Preparing your course for Canvas

CELT recommends that all instructors consult the Provost’s Office Communications page for academic and instruction updates.

Read through Preparing to Teach on the CELT website. Determine if the learning objectives and assessments in your course are aligned with each other and your content is accessible to all students. Develop your syllabus based on the recommendations in the How to Create an Effective Syllabus web guide. Be sure to include the statements recommended by the Faculty Senate for inclusion in all syllabi. Place the syllabus in a prominent location in Canvas such as the Syllabus link.

Then, follow this list for items to consider before, during, and after building your Canvas course:

Building your course in Canvas

The seven-step process below walks you through developing a simple course in Canvas. If you’re looking for more information about Canvas settings or navigation, review the Instructor Guides available to CELT or email with your questions.

  1. Log into Canvas by clicking on the “Sign Ons” link on the upper right-hand corner (above the search box) of Iowa State University’s home page.
  2. Navigate to the ? Help (left side of your screen).
  3. Locate and click on the Global Course Administration link.
  4. Click on the Select Prepare to Teach link.

Select the appropriate term from the dropdown menu, then follow the steps outlined below:

  1. Locate your Unlinked Registrar Sections and grab the section you wish to use.

Note: If the section you are teaching is not listed, you will need to be added as the Instructor of Record. Locate your staff member via the Registrar’s Departmental Contact page. If the department is not listed, contact the Office of the Registrar at 515-294-1840 or email

  1. Drag it over the top box labeled Drag Sections Here to Create a New Canvas Course. When the border turns blue, release your mouse button to create the Canvas course. In the pop-up window, choose whether to create a blank course or include the ISU Template.
  2. Your newly created Canvas course will appear alphabetically in the list below. Your Registrar section is now connected to Canvas. Drag additional sections to the same course to combine them into one Canvas course. Sections will display as having “0 Students” until data is automatically received from AccessPlus, approximately two weeks before the start of the semester. Once student data is received, students will automatically gain access when both of the following conditions have been met:
    1. the course is published (see Publish Course below)
    2. the term start date has passed, typically 1 week before the start of classes unless you specify otherwise (see Specify Course Settings below)
  3. Click on the course name to navigate to your course.

Things to know:

  • If the target term is not yet available, you will need to Request a New Course Shell. See Prepare to Teach for more details and other options.
  • It is expected that you will see 0 Students in the section until shortly before the start of the term.
  • To add non-registrar users to your Canvas course, on the course Navigation, click the link for ISU AdminTools and Manage Additional People to add visiting instructors, students working on an incomplete, TAs, Visiting Instructors, Designers and Tutors to your course.

Steps to create a course in Canvas at Iowa State University

Import content from your previously taught course:

For detailed instructions, see the import content Canvas guide.

  1. From the Home page of your Canvas course, choose Import Course Content on the right sidebar.
    In Canvas Settings, you can import course content (see the far right menu)
  2. Choose Content Type Copy a Canvas Course.
  3. Select All Content or Specific Content, depending on your needs

Note: If you are unable to locate a previous course, it is likely concluded. See the Course Conclusion in Canvas for more information.

Or, create new content from scratch:

  1. Follow the Canvas Instructor Guide for directions on each Canvas feature.
  2. Add content from one of the ISU-approved instructional tools.

Note: Be sure to include appropriate syllabus statements.

Make your course accessible for all of your students

Use the built-in Link Validation tool to check your course for broken links. Use the Accessibility Checker when editing content to make sure it is accessible for all students.  For accessibility and accommodations for specific features in Canvas, review how to set up accommodations in Canvas.

  1. In your course navigation menu, click the Settings link.
  2. Open the Course Details tab.
    Open the Course Details tab in Canvas Settings
  3. Rename your course to add/remove section identifiers to the course’s actual Name (see the change name/course code guide).
    1. Under Name, change the course name to reflect what you want students to see on the course tile found on their Dashboard. See the example course tile below:
      Example course tile at Iowa State University
    2. Scroll to the bottom of the page and choose Update Course Details.
  4. Set your students’ access dates and permissionsNote: There are two options for access dates. You can choose to set it via Term or Course.
    1. To set via Course
      • Under the “Participation” entry, select “Course.”
      • Enter alternate Start and End dates if students need access earlier than one week before the semester begins or longer than two weeks after classes end.
      • Restrict students from seeing the course outside these dates. You can choose to restrict students before and/or after these dates.
      • Scroll to the bottom of the page and choose Update Course Details.

    2. To set via Term
      • Under the “Participation” entry, select “Term.”
      • The Start and End dates will no longer be editable. They are set dates for the entire Term. 
      • Restrict students from seeing the course outside these dates. You can choose to restrict students before and/or after these dates.
      • Scroll to the bottom of the page and choose Update Course Details.
  5. Choose an image for the course card in the Dashboard, add or replace the course image. Making the image on the course card relevant and unique to your course benefits both you and your students to locate it on the Canvas dashboard.
  1. In your course navigation, click on Settings.
  2. Open the Navigation tab.

