Be Proactive

Be Proactive

A well-designed online course presence in Canvas will provide a great deal of structure and accountability for a student’s self-motivation. Also, designing for equity and inclusion means being particularly proactive about supporting students who may need some extra attention.

Reach out proactively to students who may be struggling

Implement ways to check-in with students regularly and intentionally look for signs that students are not keeping up with the course. Have they missed more than one assignment without any indication to you about why? Are they logging into the course site regularly? Are they watching assigned videos, accessing assigned files? Canvas can provide a ton of information about what students are or aren’t doing:

  • Contact any “no shows” to see if they are encountering log in, or technical problems. Then, encourage their participation.
  • Regularly use Canvas course “New Analytics” feature to monitor student who is accessing course materials, participating in discussion forums, etc. Contact low participation or no views students to encourage them to (re)engage in the course.

Use more formative assessments and make completion mandatory

Intervening earlier in the course may require making changes that allow you to see those warning signs in the first place. If you typically have only a few significant high-stakes assessments (e.g., a couple of mid-terms and a final), please consider breaking those up into smaller, more frequent quizzes (bonus: making each quiz lower stakes also reduces the likelihood of cheating). See the Low and High-Stakes Quizzes in Canvas page.

Use Audience Response Systems (e.g., Top Hat) or discussions with weekly quizzes or reflective ‘minute papers’. Depending on the purpose of these activities, you may not even need to grade these assessments for content or correctness (e.g., if the point of the clicker/quiz questions is to make sure students did the reading, then you could let them take the quiz multiple times until they get a perfect score); however, you should still attach some credit to completing the task. 

Know what resources are available for students

Your first step should be to reach out directly to the student and ask what’s going on when you start seeing those early warning signs. You may find that the student needs accommodations but has not asked for them; others may be struggling with the content itself; still others may be struggling because of the virtual environment.

Your Canvas course should have a section with links to technical, academic, and other support services and resources available on campus (link your course to the online learner support page). 

Familiarize yourself with the Campus Resources to Support Students page.

If you have a concern regarding a student’s well-being or behavior, the Dean of Students Office is here to help! Call to speak to a Student Assistance staff member at 515-294-1020, send an email to, or refer a student via the “refer a student” link at the top of the Office of Student Assistance page

Be Proactive, by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Iowa State University is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0. This work, Be Proactive, is a derivative of Be Proactive developed by San Diego State University Diversity and Innovation (retrieved on May 18, 2020) from