Supporting Students in the Peer Review Process

If you have students review and comment on each other’s work, you may want to use the Canvas peer review feature. This post briefly explains the process and includes links to resources that can help students complete their peer reviews and access their peers’ (and your) feedback.

What is Canvas peer review?

In short, adding peer reviews to a Canvas assignment means that students can be automatically or manually assigned to review one or more classmates’ papers (or videos, or whatever they’ve uploaded to Canvas), using a rubric you provide (or not), annotations (if you or they want), and comments.

Canvas guides for instructors

Resources to share with students

KB doc with video explaining how to give and find feedback (also includes links to Canvas Student Guides)

Other instructor resources

FAQs about Peer Review

  • Does Canvas automatically average peer reviews or combine them into a grade?
    • No, not at this time. We’re working on solutions that may improve this.
  • Can peer reviews be combined with group assignments?
    • Yes, they can.
  • How can I make peer review more effective?
    • Check out some of the instructor resources above.
    • Explain the purpose to students. Link your directions to the KB doc for students (above).
    • Provide prompts or rubrics to guide students’ reviews.
    • For assistance in creating a peer review assignment in the College of Engineering, feel free to contact us at CEETE!

New Instructor Roles in Canvas

Summer course shells are now available in Canvas, and with them come three new instructor roles that take the place of the Teacher role: Principal Instructor, Supervisory Instructor, and Auxiliary Instructor. In this post we’ll look at the reason for this change and how it could affect you.

As our systems grow in complexity, the interactions between them become increasingly important. The University has conceptualized these interactions as the Student Digital Ecosystem (SDE).

diagram showing sde

As shown in the diagram above, these systems have different levels of privacy and different uses. In this post, we’re looking at the connection between the Curriculum Management System and Teaching and Learning Tools, like Canvas.

Instructors are entered in the Human Resources System (HRS) and assigned to courses by their departments in Class Section Builder. This information now feeds into Canvas (and AEFIS and other programs) so that the process is consistent and efficient. This also enables the university to document that a qualified instructor is associated with each course, in accordance with Higher Learning Commission (HLC) accreditation requirements.

The assigned roles in Canvas depend on both HRS and Class Section Builder records.

  • A Principal Instructor is “a qualified staff member who is active in course delivery and recognized by the students as one of the (and most typically only) lead instructors of the course section. A course section could have multiple principal instructors, but every course section must have at least one Principal instructor.”
  • A Supervisory instructor is “a qualified staff member who oversees courses and grading when the Principal Section instructor does not meet standards according to the Policy on Minimum Qualifications for Instructional Staff or when the Principal section instructor, by HR title definition, needs supervision.”
  • An Auxiliary instructor is “a qualified staff member who provides a small portion of instruction in a section but does not have overall or substantial responsibility for the course or section.”

Faculty and Academic Staff may have any of the 3 roles in Canvas. Teaching Assistants (as identified in the HR system) can be Principal Instructors or TAs in Canvas. Teaching Assistants with a Principal Instructor role in Canvas do require supervision.

If you have questions about your role in a course, questions about Canvas, or anything Teaching and Learning related in the College of Engineering, please contact us at CEETE (

Canvas Assignment Submission Types: Pros and Cons

Can students upload multiple files to an assignment in Canvas? What about drafts of an assignment? Is there a difference between Text Entry, File Upload, or URL submission assignment types? Why does it matter? Keep reading to learn which box to check and why. (Short version: Don’t check them all!)

Text Entry Assignments


For both assignments and quiz items, you can ask students to submit their answer as a text entry. Students can copy and paste their answer from another file, or they can type directly into the Rich Text Editor (or the HTML editor).


  • In Speedgrader, text entry items load very quickly. This option can save time in very large courses.


  • Canvas does not auto-save student responses, so it’s possible for students to lose their work if a connection is interrupted. This can be frustrating for students.
  • The DocViewer, which allows you to annotate student work in SpeedGrader, does not appear for text entry submissions. You can still provide feedback with a rubric and/or general comments.
  • If a student re-submits a text entry, you can access the previous submission, but the student cannot. This is important if you give detailed feedback. Any feedback on past submissions is not visible to the student.

File Upload Assignments


You can ask students to upload a file or set of files in response to an assignment or quiz question. Students can choose a file from their computer or upload a static copy of a Google Doc, Box, Google Drive, or Office 365 document.


