Checking for Students Who Are Not Engaged in Canvas

Faculty are periodically asked to check their courses for students who are not engaged with the course and report these students in Navigate so that advisors can follow-up with the student. This page outlines the main tools that can be used to check a Canvas course for students who are not engaged.

Please note that these Canvas tools are imperfect, so CATL does not recommend that they be used for grading participation in your course.

New Analytics

Instructors can use the New Analytics tool in their Canvas course to view a sortable table of student participation data that includes the last participation date, page view count, and participation count for each student. A list of what Canvas counts as participations can be found in this guide. Here is how you can view this table in your course’s New Analytics page:

  1. Click the New Analytics button that is located on the right side of the course home page or click the New Analytics link in the course navigation menu.
    Screenshot of the New Analytics button
  2. In the New Analytics page, click the Students tab to view the table of student participation data.
  3. Click on any table column’s header to sort the list of students by that column’s data.
    Screenshot of the Canvas New Analytics student table screen highlighting the Students tab and the column headers that can be clicked for sorting the table.

Students who have not engaged with the course at all will have no or very few page views counted in this table.

Instructors can look more closely at individual students by clicking their names. Please reference this Canvas guide for more information on using New Analytics to view individual student participation statistics.

Please note that data in New Analytics refreshes once every 24 hours, so this page may not reflect recent activity in the course. The date and time the data was last refreshed are visible near the top of the page under the “Average Course Grade.”

Course Access Reports

If greater detail is needed, instructors can view a list of course pages that a student has accessed by viewing that student’s course access report. Here’s how to view the course access report for a student in your course:

  1. Open the People page of the Canvas course by clicking People in the course navigation menu.
  2. In the list of students, click on the student’s name.
  3. In the sidebar that appears on the right side of the page, click on the student’s name.
  4. Click the Access Report button located on the right side of the user details page.

Screenshot of the Access Report button in Canvas

If the access report is empty, the student has not accessed the Canvas course.

People Page

The list of students on the People page in your Canvas course contains some student participation data, including the last activity date and total activity time. Students with no date listed under the last activity column have likely never accessed the course.

The reported total activity time does not track time spent viewing the course on the Canvas mobile apps and is prone to other measurement errors, so it is often an inaccurate representation of a student’s actual engagement with a course.

One point of confusion for instructors with the People page is the presence of an “inactive” tag after a student’s name. This tag indicates that the student has dropped the course in SIS; it is not an indication of disengagement from an enrolled student.

End-of-Semester Resource Digest

With finals week on the horizon, CATL has put together a quick digest of resources related to grading and the gradebook in Canvas.

The Gradebook

If you haven’t done so already, a good first step at this stage of the semester is to set up your grading scheme so that letter grades match up with the grading system from A, AB, B, … to F provided by the Registrar’s office (Note: Canvas only supports “scored” grades and so your grade scheme should not include grades like WF, I, DR, or W).

If you prefer to enter grades manually (spreadsheet-style), you can do so in the grades area. To appear in the “grades” area, an item just needs to exist as an “Assignment” (something students “turn in”) or have points assigned to it (like graded discussions or quizzes). You can also create a “no submission” assignment if you want to manually add points (e.g. for participation, an overall project grade, or work submitted outside of Canvas).

You can also grade individual assignments, quizzes, or discussions using the SpeedGrader tool which allows you mark up documents, grade individual questions on quizzes (such as essays), and view a student’s discussion posts to provide feedback.

You may wish to change which grade items are visible to students while you are grading. You can hide grades either from the gradebook or within SpeedGrader. Just remember to reveal the grades again once all students have been graded.

If you would like to go “full manual” and work with the gradebook in Excel instead of Canvas, you can also export and then re-import grade information. Please review both the export and import documentation carefully before using this ‘advanced’ process.

Moderating Quizzes

As you are offering quizzes and exams in Canvas, you may need to give a student extra time to take the quiz or an additional attempt for various reasons. In addition to these options, Canvas allows you to give an extension (by date) to a particular student or students.

Finalizing Grades

One quirk of Canvas is that it does not count missing assignments against the final score automatically. Anything with a dash in the grade’s cell in the gradebook is not counted against the student. You will need to make sure a zero is entered anywhere it should be. More details on total grade calculations can be found in this guide.

You may also wish to exclude a certain item or items from the final grade (such as practice assignments or a number of separate assignments for which you’d like to use a no-submission item to assign a manual grade). If you use assignment groups (recommended), you can also set rule(s) to drop the lowest grades in a category. Assignment groups also allow you to weight your gradebook based on those groupings.

