Canvas - Getting Started [UW-Madison]

This document directs instructors on how to get started with Canvas at UW-Madison.

Canvas is UW-Madison’s centrally supported learning management system. It serves as a powerful and flexible tool for instructors and students in our digital educational space. Most other teaching and learning technologies integrate with Canvas making it the central technology in the digital teaching and learning ecosystem.


Instructor Considerations

General Considerations

  • Canvas is a powerful and flexible tool. You can use it to simply manage course activities, or for much more involved and complex course functions. Instructors can quickly learn how to use Canvas, but may take longer to learn more advanced functions.
  • Every semester the UW-Madison Student Information System (SIS) automatically creates a Canvas course shell and handles enrollment for each for-credit academic course that appears in the university’s course catalog. Instructors listed in SIS can access these course shells, but students cannot open the course shell until the instructor publishes the course. The unpublished course will still appear on the student’s dashboard or Courses page.
  • While Canvas can be accessed by multiple devices, some features work best with the larger screens provided by laptops and traditional computers.
  • Canvas integrates nicely with several tools supported by Learn@UW, such as Kaltura, Piazza, Top Hat, Honorlock, and Turnitin. However, use of those tools is entirely optional.
  • Canvas integrates nicely with the centrally supported accessibility checker, UDOIT.
  • Canvas is not meant to store large files. Please consider another cloud storage option to store your course content.

Information to Share with Students

Best Practices

  • Instructors are encouraged to request the creation of a “sandbox” Canvas course. This is a play-space, allowing them to practice and explore features and functionality. Canvas course shells for Sandboxes and  all other purposes – noncredit, compliance, LifeLong Learning, etc – can be requested by completing the online Non-Credit Canvas Course Request Form.
  • Instructors may choose to develop their Canvas content in a sandbox course. When ready to do so, that content can be easily imported into the official Canvas course shell.
  • As course materials are developed, use Student View to confirm the content behaves as intended.
  • You can change your name displayed in Canvas by adding a Name in Use through MyUW. This name will also appear in other Learn@UW tools.
  • Use the Canvas gradebook to keep your students grades up to date, so both students and instructors can easily track student progress.
  • Improve the learner experience by exploring and leveraging the other learning technologies supported by Learn@UW
  • Storage in Canvas is limited. Use external tools to store data and provide links to these files in your Canvas course. For external tool storage options see document Canvas- Storing Data Outside of Canvas


See Canvas Accessibility and Usability Information or detailed Canvas accessibility information.

Steps to Get Started with Canvas

  1. Log into Canvas
  2. Locate your course on your dashboard or Courses page
    1. For-credit Canvas course shells are automatically created ahead of each semester.
    2. Noncredit courses and “sandbox” courses need to be manually created. (Request a noncredit or “sandbox” Canvas course)
  3. If you have a for-credit course, you will be added to the Canvas course once you are enrolled via SIS (Student information System)
  4. Add content to your Canvas course shell
    1. Instructors can develop Canvas materials long before the course starts in either their time table course shell or in a “sandbox” that they have requested.
    2. You can easily copy and import Canvas materials from one course into another. Instructors often copy from a sandbox course, a previous semester's course, or a course from another instructor (with that instructor's permission).
  5. Courses are not available to students until the course is “published”. This is an intentional act performed by the instructor or other authorized individual.
  6. You can leave course content, such as pages, quizzes, and modules, in an unpublished state, until you are ready for students to see it. When you are finished editing the object, publish the items to make them available to the students.
  7. Your course is now ready to use for instruction.

Getting Support

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OwnerLearn@UW MadisonGroupLearn@UW-Madison
Created2022-10-19 14:29:39Updated2024-04-12 12:56:43
SitesDoIT Help Desk, Learn@UW-Madison
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