Large Courses

In Short

Teaching a large enrollment course can be challenging, but several tools in Canvas can help teaching teams communicate more effectively with their students, grade more efficiently, and keep students engaged during lectures.

Goals: How to leverage Canvas in a large course?

  • To facilitate and streamline communication between students and the teaching team
  • To grade more efficiently and effectively
  • To improve grade transparency with students
  • To encourage student engagement through active learning
  • To build class community

Key Considerations

In Practice: Communicating With Your Course

  • Target course messages. Canvas Announcements allows you to post section-specific announcements using the “Post to” field. Use the “Delay posting” option to help reduce administrative time by drafting and scheduling announcements in advance.
  • Use Canvas-based communication tools. We recommend using Announcements to post course-related updates, and asynchronous discussion tools (Links to an external site.) like Canvas Discussions, or Ed Discussion to facilitate conversations between your students and the teaching team.
  • Reduce repetitive questions. Create an FAQ or Q&A forum for commonly asked questions. Ed Discussion is particularly useful as it allows students to answer questions from their peers, and instructors to endorse answers provided by students.
  • Don’t forget your teaching team! Communicating with your teaching team is just as important as communicating with the students in your course. If using Ed Discussion, we recommend creating a private thread that is only visible to the teaching team. Weekly check-ins are a great way to address emerging issues and keep things running smoothly.
  • Arrange meetings with students. The Scheduler tool in Canvas makes it easy to schedule appointments with students. Create an appointment group to set up a block of time where students can meet with you or your teaching team. You can also set up section-specific appointment groups.

In Practice: Grading & Giving Feedback

  • Differentiate due dates. You can assign section-specific due dates in Canvas Assignments, Discussions, and Quizzes. You can also limit assignments or exams to specific sections, for example, if you have lab sections with different requirements from the lecture section.
  • Use filters in SpeedGrader. By default, SpeedGrader displays student submissions alphabetically, from all sections. For easier grading, you can sort the student list by student name, the date they submitted the assignment, or by submission status. Reduce the overall load time in SpeedGrader by filtering submissions by section (Links to an external site.). The Gradebook also provides filter options to make grading more efficient.
  • Streamline paper-based grading. Use Gradescope to collect and grade paper-based assignments and exams. Gradescope supports multiple graders, rubrics, dynamic point adjustment, and “horizontal grading,” i.e., grading on one question or question set at a time.
  • Use rubrics: A well-composed rubric can save time in grading and promote student learning. Rubrics are supported in Canvas and Gradescope.
    • For normalizing grades. Rubrics can help teaching teams normalize grades and reduce bias across multiple graders. Graders can use the rubric to review a few examples and set expectations for applying the criteria.
    • For providing feedback. Providing feedback for long-form assessments in a large course can be a daunting task. Rubrics make it easier to provide actionable or descriptive feedback in just a couple of clicks.
    • For communicating expectations. Rubrics help instructors more clearly communicate assignment requirements, as well as facilitate grade transparency with students. Students can use rubrics to assess their own work and monitor their progress.
  • Limit AIs to their section. Canvas allows you to limit access for users (Links to an external site.) to only interact with students assigned to their section. Section limitations allow AIs to view and grade submissions from students in their section only. This can speed up grading processes and reduce grading confusion.
  • Provide instant feedback in quizzes. To provide timely and relevant comments to students, add feedback to quiz answer choices in Canvas. You can add feedback for correct or incorrect answers, as well as general feedback for all answers.

In Practice: Keeping Students Engaged

  • Make lectures interactive. Tools like iClicker Cloud and Mentimeter can be used for knowledge checks and polls. Polling students during lectures promotes active learning, encourages reflection, and provides instant feedback. iClicker Cloud is fully integrated with Canvas and can also be used for taking in-person attendance.
  • Build community. Group discussions are a great way to make a large course feel small. Smaller discussion forums can help students feel less overwhelmed by the number of posts and responses, leading to higher-quality discussions. Create group discussions using Canvas Discussions.
  • Leverage peer reviews. Peer reviews can be used in courses of all sizes to improve critical thinking skills, facilitate the revision process, and build a sense of community. There are many peer review tools (Links to an external site.), but they all work in slightly different ways. Your goals and preferred structure will guide you to choose the best tool for your purposes.

Digital Tools

Several tools can be particularly helpful for large courses in Canvas:

  • Canvas Discussions allows threaded replies in written, image, video, and audio forms integrated with the Gradebook and SpeedGrader.
  • Ed Discussion is often used as a Q&A platform and includes anonymous posting and a wide range of media that can be shared (including image annotation and code).
  • Gradescope is an assessment platform that allows you to collect and streamline the grading of paper-based assignments and exams.
  • Google Docs (Links to an external site.) a shared document can operate as a less structured discussion platform for offering suggestions or collaborating on a project.
  • Hypothesis is a collaborative, digital annotation tool, which allows students to add comments, notes, and highlights to the margins of a shared digital document.
  • Perusall allows instructors to gather reading materials for a course in one place for students to read and annotate collectively.


Updated 9/02/22