There are a few different ways of adding extra credit to the final grade.

Sending Grades from Canvas to SIS

Once you have set up your letter grading scheme so SIS can understand it, you can send final grades to SIS. Remember, first, to check that grades are accurate: that items have dropped that should, that zeroes are entered where needed, and that weights are calculated properly. 

Where to Get Help

As always, the CATL team is here and willing to help you design your course, set up your assignments, and work through the process of grading. Just fill out our handy consultation request.

You can also get 24/7/365 support from Canvas by clicking the Help button in the Canvas navigation (black bar on the left-hand side) and selecting from the options there including live chat or phone.

You may also wish to explore the Canvas guides on your own—this is the “manual” for Canvas to which many of the links above take you.

Links to Resources about Discussing “Thanksgiving”

During this fall semester, the need for Fall break is especially obvious, but the Thanksgiving holiday is not divorced from its history. Below are just a few resources we have come across in thinking through various topics around the holiday.

Racial Justice Resources for Thanksgiving from the POC Online Classroom blog.

Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance lesson plan/resource on “Thanksgiving Mourning”

Philip Deloria’s 2019 New York Times piece The Invention of Thanksgiving:
Massacres, myths, and the making of the great November holiday.

Colorado College’s Crown Faculty Center page on Teaching & Learning on Indigenous Land.

Plimoth Patuxet Museums’ online game for school-aged children and families looking at Wampanoag life prior to European settlement and the “First Thanksgiving.”

Course Continuity: Resources for Transitioning to Remote Learning

Inclement weather, natural disasters, or other emergencies may lead to an extended loss of in-person class time. CATL has put together some resources below that may help you in planning for the inability to meet in person, and how you may continue to speak with students, guide their learning, and collect assignments and assessments.

Preliminary Planning

When you begin planning for a transition to remote learning, consider what learning objectives you need to cover while your course is not meeting in person. Whether you will be assessing those objectives during the alternative delivery time or when face-to-face meetings resume, you’ll need to consider what instructional materials and activities are needed to help students reach the course goals and objectives in the interim.

Here are some steps you may want to follow when switching modalities on short notice.

  1. Identify learning objectives and subtopics that will need alternative delivery.
  2. Create a course outline and use it as a guide for creating modules in Canvas. If you don’t plan on using Canvas, consider recording your outline somewhere anyway to help keep your courses on track. Sometimes considering what you plan on assessing will help you determine how to structure your outline.
  3. Identify teaching materials that you’re already using that can be easily uploaded to Canvas or delivered to students digitally.
  4. Develop a communication strategy for conveying information that you would normally only mention in class (through email, Canvas Announcements, Microsoft Teams, Slack, etc.).
  5. Identify gaps in teaching materials and consider how you will address them. This might mean the creation of additional documents and resources, recorded lectures, online meetings, etc.
  6. Consider how you’d like to include interactive elements of your class. This could mean video meetings during scheduled class time, asynchronous discussion boards, one-on-one virtual meetings with students, etc.

It’s important to consider that when your students enrolled, they were anticipating a course with a different modality, whether that was face-to-face or some combination of face-to-face and online. As you plan around not being able to meet in-person, consider the following.

  • Students may require additional accommodations that weren’t needed in your face-to-face class. This might mean closed captioning videos, or using screen readers to read digital documents. Also consider that in a large-scale event, the turnaround time for accommodating requests may be delayed.
  • Avoid introducing new tools and technologies mid-semester that create additional barriers for students, such as asking your students to purchase new software programs or publisher access codes.
  • Avoid scheduling “real-time” events outside of times your class was scheduled.

Another important consideration is that your students may be directly impacted by the event. Consider how you can accommodate those requests.

Presenting Information

Record lectures

When you want to record some of your course lectures, think about chunking up your lecture into about 10-minute segments so that students will be able to digest the material in smaller chunks. It is also good practice to consider the “drop-off” rate for students watching videos, which is about at 6–7 minutes. UWGB’s supported tool for recording video lectures is Kaltura. You can use the browser-based Kaltura webcam recorder to record simple webcam videos or the Kaltura Capture application to record a combination of webcam video, audio narration, and content on your computer screen, such as PowerPoint slides. Videos recorded with the Kaltura webcam recorder or Kaltura Capture are uploaded to your Kaltura (My Media) library and can then be embedded in Canvas pages.

Hold synchronous sessions

Synchronous sessions allow you and your students to communicate and view materials at the same time. UWGB supports both Microsoft Teams and Zoom for video conferencing, though Zoom is preferred for class sessions because of its robust Canvas integration. Both tools include many useful features for holding class sessions, such as the ability to screen share and use breakout rooms.