  • Students can submit multiple files in a single submission, such as a PowerPoint and a report, or a code file and accompanying documentation.
  • Canvas supports many different file types. These formats can be viewed in SpeedGrader’s DocViewer. Other file types can still be used and then downloaded.


  • Large documents can take a long time to load in SpeedGrader.

Restricting File Types?

Opinions vary on whether to restrict file types or not. If you do want to restrict students’ options, be sure to include all acceptable variations. For example, include both doc and docx for Word docs, ppt and pptx for Power Point, and xls and xlsx for Excel workbooks.

URL Submissions


You can ask students to submit a URL for their assignment. This could be the sharing link from a Google doc, a web site they’ve created, or any other web address.


  • There’s great flexibility in the kinds of student products that can be shared as URLs (videos, websites, slides, etc.)
  • Students can share a live document where you can make comments. (For Google docs, this link will end in =sharing.)


  • Not all websites load easily in Speedgrader. It’s sometimes necessary to open the URL in an external window, which adds to overall grading time.
  • Live documents can change, so a student might submit the URL on time but still make changes to their doc after the deadline.

What to Avoid

Don’t select all 3 options-URL, File Upload, and Text Entry.
Giving all of these options can affect feedback seen by students and interfere with Peer Review processes. Selecting both URL and File Upload (or Text Entry) enables submission via these types, but students can only use one of the methods at the same time. They cannot submit both a URL and a pdf simultaneously.
As the instructor, you have access in SpeedGrader to all of a student’s submissions using the dropdown menu in the top right-hand corner.


However, while you can see all submissions, students will only see feedback on the most recent submission. If you leave detailed annotations on a previously-submitted pdf, students will not see them. Peer reviewers will only see and be able to comment on the most recent submission. (Peer reviewers also do not see any student comments submitted with an assignment.)

If you need students to submit multiple pieces, consider how they might include one in the other. For example, they can include a link to their video in their slideshow.

Don’t use one Canvas assignment for multiple drafts.
It’s ideal to have students submit a rough draft before submitting a final copy, either because you want to review their work and/or have students give each other feedback. However, when students re-submit an assignment, they lose access to comments and annotations on their original submission. For clarity, it’s better to create two separate assignments for each draft.

Resources for Students

All Student Guides for Assignments, including . . .

Canvas Gradebook Update – January 2017

The next phase of the new Canvas Gradebook is complete!

For a thorough description and demonstration of the new Gradebook, please refer to my previous blog post from November 2017. The November update included improved filtering, cross-hairs, and a better viewing experience.

Here’s what’s new with the January 6, 2018 release:

  • Instructors can enable the new Gradebook at the course level. You have the power!
  • Missing and Late Policies are the new feature that comes with this update. You can specify to automatically deduct x% from each assignment that is y hours or days late. (You can also specify a minimum grade to avoid the penalty going too far.) See Late Policies: Instructor FAQ. It’s best to set up these policies at the beginning of a semester.
  • Please take note! With great power comes great responsibility. If you use the Missing and Late Policies feature, you will not be able to revert to the previous Gradebook version. You may want to switch one class over first to see what you thing, before implementing in all of your courses. For general questions, contact us or check the Canvas Guides to the New Gradebook.

CEETE wishes you Happy Holidays!

As we approach the end of Fall semester, please note some small changes to CEETE’s hours.

  • We are OPEN during finals week Monday, December 18 through Friday, December 22 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. as usual.
  • Our office is physically CLOSED with no walk-in hours Monday, December 25 through Monday, January 1.
  • However, we will monitor emails to Tuesday, December 26 through Friday, December 29 and respond within 24 hours.

Some of our partners will also be out of the office intermittently, which may affect turnaround times for course migration requests and other project work. We will do our best to keep you apprised of delays.

Fall 2017 courses that begin migration (by request) in mid-December will likely be ready for review by January 5.


Here are some quick links for Frequently Asked Questions at this time of year:

