.


The Help feature is part of Global Navigation and helps users get help in Canvas at any time. It is available on every page on Canvas as the final icon in the Global Navigation menu. You can get real-time Canvas help there. Click it to learn more.


Modules allow you to organize your content to help control the flow of your course. The most common module set up is by week (think of it as a clickable course schedule), but Modules can also be used to organize course content by units or a different organizational structure that works for your course. With modules, you are essentially creating a one-directional linear flow of what you would like your students to do. Each module can contain pages, discussions, assignments, quizzes, and other learning materials that you would like to use. You can easily add items to your module that you have already created in the course or create new content shells within the modules. Modules can be easily organized using the drag and drop feature. Elements within the modules can also be reorganized by dragging and dropping.


Notifications allow users to determine where and when they will be notified about activity in Canvas. Each Canvas user can adjust the Notification Preferences in their Profile to content them via email or SMS on a schedule that fits their individual needs. Some users will want to be notified of course events on a more regular basis than others. Notifications are set for an entire user's account, not on an individual course basis.


Pages are where you can put content and educational resources that are part of your course. This is a place where you can include text, video, and links to your files. You can even make links to other pages. Pages can also be used as a collaboration tool where you can create class wikis and set specific user access for each page. Canvas keeps the entire history of the page so you can see how it changes over time.


People displays all users enrolled in a course, along with lots of information about their activities in Canvas. Instructors can click a student's name to view a summary of their activity in a course.


Quizzes in Canvas are assignments that can be used to challenge student understanding and assess comprehension of course material. The quiz tool is used to create and administer online quizzes, surveys, and exams. You can share questions between multiple quizzes/exams by using question banks.

Rich Content Editor (RCE)

The Rich Content Editor is a word processor that you use to create and format content within Canvas. You use it almost everywhere to create your pages and other course objects.


SpeedGrader is a grading tool that helps instructors evaluate student work. SpeedGrader allows you to view and grade student assignment submissions in one place.

Student View

Student View allows you to see the course as a student views it and create a Test Student for your course. You can use Student View to see how your students view assignments, discussions, quizzes, and other areas of Canvas. To access Student View, go to the Home page of your course and click Student View on the right menu.


The Syllabus in Canvas makes it easy to communicate to your students exactly what will be required of them throughout the course in chronological order. Take advantage of our syllabus template to make sure you have included all the required material.


Some wording for the glossary from the Canvas Guides and Where can I find a list of Canvas terminology?.