Online Course Beginning-of-Term Checklist

Before a new term begins, you might be running through a mental list to decide if you’ve put all the pieces in place to get your new online class up and running. This Online Course Beginning-of-Term Checklist should cover the essentials, and offer some helpful links and tips for completing these tasks in Canvas.

1. Ready your course content.

Copy your Canvas course with the Course Import tool:

Canvas tip: Instructors at USask are not able to “copy content into a new course shell” as described in the above link. Instead, a new empty course shell will be created for you by ICT, and afterwards you will copy content into it. The new course should be available in your Canvas course list about 1 month before the class begins.  

If you have Zoom Meetings in your Canvas course:

  • Note that scheduled Zoom Meetings will not copy over in Canvas when you do a course copy with the Course Import tool. For that reason, it’s really important to wait until after you finish the Course Import to set up your Zoom sessions for the coming term.

If you are using Groups in your Canvas course:

  • One of the quirks of Canvas is that during a Course Import, all Group-associated Assignments and Discussions are assigned by default to a single Group Set called “Project Groups”. No previous Group Sets are retained in the import. This means that if you are using Groups in your Canvas course, you will need to reset the Groups after performing the course copy. See the following blog post for more information: Canvas Tip: Reset Groups After a Course Copy

If applicable, check third-party LTI (External Tools) functionality in your Canvas course:

  • If you use any third-party LTI (External Tools) in your Canvas course, you may need to check on these and reset them after the Course Import (e.g., Pressbooks LTI, McGraw-Hill Connect, Cengage, etc.).

Remove old announcements from imported course content:

  • Instructor “Announcements” that you posted during previous deliveries of your course will copy over with the other content, and could be very confusing for students. Delete Announcements that are no longer relevant, or Edit Announcements as needed for the new term. You can also delay Announcements that you wish to be released later on in the term (see item #5, below).

2. Finalize and upload your Syllabus.

  • From the Canvas course menu, click “Syllabus” to enter the Syllabus area of the course. Then, click the “Edit” button, and use the Rich Content Editor to embed a PDF of your course syllabus (for help with this, see: How do I embed documents from Canvas in the Rich Content Editor as an instructor?).
  • A recommended approach is to adjust the “Link Options” to select both “Preview inline” and “Expand preview by Default”. This allows the file to display right on the page rather than the student needing to download/open the file (although they can still download the file if they prefer to). See the difference in the H5P image juxtaposition slider below.

Canvas tip: While editing the Syllabus area of your Canvas course, you can optionally check a box to “Show Course Summary”. However, depending on the design of your online course, the auto-generated “Course Summary” may be incomplete or confusing, so generally a PDF Syllabus is still the best means of communicating broad course requirements and academic expectations to students.

3. Set “Due” dates for graded components for the upcoming term.

  • You can adjust the due date on any Assignment, Quiz, or graded Discussion by clicking on that item and then clicking the “Edit” button; near the bottom of the editing page in the “Assign” > “Due” field, set your date and time accordingly. Note that you must check the box that marks a Discussion as “Graded” before you can set a “Due” date for it.
  • If necessary, also adjust the “Available from” and “Until” dates. This is most likely to apply to Quizzes, or Assignments used for examinations, in which you are giving students a limited time to access certain materials. See the following for more information: What is the difference between assignment due dates and availability dates?
Canvas tip: You can also update due dates and availability dates for multiple assignments and assessments at one time by using the “bulk update” option: How do I bulk update due dates and availability dates as an instructor? 
Canvas tip: Note the difference between “Due” dates and “To-do” dates in Canvas. When you are editing an ungraded Discussion or a Page in Canvas, you have the option of checking a box to “Add to student to-do” – this is not the same as a “Due” date! Due dates are for graded work, and often instructors will impose penalties for late work. To-do dates are for more informal classroom management tasks, and set reminders into a student’s Canvas calendar to complete ungraded tasks by a certain time (e.g., join a group for an upcoming project, submit a topic for a presentation, or post about themselves in an “Introductions” Discussion thread).

4. Publish your Canvas course.

  • If you are ready to publish your entire course and “let students in”, see the following link for instructions: How do I publish a course?
  • Note that students can see everything in your course once it is Published, except for any individual items (Assignments, Quizzes, Discussions, Pages, or entire Modules) that you have specifically marked as Unpublished. As seen in the following image, look for the green checkmark next to items that are Published, which you can click on to toggle the item to Unpublished.

  • If you want to double-check how a course will appear to students before you Publish it, remember that you can switch to the student view: How do I view a course as a test student using Student View? (note that the test student will not be enrolled in any Groups, so won’t be able to see within any of those).
Canvas tip: Only once a course is Published can your students receive notifications from Announcements and Inbox messages (see following points).

5. Make an Announcement and start communicating with your students.

  • An Announcement is a great way to initiate contact with your new students, start to introduce yourself, and alert them to any important information or tasks that they should be sure to take care of in the first few days of the class. See the following link for information: How do I add an announcement in a course?
  • If you’d like, you can also schedule Announcements ahead of time to be sent out later in the term (e.g., you might set a reminder message to be sent out 1 week before the midterm exam). See more information here: How do I delay posting an announcement until a specific date in a course?

6. Recommended: Send a Canvas “Inbox” message to your students.


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

This resource is shared by the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning (GMCTL), University of Saskatchewan, under a CC BY-NC-SA license.