Some caveats to consider:

  • Not all students may have reliable internet access with the bandwidth and stability to support video conferencing. You may wish to check with your students to see if they have any concerns about joining synchronous sessions. You can also share resources about call-in audio-only options for Zoom or Teams.
  • Decide if you would like to record class sessions so students can watch if they are unable to attend, or if you will communicate another method students should use to make up missed class time (getting notes from a peer, referring to lecture notes that will be posted in Canvas, etc.). For students with internet bandwidth issues, streaming a recording (or even downloading it for offline viewing) takes a lot less bandwidth than joining a live video meeting, so you may wish to take this into consideration when making your decision.
  • Ask students to download the Zoom desktop app and log in with their UWGB credentials before joining a Zoom meeting (or the Microsoft Teams app, if using Teams). For students that don’t have access to a computer, you can direct them to the Microsoft Teams and Zoom apps for iOS and Android.
  • Some students might be hesitant to share audio and/or video, so encourage them to ask questions via the “chat” feature or “raise your hand” feature, if they can use audio. If you ask students to turn on their webcams, normalize using virtual backgrounds, as some students may not have access to a private, distraction-free workspace.
  • Inevitably, someone will forget to unmute when speaking, someone will forget to re-mute themselves when there is background noise, and someone will be interrupted by a child or younger sibling shouting in the background or a pet seeking some screen time. Acknowledge that these things will happen, and share a quick laugh when they do.

Upload materials to Canvas

Instructors interested in using Canvas as a central repository for their class can make use of the Home/Modules page to organize materials and store them in one place. This Canvas guide illustrates how to add files to modules in your Canvas course. “Pages” add extra functionality over files since they work like webpages (such as the ability to include hyperlinks, embed images and video, etc.), but need to be created within Canvas instead of via external apps like Word or PowerPoint.

Class Communications

Asynchronous (message board) discussions

Asynchronous discussions, like the Discussions tool in Canvas, allow students to interact with one another around a topic throughout an extended window of time that can span days, weeks, or your entire course.

When holding online discussions, instructors often follow one of two paths. The first is more of a monologue, or 1-on-1 question and response, in which students respond to a prompt to show you that they’re familiar with the material. This can be valuable for a knowledge check, but also has value in that students can compare their own knowledge and application to their peers. The requirement that students respond to your prompt is also followed up with a requirement to respond to one or two peer posts.

The second path is more of a true discussion, in that students may pick one of two or more perspectives to support with materials you’ve covered as a class and/or external research. Because there is more than one “correct” answer, this type of discussion can lead to greater back-and-forth between students, and more robust responses from students to one another. To learn more about using the Discussions tool in Canvas, see this Canvas guide.


Canvas has a built-in chat feature, reminiscent of the early 2000s AOL, MSN, and ICQ instant messenger programs. Consider enabling it in your Canvas course navigation for informal, real-time communication inside of Canvas.

Develop a class communication plan

Your students may not be accustomed to being online students. This may require extra communication on your part to keep everyone on track. Consider developing a weekly schedule to remind yourself when to send out information on the week’s activities, approaching deadlines, motivational messages, class-based feedback, and other timely messages.

Condense or Adapt Materials

Losing in-class meeting time may mean culling something from your course. As you weigh what to condense or cull, consider what content, activities, and assessments are absolutely essential to your course outcomes. Trying to cram everything in will be stressful for you and your students. Consider how you can still help students meet the course outcomes…

  • with less content (e.g., are there slides, content knowledge, readings, in-class activities that are less vital to the course?)
  • with online assessments (e.g., moving face-to-face exams to Canvas)
  • with abbreviated assignments or activities that meet the same outcomes

Getting Help

The following resources are available to you and your students. In the event of a prolonged campus closure, consider communicating available resources to your students through email, Canvas, or whatever means you choose.

  • Your contact information
    Coursework, grading, extensions, extra attempts on online work, course policies
  • Canvas Support | “Help” button in Canvas | (833) 811-3206
    Canvas-related help and technical support
  • Dean of Students | | (920) 465-2152
    Standard bereavement procedure or the leave of absence bereavement procedure, extended absences, temporary impairments, grievances
  • IT Service Desk | | (920) 465-2309
    General technology issues and concerns, including Microsoft Teams and Zoom
  • Student Accessibility Services | | (920) 465-2841
    Accommodation requests
  • Wellness Center | | (920) 465-2380
    Counseling, consultations, health

As always, CATL is also here to support instructors teaching in every modality, in any situation. Feel free to email us ( or request a consultation if you’d like to discuss your questions and concerns about transitioning to remote learning.