  • Do you have resources for questions about grading? Yes! In Canvas. In Moodle. And in D2L.
  • What are good practices for wrapping up the semester? Think about what data you may need to save from Canvas, from Moodle, or from D2L. Consider these steps for wrapping up and rolling forward your Canvas course.
  • Can I combine multiple Canvas sections into one for next semester? Yes! Contact us to tell us which section(s)’s enrollment (Course number and section number, please) you want cross-listed into the other, and allow up to 2 business days. Or use these instructions if you prefer to cross-list them yourself.
  • How do I set up my course for Spring? In Canvas. In Moodle. In D2L.
  • Why can’t I find my Spring course on my Canvas dashboard? You may have set Favorite courses on your dashboard. To see all courses, click Courses, then All Courses (scroll all the way down). Starred courses display on your Canvas dashboard.
  • Are there workshops for Canvas in January? Yes! Check this event schedule for campus-wide training. In COE, we can meet with you for a course-specific consultation at a time that works for you. Email us at with at least 3 dates and times, Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. to schedule an appointment. We’re also happy to schedule small group, departmental, or other trainings by request.
  • Are Moodle and D2L really going away at the end of Spring 2018? Yes, with few exceptions. Please make sure you have everything you need from any Moodle or D2L courses. Access to teacher materials, student work, grade book records, etc. will be removed June 1, 2018. (If you’re in the very small group of Moodle users with a course-specific extension, you will have received a message in early December.)

Canvas Gradebook Update – November 2017

Canvas instructors, there’s a new Gradebook in town. As Canvas moves toward a final version of the new Gradebook (AKA “Phase 2″), the original Gradebook and a new version are both available to you right now. You can even switch between them during this phase. Should you switch? How do you switch? Where’s the documentation? Watch the screencast below and keep reading for answers to these questions and more.

Instructure provided a quick overview of the new Gradebook in their release notes from 2017-11-18 (see 1:13-2:33). I’ve made my own screencast here with a little more information.


  • Canvas Sub-Admins can turn the feature on or off for your course. Contact CEETE in COE or find your instructional technologist here. Update: Instructors can now activate this feature themselves as of Jan 6, 2018.
  • As of October 28, the Grading History feature is unlimited for both Gradebook versions. Previously it displayed up to 2,000 grade changes.
  • Switching back and forth won’t be possible at the end of Phase 1. (This is Phase 0.5 or early Phase 1) Update: If you use the Missing and Late Policies feature, you cannot revert to the previous version. See Canvas Feature Screencast 2018-01-06 0:026-2:50. See also the Late Policies: Instructor FAQ.
  • As of this writing (Nov 28), turning off a filter does not clear that filter. For example, if you uncheck the Filter by Sections option and have a section chosen, that section remains displayed. To clear the filter, go back and select all sections. (Note: fix is now in beta, will go into production in mid-April)
  • The Sync to SIS button does not work and will likely be removed sometime soon. Continue to use the Faculty Center Grade Prep tool to complete final grading.
  • Assignment Details is the main option that’s missing from this new version. If being able to see the average on each assignment is important to you, you may want to wait on the switch.

Documentation: All Canvas Guides for the New Gradebook

Upcoming Features

(from the Canvas Community)

Phase 1 (In Progress)

  • Late and missing flags with automatic deduction policies Updated: this is now implemented in the January 2018 update.
  • Improved commenting
  • Instructor defines if grades post automatically or manually

Phase 2 (Future – “On Radar” – Summer 2018?)

  • Improved Grading Scheme selection on assignments
  • More total viewing options, replacing ‘Treat Ungraded As Zero’
  • Resizing of the total column in the gradebook
  • Total grade adjustment
  • ‘Message Students Who’ for gradebook totals
  • Turn off automatic calculation and manually enter totals
  • Add more notes columns in the gradebook and export all note columns
  • Add a couple points for all students on an assignment in bulk
  • Option to hide points and/or percentages from students
  • Grading Schemes export as they’re shown in gradebook
  • Updated search allows searching for students & assignments


Canvas Groups and Sections: What’s the difference?

If you use groups or sections to organize your classes, this post is for you. In Canvas, students can be grouped administratively in Sections or for the purpose of group work in Groups. Let’s look at the different ways you might use Sections and Groups.

Sections and Enrollments

Each of your students is already in at least one section. When students register for a course, they’re actually registering for a section. If your course has separate lab or discussion sections, they will also register for those. When the Canvas course shells are created for the semester (Note: Spring 2018 shells are now ready!), Canvas is pretty good about putting those sections into a Canvas course for you. You can look at the People page to see the section enrollments for each student.

If you have two or more sections of a course that aren’t automatically combined, you can cross-list the sections so that you only have to post your materials in one Canvas course for both.

  • Here are UW’s cross-listing directions. (Note: If you’re a COE instructor, we can de-cross-list sections for you, so there’s no need to create the AdHoc section.)

We can also cross-list your sections for you with a 2-business-day turnaround time.