    Open the Navigation tab in Canvas settings

  3. Simplify Course Navigation (see manage custom navigation links page).
    1. Under the Navigation tab, drag and drop items to show or hide them from your left navigation menu.
      • Note: All courses are strongly encouraged to use the Syllabus Statements feature to integrate the required and recommended syllabus statements. More information about this feature can be found on the Syllabus Statements feature page.
    2. Scroll to the bottom of the page and choose Save.
  4. Navigate back to your Home page to use the Student View to check the visibility of individual items and Modules as a whole (use student view in a browser or student view in the Canvas Teacher app). Additionally, Student View adds a test student to Grades. After participating in Student View, enter your Gradebook as a teacher to view any Test Student entries.

See the Additional Course Settings page for more details.

Canvas frequently publishes updates as part of their release cycle. New Canvas updates are posted on the CELT website. If approved, Feature Options may be enabled at the account or course level in our Canvas instance. More information about the Canvas Updates Approval Process.

Several Feature Options can be configured by each instructor at the course level, which means that the instructor can choose whether to enable or disable the feature in their course. To see which Feature Options are available at ISU, visit your course Settings page.

  1. In your course navigation, click on Settings.
  2. Open the Feature Options tab.

    Feature Options in Canvas

  3. To learn more about enabling or disabling a Feature Option in a Canvas course (the image below is an example of the Feature Options), see the Canvas guide to managing new features for a course. How to select Feature Options in Canvas course settings

For additional information or the status of a feature, please email us at

A module is a unit, chapter, concept, or instruction segment. A standard unit or instructional section of your course is a “self-contained” chunk of instruction. A week is a common module length, but it can be shorter or longer depending on the content and your teaching style.

A modular structure of a course helps students be more aware of the structure, they spend less time guessing what is expected of them and more time focusing on the content and activities. For examples and guides, follow the using course module structure guide.

Navigate to Home on the left navigation within your course.

The Home Page is the first impression of a course. Use Choose Home Page to select the option that best enables your students to access content and navigate the course.

Setting your homepage in Canvas

The Syllabus is a great way to create an entry point: The upper part of the page can be simple (you can place a link to your Syllabus file there) or more developed (you can upload the course’s logo and create several links that have important course information). 

Canvas Guides: How to choose your homepage

Tip: As you edit the Syllabus description, you can upload and link the electronic copy of your course syllabus. From your selector to the right, select Files and upload an appropriate file.

Before you publish, please review your course in Student View

Use Student View to review the entire course, your assignments, discussions, quizzes, content pages, modules, and course details for accuracy and to ensure they are published. Check for proper assignment groups and accurate due dates to avoid confusion for your students.

First, access your Canvas course

  1. Log into Canvas by clicking on the “Sign Ons” link on the upper right-hand corner (above the search box) of Iowa State University’s home page.
  2. Navigate to the ? Help (left side of your screen).
  3. Locate and click on the Global Course Administration link
  4. Click on the Select Prepare to Teach link

Then, follow these steps:

  1. Click the toggle to Publish the course.
  2. The left course card will turn green, and the toggle will say “YES” when the course is published.

How to publish a course in Canvas at Iowa State University

Reminder: Student enrollment is handled by Registrar data that updates nightly. If a student does not have access to your course but feels they should be in the course, please refer them to the Registrar’s office. Adding a student to the course manually can cause issues with enrollment, payment, and grade processing.

Communicate and engage with students

Add a video welcome message to your Canvas homepage to introduce yourself and encourage students to get started on their studies. Once students are populated in the course, Start a conversation via the Canvas Inbox, create an announcement, email via your regular e-mail program, schedule a conference, and/or initiate a discussion.

Additional Iowa State Resources

  • Immediate Access

    Immediate Access to course materials is a collaborative program between the ISU Book Store, faculty, and publishers. Students that are enrolled in an Immediate Access course will receive access to all required course materials on the first day of class and at a reduced cost compared to the national average.

  • Student accommodations in Canvas guide

    This resource will help you as an instructor, when you receive a Notification Letter (NL) from Student Accessibility Services indicating that one of your students has a documented disability and requires a reasonable academic accommodation for your course.

  • ISU Library Course Reserves and Services

    Embed library guides, request a course-specific guide, add streaming videos or link course reserves inside your course.

  • ISU Test Center

    Partnering with educators to enhance student learning, development, and success by creating a student-centric testing environment that promotes and upholds academic integrity. The ISU Test Center strives to adhere to professional standards and guidelines provided by the National College Testing Association, where feasible.