Penn State is transitioning to using an online learning management system called Canvas to deliver its online courses. This page will:
- provide guidance for recommended browsers and computer configuration,
- explain how Canvas is organized,
- explain how to communicate in Canvas, and
- explain how to get help with Canvas-related questions.
Quick Guide for Students
If you are new to Canvas, it is strongly recommended that you complete the PSU: Canvas Student Orientation.
You may also want to review the Canvas Student Getting Started Guide to acclimate yourself further! This guide includes help for getting started with Canvas, customizing Canvas for you, and participating in your courses via Canvas.
Supported Browsers and Computer Configuration
The Canvas Help Center provides extensive, up-to-date documentation on making sure your computer is configured properly for Canvas. Failure to follow these recommendations may result in significant issues while viewing materials, taking assessments, and using dropboxes. You use unsupported browsers at your own risk.
Canvas Course Interface
Canvas uses a dashboard interface to organize content. Once you are logged into Canvas, you will see a menu bar that lists the following headings:
- Courses - Clicking on this heading will allow you to select the specific course you want to view.
- Groups - Clicking on this heading will allow you to see any groups that you have been assigned to in any of your courses.
- Calendar - The Calendar is the canonical source for all assignments and due dates for all of your Canvas courses. Refer to the linked guide for more information about customizing your calendar view.
- Inbox - Clicking on the Inbox will allow you to use Canvas Conversations, which is the messaging tool used instead of email to communicate with a course instructor, a group, an individual student, or a group of students.
- Account - Clicking on Account allows you to set up your profile, settings, and notification preferences. This is also where you access your Canvas files.
Once you are logged into a course, you will also see a Course Navigation Menu on the left side of the page. The links in the menu allow you to navigate within a course. Not all faculty use all of the links, so what you see may vary by course. However, some of the more common course elements may include Syllabus, Announcements, Discussions, Files, and Grades.
Communication in Canvas
Canvas supports several modes of communication, including discussions, conversations, and announcements. This course may use a combination of the options below.
- Discussions are threaded discussion areas within the course. Everyone enrolled in the class can post messages of their own and can read and respond to everyone else's messages. A series of messages that make up a conversation is called a "thread." Discussions can be found in the Course Navigation Menu on the left side of your course page.
NOTE: You can set Canvas to notify you whenever new messages are posted by "subscribing" to a discussion. For more information see 'How do I reply to a discussion as a student?'.
- Conversations is the Canvas messaging tool used instead of email to communicate with a course instructor, a group, an individual student, or a group of students. You can communicate with other people in your course at any time.
- Announcements are occasional messages from the instructor that appear when you log into your course. It is important to configure your notifications preferences so that you receive announcements where and when you wish to receive them.
Getting Help with Canvas
If you experience any problems with Canvas, especially those occurring during graded assignments, please report them to Technical Support, preferably immediately after they occur. That way, the Canvas Support team will be able to validate glitches and fix system problems as they occur. If you are a University Park or Commonwealth Campus student, please contact Canvas Support at the IT Service Desk. If you are a World Campus student, please contact the Outreach Helpdesk for assistance with Canvas.
It is in your own best interest to be as specific as you possibly can. Vague descriptions of a problem delay assistance. Try to include information such as:
- the specific course page, quiz question, etc., that was involved;
- what you attempted to do when that failed;
- the exact language of any error message displayed on your screen;
- the date and time when your problem occurred; and
- any other pertinent information (if the problem happens consistently, etc.).
A member of Canvas Support will be in contact with you to assist with the problem.
To get the most out of Canvas, registered students should configure their Canvas profiles as follows.
Personalize your Canvas profile:
- Go to Canvas.
- Click on the 'Account' link in the lower left-hand navigation menu.
- Click on the 'Profile' link.
- Follow the instructions on the Canvas Profile and User Settings page to customize important aspects of your profile including your preferred email address(es) and text (SMS) contact method for course notifications.
Set your notification preferences:
You have the option to select how, when and what information you would like to receive notifications for. This can be very helpful when keeping track of items such as discussion posts, assignment due dates, and exams. Visit the Canvas Notification Preference Support page and follow the instructions for setting up your notification preferences.
It is VERY IMPORTANT that you forward your Canvas Conversation messages (course mail) and Announcements to an external Internet e-mail address.
NOTE to registered students: All official communications from the Penn State World Campus are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts (email@example.com), not to Canvas Conversations (course e-mail). Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward firstname.lastname@example.org to your preferred e-mail account, so you do not miss any important information. You can control the forwarding of email@example.com by going to your Penn State access account.
Subscribe to all course discussion forums. The Canvas Guide provides instructions for how to do this within your Notification Preferences.
Canvas Tips and Tricks
- Any file (including images) you wish to share in Canvas (via Discussion post, Quiz, etc.) must be uploaded to your Canvas files.
- Click on 'Account' in the left-hand menu.
- Click on 'Files'.
- Click on '+ Folder' (top right) to create a folder. Or double-click the destination folder if you already have a destination folder created.
- Click 'Upload' to directly upload a file. Select the file from your computer that you wish to upload.
- You may also click and drag files into folders.
- Adding an image to the body of a discussion forum post.
- Click on the Embed Image icon in the text editor.
- Click on the Canvas tab (you need to have already uploaded your files to Canvas as described above).
- Select the folder/image you wish to embed.
- Click on the Update button.
- The image should appear in the body of your post.
- Control the unread/read state of discussion forum posts. It is important to do this. Otherwise, as you just scroll past a discussion post the blue dot on the left will automatically go hollow, indicating that the post has been read.
- Use the Discussions link in the menu to open a view of all discussion forums.
- Click on the gear/cog icon in the upper right to open the 'Edit Discussions Settings' dialog.
- Check the box for 'manually mark posts as read'. Then click the 'Save Settings' button.
- To attach a file to a discussion forum post.
- Click on Attach button in the lower left of the discussion post editor.
- Click on the Browse button to browse to the file on your computer.
- Click on the Open button.
- Finish editing the discussion post text.
- Click on the Post Reply button.
If you have any questions now or at any point during this week, please feel free to post them to the General Questions and Comments Discussion Forum in Canvas.