Assignment Due Dates for Different Sections

When you create assignments in Canvas, you can assign them by section. Directions here. For example, if section 001 meets on Tuesday and 002 meets on Wednesday, you can assign section 001’s homework to be due 10 minutes before class starts on Tuesday and make section 002’s homework due on Wednesday. Students will only see the dates that apply to their section.

Grading or viewing the Gradebook by section

In Speedgrader, you can view all students at once, or you can select a specific section. Graders, TAs, and Teachers can only see the sections to which they’ve been assigned. You can also filter the gradebook by section.

Creating Groups in Canvas

If your students do group work, there are 2 major reasons to set up those groups in Canvas. First, Canvas creates a work space for each group–sort of a course within a course. Groups can upload files, have discussions, and create Google docs for collaboration within their group space. If you create a group discussion, each group will have the same discussion prompt within their group space. Second, you can create Group Assignments where only one member of the group needs to submit something for their group. Then when you grade the assignment in Speedgrader, the grade is automatically assigned to each student in the group. (It’s possible to override that setting and give individual grades if you prefer.)

Tips to Avoid Frustration

If possible, wait until your enrollment is stable before creating groups.
Double-check the groups before assigning any grades. Make sure students are in the correct groups. If you’ve enabled self-signup, you can go back into the group settings and turn off self-signup to lock the groups. Once grades are assigned, it is problematic to re-assign students. Instead, if you have changes, clone the group set, make any changes there, and assign the next assignment to the new group set.

Assignment Due Dates for Different Groups

This is where things get interesting. You can use the Assign box to give different deadlines to different groups for a group assignment. If you’ve checked the box to make your assignment a group assignment, your group names will display under “Assign to.” That works if there’s one submission per group.

What if you want to give an individual assignment but only to certain groups? To do this, you’ll need to create sections that mirror your groups. (If you’re only doing this for one assignment or have a small class, it may be faster to just assign using students’ names.) Create the sections on the Settings page. Then add students to the sections via the People page. Don’t remove students from their original sections. This could create issues later with uploading grades to Faculty Center. It’s fine for students to be in both your created section and the timetable-based section. As with creating groups, it’s a good idea to wait to do this until your enrollment is stable. (UPDATE: UW-Madison COE instructors, please contact us for assistance with adding students to sections for Summer 2018 and later.) 

Do you have any tips for working with sections or groups in Canvas? Post them in the comments below.

From Canvas to Canvas: Rolling your course forward for the next semester

Course shells for Spring 2018 were created recently. What’s a course shell? That’s the Canvas course that includes your student enrollments. It appears on your Canvas Dashboard and Courses list with its timetable-assigned title and term (Spring 2017-2018). As the instructor, you need to add the content. (Please don’t add students to your migrated course or sandbox.) This post explains how to roll your content over from a previous semester, a migrated course, or a Canvas sandbox. If you’re a COE instructor teaching in Moodle or D2L, please contact us at to migrate your course materials.


Finishing out the semester

  • As the semester wraps up, you might want to read our previous blog post on end-of-semester grading.
  • By default, students will be able to view the course after it ends (but not quiz questions!). If you would like to change their access, see this document.
  • Student work is not part of the course export. Download and securely store any work you will need for accreditation purposes or to use as examples in future courses. You can download student submissions in bulk and annotated submissions individually. There is currently no automatic capture process for rubrics or comments; please take screenshots if those are needed.
  • Gradebook data is not part of the course export. Export the gradebook to a .csv file and store it securely.
  • Consider asking students for anonymous feedback about your Canvas course.

Rolling your course forward

Export your Canvas course

Open the course you’re copying from, and use these directions to export your course as a Canvas Course Export Package (an .imscc file).

Import your Canvas course

Open your new semester course shell (where student enrollments are automatically added), and use these directions to import your course, choosing the export package from its saved location. There’s an option to shift dates. It won’t account for spring break, but it will get you close. You might prefer to remove dates and then update them all. If you see an error message, it may be because your course is over the 1 GB limit for teacher materials. Please contact us at for assistance in COE.

Courses with multiple sections

Usually, courses with multiple lab or discussion sections will already be cross-listed. If you have sections that meet separately but have the same content, you or we can cross-list them. (Please allow up to 2 business days.) Then within your combined course, you can set different due dates for different sections. (Learn more about working with sections in our post on Sections vs. Groups.)

Review your course

If you’d like design review or assistance with your COE course, please contact us at to schedule a consultation. And/or enroll a colleague in your course as a student so they can provide you with feedback. (Then unenroll them before your course begins.)

