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Canvas Quick Guide - 10 Steps to Creating a Course

Be sure to preview the HSU Canvas Templates for best practices. Contact Canvas Premier 24/7 Help (Help button in the lower left of your Canvas course or by calling 1-844-344-0177).

Also, see Canvas Semester Start Checklist  and Canvas End of Semester Checklist.

Request Your Canvas Course

You can request a development course (course to begin adding content and designing your course) and/or your active course (course that holds student enrollment for the active term, e.g., Spring 2017. Request Your Canvas Courses Here

Set-up Canvas Account

In Canvas, click on the Account link and select each of the options to set up your account: 

Profile (add image and biography), Settings, and Notifications (what and how you’d like to be notified outside of Canvas). You'll want to make sure the email address you are sending email from matches what Canvas has listed on your account.

Customize Course List in Dashboard

To see all your Canvas courses, select Courses from the left global navigation menu. To customize the courses that display in your Dashboard, select the star next to each course name that you’d like to display. We recommend using use Canvas Course Nicknames to identify your courses, e.g., COMM 100 TR 9am. Nicknames are only visible to you. Students can do this, too!

Upload Syllabus

We recommend that you add your syllabus by going to the Syllabus link on the course navigation menu. Select Edit button and paste the contents of your syllabus in the edit window.  It’s also best practice to upload an accessible, printable version of your syllabus by adding the Word or PDF file to this resource.  Review the Document Converter to make your document accessible.

Add Assignments to Build Gradebook

Create an assignment for all graded activities, e.g., quizzes, written assignments, final, discussions, etc. This will add an entry to the gradebook for each assignment. Go to the Assignments link on the course navigation menu to begin adding assignments and setting Assignment Groups (grading category). See the Quick Guide on Setting up GradeBook to ensure your grades calculate as you desire. 

Organize Content

Canvas content can be organized by using Modules or Pages, or a combination of both. Modules are recommended if you wish to structure (and/or control access) to your course materials by weeks, units, or topics in a guided learning experience. Pages allow you to use images and links to resources within one area.  In most cases, we see an effective combination of both where Modules create structure and Pages provide rich content linked within Modules. Review the Quality Learning & Teaching (QLT) Best Practices for course design. More on Managing Canvas Modules Video.


You can upload or link files in Canvas. There is a 500mb maximum storage per course.

Upload files to your Canvas course in order to link them within Modules, Pages, Assignments, Quizzes, etc.

Do not upload video files to your Canvas course.


  • Save your PowerPoint files as .pps to reduce size. (File menu, click Save As, click Save as type and click PowerPoint Show (*.pps)).
  • Compress your PDF files (File menu, click Save As Other, Reduced File Size)
  • Video files (not links). You will want to move those to YouTube or contact Media Production Services 707-826-3169, to have videos uploaded to the stream server and we will provide a link for you to place in your course.
  • Google Drive

Create a Home Page

The default Home Page of your course displays the Recent Activity Dashboard.  You can create a custom page; have the Syllabus be the Home Page; use Modules as the Home Page; or have the Assignments List ‘Be’ the Homepage. Whichever you choose, you must Set the Front Page. Some of your HSU peers have shared their home pages and there are templates in the Canvas Commons (search by keyword: HSU). Customizing Your Home Page Video.  Here is Quick Guide on importing and customizing the templates for your course with step-by-step instructions.

Hide Unused Course Navigation Items

Evaluate your Course Navigation Menu items and remove/hide items that are not in use or are accessed in other areas. We highly recommend hiding the Files menu item from students as it is not student-friendly and only visible by file names in an unordered list. You can link to files from within Assignments, Discussions, Modules, Pages, etc.

View Course as a Student and Publish Course

Before you publish, use Student View to test the visibility of your course materials. In student view, you can take quizzes, view grades, and access links.

Be sure all resources in the course have been published (if item appears in ‘gray’ it is not visible to students and needs to be published). When you are ready for students to access the course, be sure to publish the course. It is also best practice to send out a welcome announcement (and video!) inviting your students to the course. A course cannot be unpublished.  Also, see our Canvas Semester Start Checklist.