How is Canvas designed?

These Five Core Principles help define the Canvas user experience.

"Keeping the conversation alive": Canvas as Communication Hub

We recognize that meaningful learning can occur in the conversations that we have with others, both formal and informal, and Canvas is designed to facilitate that, whether that’s student-to-student communication or student-to-instructor communication.

We believe that communication should be an automated function of the LMS. You create your course and Canvas takes it from there. This means no more manual emails to individual students to tell them that you've changed a due date, finished grading, or created a new assignment. When a change is made within a course, notifications are automatically triggered and sent to the appropriate users. Once messages are sent, the students and teachers can receive them in the manner they choose. We offer multiple channels for communication, including SMS messages, and email notifications.

Not only do we let users dictate how Canvas should contact them, as illustrated above, but we also allow them to select the frequency with which we send notifications. In their Notification Preferences, users can customize each notification type with a frequency setting of 'immediately,' 'weekly,' 'daily,' or 'never.'

This communication methodology is interwoven into the fabric of Canvas and constitutes a significant industry shift in the LMS space.

"Leveraging multimedia content": Canvas as Extension of the Web

"Leveraging multimedia content": Canvas as Extension of the Web

Canvas is designed to make it easy to integrate multimedia from the Internet, the greatest content repository in the world. And Canvas courses themselves are designed to be a part of the web. With one check, for example, you can make your Canvas course public and contribute your carefully-designed course to the huge repository of open educational resources already out there on the internet. Any changes you make will be immediately reflected online. Guests will have read-only access to your information from anywhere in the world.

The Rich Content Editor in Canvas makes it very easy to mix text, images, math equations, or video all together in a single page. Pasting a YouTube link has never been easier. Once you paste the link, Canvas automatically embeds the video. And when you link to a PowerPoint presentation or Word document, Canvas creates an embedded preview that you can browse without having to download it to your computer.

The Rich Content Editor also makes it easy to record and embed audio or video comments almost anywhere in a course. If you have a video that you created in iMovie, for example, or an mp3 from GarageBand project, you can easily upload that file to a Discussion, Announcement, or Page. You can even leave audio recordings inside of SpeedGrader™ or Conversations, our messaging tool. Canvas automatically transcodes media files in the background using its Kaltura integration, so that readers can consume the media on any computing device.

We realize that the "atom" of data for Instructure Canvas is HTML. What that means is that it’s very easy to create links to any other page or resource that you have in your course. And those links never break.

Finally, special attention has been paid to making Canvas screen-readable. The Rich Content Editor also encourages users to create accessible content pages (i.e. text formatting is accomplished using styles). We've spent a lot of time making sure that the user experience for Canvas is easy, simple, and intuitive, and we don't want to leave anyone out. In fact, Canvas received the "Gold" certification from the National Federation of the Blind, becoming the fastest LMS ever to do so. For this reason, we allow limited customization of colors and schemes. Canvas conforms with the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WAI WCAG) 2.0 AA and Section 508 guidelines.

"Customized just for you": Canvas as Unobtrusive, User-Centric Interface

"Customized just for you": Canvas as Unobtrusive, User-Centric Interface

Our Co-Founders, Brian Whitmer and Devlin Daley, made a very conscious choice to ensure that the user interface looked the same for everyone: students, teachers, and LMS admins. The data that you see within that interface changes depending on who you are, but the basic interface does not.

This aspect of Canvas makes it very easy to train new users because you can refer to the same user interface. A Canvas course can be broken down into six parts:

  • the Global Navigation menu across the top, which shows you all of the courses and groups you belong to, the assignments you have to turn in or to grade, your grades for all classes, and your calendar for all classes,
  • the Course Navigation on the left, which links you to different areas in the course,
  • the Breadcrumb Navigation at the top of the Main Body of the page, which helps you move up and down in the course hierarchy,
  • the Sidebar on the right, which gives you all the links and buttons you need to get stuff done in the Main Body of the page, and
  • the Help Corner in the top right, where you can ask for support, check your inbox, or modify your profile.

Throughout Canvas, you will experience a simple and unobtrusive design which leverages the idea of progressive enhancement. In other words, we try really hard to design an interface that doesn’t get in your way. You can use advanced features when you need them but you don’t have to trip over them when you’re just beginning to explore the system.

"One course, many perspectives": Canvas as Content Kaleidoscope

"One course, many perspectives": Canvas as Content Kaleidoscope

If you’ve ever used a Kaleidoscope before, you know that the little colored chips in a Kaleidoscope are the same but as you adjust the exterior tube, the mirrors inside change, resulting in a different image. Canvas works much the same way. The content you build inside your course is the same, but there are many different ways of viewing that data. You can view your course data through the Calendar, the Syllabus, the Assignment page, or the Gradebook. It’s all the same data, just viewed differently.

There are four screenshots in the image above: the Calendar [1], the Syllabus [2], the Assignments page [3], and the Gradebook [4].

  1. The Calendar is a LENS that looks at the course and only shows you the things that have a date associated with them.
  2. The Syllabus is another LENS that includes all course assignments and events.
  3. The Assignments page is a LENS that reflects the internal model of the course.
  4. The Gradebook is a LENS that looks at the course and only shows the graded items and what the assignment is worth.

What does this mean for you?

  • It means if you create a new assignment shell on the Calendar, a new column will automatically appear in the Gradebook.
  • If you change the date of an assignment on the Assignments page, that assignment will automatically move in the Calendar.
  • If you change an assignment title anywhere in Canvas, the updated version will show up in the Gradebook and on the Syllabus page.

"Import Magic": Canvas as Course Curator

"Import Magic": Canvas as Course Curator

We like to think of Canvas as a kind of curator that can cherry pick from existing instructional resources, not just at the beginning of a term, but at any point while you are facilitating the course. 

We make it extremely easy for you to pull in resources and assemble courses, whether those resources come from a previous class you taught, a course that somebody else taught in Canvas, a course from your preexisting LMS, an ePack of quizzes from a textbook publisher, or some other package of content you found online.

Our developers are working hard to build bridges to as many different content formats as they can via the Course Import Tool.

When it comes time to build a new course or copy your course materials from one semester to the next, you can save yourself a lot of time by selecting only the content you need and building from there. In this way, every single Canvas course becomes a "template" you can copy, in whole or in part.