Before publishing, use Student View to double-check what students can see. (Note: Kaltura videos do not display in Student View, but they will display for real students just fine.) You may want to set availability dates on your quizzes and/or assignments. You may want to schedule file availability. Setting those restrictions enables students to see that the assignments and files exist, with any corresponding due dates. It prevents them from seeing the content of the assignments, files, and quizzes.

Publish your course

When you’re ready for students to view your content, you can publish your course from the home page. Students will then receive their course invitation. Messages sent from Canvas go to students based on their notification settings. We recommend sending your initial welcome email via the WiscList for your class. In that email, remind students to set their Canvas Notifications to “Notify me Immediately” for Announcements, Discussion, Discussion Posts, and Conversations (also called Inbox).

Re-grading Quizzes in Canvas: Tips and Workarounds

“Can I re-grade a quiz question in Canvas?” It’s an excellent question, and one that doesn’t always have a satisfying answer. The goal of this post is to clarify what can and can’t be re-graded and to offer some solutions when re-grading by hand becomes necessary. It’s always preferable to completely preview your quiz before assigning it to students; sometimes, however, problems with a question aren’t discovered until students have already taken the quiz.

There are three types of questions in Canvas that can be re-graded: multiple choice, multiple answer, and true/false. Re-grading applies when you change the correct answer to a question. It does not apply when questions are added or deleted; deleting questions can have unexpected effects. It also does not apply when changes are made to questions linked from a question bank. See this guide on re-grading options for more details and step-by-step instructions.

But what about numerical answer or formula questions? Unfortunately, Canvas does not automatically re-grade those questions. There are a few options to consider in that case.

1) Consider how important the question really is. Will this information be assessed again later? Is it a small piece of a very large assessment? If so, you may just want to make like Elsa and Let it Go. You can quickly adjust scores on a quiz using Fudge Points in SpeedGrader. Or you can create an extra credit assignment and give everyone a few points to compensate.

2) Depending on the length of the assessment, you may want students to re-take it. After updating the incorrect question, you can add attempts to the quiz using the Moderate Quiz page.  (Note: this is also the feature you would use to add extra time or extra attempts for students with accommodations through the McBurney Center.)

3) If you are re-grading submissions individually, there are a few tips that can help. The grade by question feature in Speedgrader will allow you to choose which question you want to grade so that you can more quickly flip through the class. We always recommend muting the assignment while working on grades.

4) Another technique is to download a .csv of students’ responses to the quiz.  Generate the report with the Student Analysis button on the Quiz Statistics page. There will be a column with students’ responses for each question and a correct/incorrect indicator. You can skim this information to decide which grades to update in Canvas.

We know this isn’t ideal and are working with Instructure, the company that makes Canvas, to improve the re-grading options for the future.

Canvas Quick Start Guide – Create a course in 1 hour or less

Need to create a simple Canvas course?  This post is for you!  If you want assistance with a more customized design, contact us at CEETE.

Adjust your navigation.

Students need to know where to go in your course.  Canvas’ default navigation settings offer too many choices and can be confusing. Adjust your navigation so that students can see Grades and Modules.

  • When you have time later, come back and consider adding in other options.
    • The People tab will show students the list of who’s in the class.
    • Ultra Conference can be used for online office hours.
    • The Syllabus tab automatically creates a chronological list of published assignments called the Course Summary.
    • Taking Attendance?  Add the Attendance tool.

Why Modules?  Your content in Canvas doesn’t “live” in the Modules section.  Modules is the place where you can combine Pages, Files, Links, Assignments, Quizzes, and Discussions in a single area.  Then you can still use all of those things, but students access them through Modules.  Modules can also be toggled closed after students are done with them to keep the necessary information easier to find.

Build from Modules.

Make a module for week 1 (or week 0).

Add items to the module. For example, add your syllabus as a File.  Add your lecture slides or notes as a File.  (9/27/17 edit: You can even add multiple files at once this way.  Hold down the control key to select more than one!)

Add an assignment. From Modules, you’ll be asked to give the assignment a name. Click on the Assignment name from Modules to go directly to the Assignment editor.

Repeat as needed until you have your content in place. It’s okay to put up a week at a time. You can drag items around within and among modules.  Or move items using the settings wheel to the right of each item.

Publish your course.

Before you hit publish, take a look around in Student View.  Make sure your modules and module items are published.

Students can’t see your course until you publish it using the button in the top right corner of the home screen.