Student Voices about Canvas: Spring edition

In Fall of this year (my first semester using Canvas), and again this Spring, I did a mid-semester survey of my students that was focused specifically on Canvas. In the Fall I had hoped there would be some kind of survey of students about Canvas, but I was told no mid-semester survey was planned. I don’t know if there was any end-of-semester Canvas survey of students conducted; if there was, I never saw the results. Since I learned a lot from the Fall survey that was useful to me, I decided to do the survey again in the Spring for comparison purposes. You can see all the survey data here:
Fall 2016
Spring 2017


For the numeric ratings, the results were basically the same for both semesters. In comparison to D2L, the students on average rate Canvas “better” and about 1/3 of the students consider Canvas to be “far better” than D2L. Most of the students in my class are seniors so, like the faculty, they have years of experience with D2L, which means they are in a good position to compare the two systems.

I don’t use a lot of Canvas features, so the only features that I specifically asked students to rate were the Gradebook, Calendar, Messages, and Mobile App. In terms of the rating, the Gradebook is most highly rated (3.3 on a scale of 1 to 4), followed by the Calendar (2.8), then the Messages and Mobile App (both at 2.5).

Free Responses

As always, the most useful information is in the students’ free responses. I’d urge people just to read through the raw responses for Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 to get a sense of what they are like. I have a lot of thoughts about all of that, so to keep this blog post under control, I’ll just list 10 responses that come to mind.

1. Asking people to “give advice” on surveys is so productive! The most useful comments come from the two questions where I asked the students to give advice to instructors using Canvas and where I asked them to give advices to their fellow students. Unlike praise or complaints, advice is something actionable: when students give advice, they are oriented towards what people (instructors and students) can actually DO as we move to this new system so that we can make the best of it.

2. Students are driven by a focus on grades. Just speaking for myself, I consider the emphasis on grades to be a huge problem in education (details about my own un-grading here). Students are so focused on grades that they are not focused on their actual learning and how to become active, independent learners as they surely need to be. So, I’m not surprised that the Gradebook is the highest-rated Canvas feature, and if you read through the remarks in response to the question about what students like best about Canvas, it is comments about grades that predominate, as you can see in this word cloud from The fact that the LMS is largely an enrollment-and-grading tool is why I use the LMS very little in my own classes.

3. Email versus messages. There is a lot of dissatisfaction with Canvas messages, and some students said they would just prefer emails (like in D2L). Because of the extremely poor messaging inside the Canvas Gradebook compared to D2L, I send students a mix of Canvas messages and direct email, and I make sure to explain my approach to them. I don’t think students realize that we have no access to their email from inside Canvas (and I know there is faculty dissatisfaction with that also). It’s also clear that some students have either not configured the notifications at all or they find the configurations inadequate (getting too many messages by email or too few). I am very sympathetic to their wanting different settings for different classes, given that different instructors use Canvas in different ways.

4. Roster email. I was surprised to see how many students missed the roster email option; I had no idea students were even using that in D2L, and they have indeed noticed that it is not possible to email the whole class in Canvas. In my classes, I do Daily Announcements and I invite students to share announcements with me which I then include in the overall Announcements. I personally really don’t want students emailing the whole class with their own announcements, but I am very glad to publicize announcements for them as part of the regular class announcements.

5. Modules. Students clearly want course materials organized in modules, and they are frustrated if they have to navigate the Files, Assignments, or other areas to look for content that is not in a Module. There was also a good discussion of this topic at the Canvas Community recently: Faculty having a hard time with Modules (you can view that discussion without even logging in to the Community, which is great; to comment, you need to log in with your OU Canvas account).

6. Published… or not. A recurring student complaint is that faculty think they have published content when, in fact, they have not pressed the publish button. I’ve run into this problem myself; I think it would be a big help if Canvas made it much more obvious to faculty what materials have not been published yet, perhaps with some big banner across the top of each unpublished page. One student suggested that instructors use the Student View more so that they can realize for themselves where there are holes in the course as a result of unpublished materials. And, of course, experiencing the course as a student does is always a good idea; I personally really appreciate the way the Student View in Canvas is much more flexible than the D2L Student View was (you can actually complete assignments and view the Gradebook as a simulated student in Canvas).

7. Ready… or not. Students are also clearly frustrated when courses are not completely configured at the beginning of the semester. They want to be able to see all the content in advance and to use the grade calculator based on the whole semester. If faculty are adding and editing course materials as the semester goes along, students feel confused and/or frustrated.

8. Unused buttons. Several students remarked that instructors should disable course navigation buttons they are not using. Personally, I think it would be better to start out the default course spaces with only the homepage button enabled, and then let faculty ENABLE the buttons they are actually going to use since it is indeed unlikely that they are going to disable the buttons they are not using… although they certainly should do so!

9. Use the grace period. A couple of students recommended to instructors that they “use the grace period” which refers to the way that Canvas allows a soft deadline and a hard deadline for all assignments, which was not true in D2L. I’ve written about that elsewhere, and we had a good discussion about that just the other day in the Canvas Community: Grace Period.

10. Dashboard. Now that students are using Canvas for more classes, there were more remarks about the dashboard. I will write up a new Tech Tip to add to my collection (Canvas Tech Tips) to make sure students know what options they have for customizing the Dashboard. And I keep hoping the color overlay problem will be fixed soon (discouraging lack of updates here), because the Dashboard will be so much better when Canvas does not mess with our course card images. I like having the images, and I am eager to get rid of the overlay by next semester (fingers crossed…).

So, I’ll stop there, but I would encourage people to read the comments from my students or, even better, ask your own students what they think of how you are using Canvas. They might give you some great advice in return! 🙂