Canvas,  Educational Technology,  Instructional Strategies,  Remote Teaching

How Canvas supports student control and ownership of learning

By Roberta Campbell-Chudoba

This is the sixth post in a series about how you can use Canvas to integrate the eight Learning Technology Ecosystem Principles. You can find more about these principles here, but in this post, we’ll be looking at the fifth principle.

5. Designed for student control and ownership of learning: Learners create and control spaces for learning, understanding and retaining ownership, and purposefully choosing how and when they share.

Student Control and Ownership of Learning

Practices that facilitate student choice can have a positive impact on their participation and motivation, and thus, academic performance. Students with choices can engage in higher-level learning for many reasons; feeling more engaged, intrinsically motivated, and joyful in their learning can lead to deeper learning, better processing and more effective long-range memory storage. Choice supports the enhancement of creativity, leading to other positive habits like self-initiated revision and editing (Jensen & McConchie, 2020).

Students doing different work allows for richer and more diverse discussions and in-turn, the learning environment can become less competitive, more collaborative and supportive of higher order knowledge creation and application. (Smyth et al., 2011). When students have choice in their learning, enhancing their sense of autonomy, power and control, social and emotional learning can also increase, elements which are significant in adult learning. Student choice around assessment also lends to more independent decision-making. All of this contributes to few problems around academic integrity as well.

How Canvas supports student control and ownership of learning

Canvas has multiple ways students can design opportunities to develop and demonstrate their knowledge and skills, fostering their independence as learners.

The Rich Content Editor, available in most areas in Canvas, provides space for students to choose to create and respond:

  • in text, audio or video created inside Canvas,
  • attach files, links to external URLs and/or
  • embed YouTube videos or upload their own videos

Canvas also allows for student empowerment as content creators, through

  • editable pages set-up by the instructor
  • student created discussion boards, collaborative documents, pages, files, and announcements within student groups, accessed through group home pages, and
  • if instructors permit, self-sign-up in groups, as well as creation of announcements, discussions, and collaborations within the wider course environment.

Additionally, student-controlled spaces give opportunity for students to support their own learning and that of their peers through collaborative knowledge creation and peer review on assignments and in discussions. For more on the benefits of using peer review, see the blog Utilizing Peer Feedback in Canvas.

With the What-If Grades feature, students can view their grades and input scores to see how grades may be affected, and then make decisions around submitting or resubmitting assignments.

The Folio link for USask users, accessed on the Account menu, links to an ePortfolio site and provides a space for students and faculty to create a profile, upload a CV or resume, feature top skills and best work (uploaded from Canvas or other sources) and connect with others. This feature affords a convenient way to create, store, and update a portfolio over time, giving students access and control of their work across classes, as they advance through studies.

New Analytics displays grade averages, online activity by week and participation in communication tools, allowing students to view their individual progress and use the up-to-date information to assess their progress and improve or shift their activities.


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Anderson, M. (2016). Learning to choose, choosing to learn. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Jensen, E., & McConchie, L. (2020). Brain-based teaching: Teaching the way students really learn. 3rd Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Smyth, K., Bruce, S., Fortheringham, J., & Mainka, C. (2011). Benchmark for the use of technology in modules. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh Napier University.