Canvas - Setting Up Course Sites (for Instructors)



Canvas is Virginia Tech's learning management system (LMS). Instructors use Canvas to manage teaching materials like assignments, quizzes, feedback, and student grades. 

  • Official courses are automatically created in instructors' Canvas accounts.
  • Enrolled students are automatically added.
  • Instructors can reuse teaching materials by importing them to a new course site.
  • Canvas provides 24-7 support by phone (833-639-7621) and chat (click Help on any Canvas screen).

The Canvas Instructor Guide has full instructions on using Canvas. These instructions are specific to Virginia Tech. To see other Canvas topics, please see Using Canvas at Virginia Tech (for Instructors).



Canvas Site Types

Official Course Sites

Canvas creates an official course site for instructors of record and populates them with student enrollments. To create teaching materials before an official course site is available, instructors can create draft course sites and then move materials to an official course site later. Students cannot see official sites until instructors publish them and after the course start date has passed.

Official course sites appear in instructors' accounts around:

  • Fall semester:                     June 15
  • Winter semester:                November 1
  • Spring semester:                December 1
  • Summer (all semesters):     March 15

Official course sites have term dates based on the academic calendar.

  • When the Start date passes, students can see the sites. Students can see materials only after instructors publish the sites and materials.
  • When the End date passes, official course sites are concluded.
  • Instructors can change their sites' term dates (see Term dates). 

If your site doesn't appear, see I don't see my Canvas site. If you still don't see your site, contact 4Help by clicking Get Help on the 4Help portal

Draft Course Sites

Instructors can create draft course sites to add teaching materials. They can then transfer the teaching materials to official course sites later. 

Draft course sites:

  • Do not have term dates.
  • Do not have automatic student enrollments.

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Canvas Site States

A Canvas course can exist in three states: unpublished, published, and concluded. See What are the different states of a Canvas course?

  • An unpublished site is visible only to instructors.
  • A published site is visible to students. 
    • Once students have submitted materials to a course site, you cannot unpublish the site. 
    • To hide it from students, in course Settings, change the term dates (see Term dates).
  • A concluded course is read-only, so you cannot edit its content.

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Copying a Course Site's URL

  1. Log into Canvas and navigate to the course site by clicking Courses and then selecting the course from the menu.
    • If the course is not listed, click All Courses to see a complete course list, and select it from there.
  2. Select the whole URL listed at the top of your browser.
  3. Copy the URL by right-clicking on the URL and clicking Copy.

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Finding Courses

Canvas courses are automatically created for courses students are officially enrolled in. Know that:

  • Not every instructor uses Canvas.
  • Instructors must publish courses before students can see them. 
  1. Log into Canvas. You'll go to the Dashboard.
  2. Scroll down past any announcements to see your courses.
  3. Click any course.
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    • If you don't see your course, click Courses -> All courses. This will let you see Current, Past, and Future Enrollments.

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Changing Course Display

You can choose which courses show up on the Dashboard and Courses menu.

  1. Log into Canvas.
  2. Click Courses -> All courses.
  3. Click the star next to a course to show it on the Dashboard and Courses menu.
    • You cannot star Past or Future Enrollments.

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Setting Up Canvas Sites

Cross-listing Sections

If you're teaching more than one section of the same course, you can cross-list the Canvas sites. See: Cross-listing Course Sites.

Transferring Teaching Materials

Move your teaching materials from the draft or previous course site to your official course site. See: How do I import content from another Canvas course?

Configuring Course Settings
  • Configure your term dates, grading scheme, course visibility, material licensing, and whether people can join the site.
  • Access settings by clicking Settings in the Course Navigation Menu.
Term Dates

Courses automatically appear to students based on the semester schedule (they can only see teaching materials if the course is published). To manually control course display, you can change the course Start and End dates. 

  1. Go to your official course and click Settings Course Details.
  2. Next to Participation, change Term to Course. Doing so de-couples the course term dates from the default semester dates. 
  3. Under Term, next to Starts and Ends, enter start and end dates. You need to enter both dates! 
  4. Choose whether to restrict students from viewing the course before the start date and after the end date. 
  5. Scroll down and click Update Course Details. Changes are not automatically saved. 
Other Settings
  • Content License: You can change the copyright settings for your teaching materials by selecting from the options next to License. The default setting is private, copyrighted materials.
  • Content Visibility: You can make your teaching materials visible to those not enrolled in the course. Student work is always protected. The default visibility setting is Course, where only you and your students can see the materials. To change visibility:
  1. Next to Visibility, click Course to share with people who are already in the course, click Institution to share the course with those in Virginia Tech, or click Public.
  2. To make only your syllabus visible outside of your course, check Customize and choose a syllabus visibility setting.
  3. Click Update Course Details
Making Joinable Sites

You can make draft course sites "joinable," so others can self-enroll. Training sites often use this feature. To do so:

  1. Go to the draft course that you manually created and click on Settings.
  2. Locate the SIS ID field and ensure it is blank, otherwise the self-enroll option will not be available for the course.
    • If the SIS ID field is not blank, contact a Canvas admin to remove it for you by going to the 4Help Portal, log in, and click Get Help. Write that you're trying to create a draft course with self enrollment and need assistance from TLOS.
  3. Under the text box below Description, click more options
  4. Check Let students self-enroll by sharing with them a secret URL. 
  5. Check Add a "Join this Course" link to the course home page.
  6. Tell students how to self-enroll. 
    1. Copy the course's Home page URL.
    2. Email students the URL and tell them: "Log into Canvas, then go to the course URL included here, click Join this Course, and then click Enroll in Course."

