Canvas is the learning management system used at Brown. It can be used to deliver course materials and assessments, support instructor-student and student-to-­student interaction and feedback, and to grade work.                    

Below find tips for effectively using Canvas at Brown. For an in-depth consultation, Brown University instructors can contact CIS Instructional Technology Group- [email protected].

Focus on the student experience    

When creating a Canvas site, design from the perspective of a student. Doing so helps students engage with the course content and avoid confusion. Follow these tips to help achieve a student-centered design.

  • Set a home page other than “Activity Stream.” The “Syllabus” option provides space to present custom content as well as a list of assignments and events.
  • State your learning goals and objectives on the home page. Doing so helps students understand course expectations and outcomes.
  • Use the assignment tool with due dates for each item. Many students appreciate the ability to view and submit assignments online. When each assignment contains a due date, students will see that assignment on their Canvas calendar and “to do” list. All assignments will also appear on the “Syllabus” page in chronological order.
  • Know that students can disable notifications. Critical communications should be sent to students via email.
  • Enable “Student View” in course settings as you design the site. This tool allows instructors to see the course as a student would, and will help you design a streamlined course site.
  • Remove unused items from the left-side course menu. Clean the clutter from the course’s navigation menu so that students only see items they need. Here are directions to do so.
Cultivate an inclusive classroom

Brown's diversity and inclusion action plan commits instructors to creating an inclusive learning environment, and connecting with students is one key component of inclusive teaching (Marchesani & Adams, 1992). Canvas can help instructors introduce themselves and the course; it also can be used for students to introduce themselves to the instructor, valuable for learning names (Cooper, et al, 2017).

Introductions can range from a text-based personal bio to a pre-recorded video upload. In most cases, these introductions should be posted to a dedicated discussion topic. If you’d like students to create a video introduction, then you must allow them to attach a file to their discussion post.

Brown’s Multimedia Labs offer support for instructors and students looking to record video. Contact [email protected] for more information.

Publish your syllabus

The University requires that all instructors upload their course syllabus to Once uploaded, you will receive a URL to the syllabus file. You can link to this file from your Canvas home page.                          

Import content from previous semesters

Importing content from another Canvas site saves you from having to recreate the course each semester. Be sure to review any content that contains due dates, as these will need to be amended for the current semester.             

Embed low­ Stakes quizzes to encourage student reading and ongoing preparation.

Low-stakes practice quizzes are one of the best ways for students to learn (Dunlosky, et al., 2013). In STEM courses, this approach has been found to be particularly beneficial for boosting performance for all students, including those from historically underrepresented groups (Freeman, et al., 2007).

Canvas’ quiz tool allows instructors to easily create, reuse, deliver, and assess quizzes and exams. The tool offers a variety of question types including multiple choice, true-false, and short answer. Most question types can be auto-graded by indicating a correct answer, and student can receive immediate feedback on auto-graded questions

Use rubrics to grade papers

Rubrics are scoring tools that establish expectations for assignments and help make grading easier (Stevens & Levi, 2005).

There are two major steps involved in creating rubrics in Canvas. First, instructors must craft criteria and set point spreads within the rubric. Second, instructors must add the rubric to an assignment.

Peer review                            

Peer review is a well-established strategy for improving student learning, whether feedback on writing (Baker, 2016) or problem-solving (Drane, Micari, & Light, 2014).

Canvas has a built-in peer review tool that can used with any assignment. The tool can automatically assign student peer reviewers or instructors can manually assign reviewers. Peer reviewers submit comments about the assignment within Canvas. Instructors can also require that peer reviewers complete a rubric.

NOTE: Please wait until after Shopping Period before enabling Peer Review in a Canvas site because changes in the course roster create issues with the automatic assignment of peer reviewers.


Baker, K. M. (2016). Peer review as a strategy for improving students' writing process. Active Learning in Higher Education, 17(3): 179-192.

Drane, D., Micari, M., & Light, G. (2014) Students as teachers: Effectiveness of a peer-led STEM learning programme over 10 years, Educational Research and Evaluation, 20:3, 210-230.

Hattie, J. (2011). Which strategies best enhance teaching and learning in higher education? In D. Mashek and E. Y. Hammer, Eds. Empirical research in teaching and learning: Contributions from social psychology (pp. 130-142). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Marchesani, L. S., & Adams, M. (1992). Dynamics of diversity in the teaching and learning process: A faculty development model for analysis and action. In New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 52: 9-12.

Stevens, D. D., & Levi, A. J. (2005). Introduction to rubrics. Stylus: Sterling, VA.