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Adding Links to the Course Navigation Menu

You must use the Canvas Redirect tool to add a link to an external website or a Canvas Page to a Course Navigation Menu. To add a link: 

  1. Collect the URL of the website or Canvas Page you want to add. 
  2. Go to the course site where you want to add a Course Navigation Menu link. 
  3. Click Settings and go to the Apps tab.
  4. Click the arrow icon for the Redirect app.

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  5. The +Add App button will appear. Click it.

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  6. The Add App window will appear.
  7. Next to Name, name your link. This text will appear on the Course Navigation Menu.
  8. Next to URL Redirect, paste the URL of the website or Canvas Page.
  9. Check Show in Course Navigation.
  10. Click Add App.

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Please note if you copy a course's content into a new site, the linked URL in the Redirect tool will be copied.

  • If you linked to a non-Canvas website, you don't need to do anything. The link will still work. 
  • If you linked to a Canvas Page in the old site, the old page will be linked to from the new site. So, make a new Redirect link that points to the new site's Canvas Page and hide the old link.
Adding External (LTI) Tools

Canvas can be extended by integrating external tools. Software companies, textbook publishers, and training websites all make Canvas external tools. 

See: Canvas - Requesting and Use External Tools (LTI Tools) for details.

  • You can use most external tools without help from a Canvas admin.
  • Virginia Tech must approve new external tools before they're added to Canvas.

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Concluded Course Sites

Concluding a Canvas course site is like archiving it. The site is accessible, and you can import material to a new site, but you can't change the concluded site's teaching materials.

  • Course sites automatically conclude after the end of the term, unless you override the term dates in course Settings.
    • Prevent a site from concluding by changing the end date in course Settings to a date in the future. See: Term dates.
  • Concluding a course will lock it for editing; you can't change teaching materials or add/remove People. 
  • Students can still see concluded course site materials.
    • You can prevent students from seeing teaching materials by changing the term dates in course Settings. See: Term dates.
  • You can access concluded courses by going to Courses -> All Courses. They're listed under Past Enrollments.
Concluding Course Sites

There are two ways to conclude a course before the end of the term:

  • Go to Settings and click Conclude This Course.
  • Go to Settings and change the End date to a date in the past. Be sure to check Users can only participate in the course between these dates. Click Update Details.
Importing Materials from Concluded Course Sites

To import content from a concluded course to a new one:

  1. Go to course Settings and click Import Course Content in the bar on the right side.
  2. Under Content Type, click Copy a Canvas Course.
  3. Under Search for a course, check Include completed courses to make your concluded course sites searchable.
  4. Choose if you want to import All content or Select specific content.
  5. You can adjust events and due dates for your content if needed.
  6. Click Import.

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Unconcluding Course Sites
  • You need to unconclude a course site to make changes to the site, such as adding people or editing teaching materials.
  • Instructors can unconclude official course sites by changing the term dates so the end date is in the future. See Term dates
  • If the term dates are inaccessible and the Participation field is set to Course already instead of Term, a VT Canvas admin will have to unconclude the course for you. Request this through 4Help by clicking Get Help on the 4Help portal.
Adding People to Concluded Course Sites

The +People and +Guests buttons in People will be grayed out if a course site is concluded. You must unconclude a course site to add people by changing the term dates so the End date is in the future. See Term dates.

Deleting Course Sites

You need department head permission to delete a course site, because Virginia Tech Intellectual Property Policy 13000 grants the university perpetual rights to use materials for teaching and research. You cannot unpublish official course sites after students have submitted graded assignments.

Instead, you can:

  • Conclude the site to move it under Past Enrollments on the All Courses page.
  • Change the term dates to restrict access and visibility to the site. If the present date is not between the start and end dates, students will not be able to access the site. See: Term dates.

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Adding Outcomes

One of Canvas' most helpful features is its Learning Mastery component, which lets you decide exactly what you want your students to master in your course (called "Outcomes" in Canvas), and add these to the Outcomes tool.

Once you add your outcomes, or course objectives, they can be linked to grading rubrics, assignments, quiz questions, or any of the graded items in your course. The Learning Mastery Gradebook displays student progress with respect to the outcomes.

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Getting Help

For instructions on resolving common issues with Canvas, see:

Instructure, the creators of Canvas, provide 24-7 Canvas support, including live chat and a support hotline.

To get Canvas help, click Support on any Canvas screen and choose from help options:

In Canvas, use the new Help Docs button located near the Support button that will provide quick access to a knowledge base located inside Canvas.

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