First Week of Class

As the first week of class draws nigh, instructors naturally turn their thoughts to those first moments that form a new community. These initial interactions offer instructors and learners an opportunity to set the tone for learning for the semester. We searched our library and reached out to UW-Green Bay faculty who have presented on their methods for building community and transparency in the first week to share their insights once again. Many thanks to Dr. Jenell Holstead for inspiring our objectives for the first day, and to Drs. Katia Levintova and Carly Kibbe for example icebreakers for building community in large lecture courses.

What are the objectives for the first day:

  • Clarify all reasonable questions students might have about the course (course objectives, assignments, pre-requisites, when you’ll provide feedback, and how and when students should seek help); spotlight important parts of your syllabus and consider asking students to annotate the syllabus either before class or while you’re all meeting for the first time. Suggestions for how to do this are below.
  • Build community and set the tone for the course environment with an introductory activity. Whether you’re teaching online or face-to-face, students are more likely to succeed when they have a greater sense of belonging not only to each other but also to the course design.
  • Convince students of your competence to teach the course, predict the nature of your instruction, and know what is required of them (your expectations about performance in class). When appropriate, consider asking students to generate a class charter for participation so that they have a stake in shaping how and when they will be prepared to come to class. Giving your students some agency encourages them to hold themselves and their peers accountable for their preparedness.
  • Give you an understanding of who is taking your course and what their expectations are and whatever you plan to do during the semester, do it on the first day. Some instructors ask students to do some “predicting” on the first day of class in order to gauge their expectations and learning goals. Suggestions for how to accomplish this are here.

Man with ice pick chipping away at frozen lakeExamples of Ice Breaker Activities

  1. Sharing Course Trepidations.* Some students have high anxiety about beginning a new course, especially in some courses, such as math or writing, which may be associated with high student anxiety and expectations. Have your students pair up or work in groups to share some of their fears and concerns about starting your course. Groups can share with the larger class if they feel comfortable; this provides validation for the students and an opportunity for the instructor to address student concerns.
  2. Simple Self-Introductions.* Have students introduce themselves to the rest of the class, including their names, majors, and year in school. You can even have them include a “fun fact” about themselves. This also may help you remember them a little bit better. This is a particularly useful exercise in a course where student speaking, in the form of speeches, oral presentations, or regular discussions, are expected.
  3. Getting to Know Each Other through Writing.* Instead of asking students to interview one another verbally, have your students write down the information that is traditionally shared in an introduction. Students can write their names, majors, reasons for enrolling in your course, “fun facts” about themselves, etc. Have your students swap papers with one another and learn about their partners without speaking. This is especially useful in a writing-intensive course.
  4. The M&M Icebreaker. Each student should be given an M&M (or a Lifesaver, or other multicolored candy). They can be given this piece of candy either as they walk in to the room or while they are already sitting in their seats. Develop a few questions or ideas about what students can share with the rest of the class.  Then ask the students to introduce themselves to either a small group of other students or to the whole class, depending on the size of your course.  When they introduce themselves, what they share or say is dependent on the color of their piece of candy.  For example, a red one might mean they share why they decided to take the course or what they did over the school break.
  5. Syllabus Icebreaker.* Before distributing syllabi, have students get into small groups (3-5 students depending on the size of your course) and introduce themselves to one another. In their groups, students write a list of questions they have about the class. After their questions are written down, hand out the syllabus and have the students find answers to their questions using the syllabus. This is not only an icebreaker, but can also show students that many of their questions can be answered by reading the syllabus. Afterward, the class “debriefs” as a large group and discusses any questions that were not answered in the syllabus. 
  6. Syllabus Jigsaw.* Divide your syllabus into a few major sections. Have your students get into groups and distribute one major section to each group (for example, Group A gets “homework assignments”). Each group studies the section of the syllabus until they are confident about the information in it; groups then present that section of the syllabus to the rest of the class.
  7. Common Sense Inventory.* Make a list of true or false statements pertaining to content in your course (for example, in a Biology course, one might read, “Evolution is simply change over time”). Have students get into groups and decide whether each statement is true or false. As a large group, “debrief” by going over the answers and clarifying misconceptions.
  8. Anonymous Classroom Survey.* Write 2 or 3 open-ended questions pertaining to course content. Consider including at least one question that most students will be able to answer and at least one question that students will find challenging. Have your students respond anonymously on note cards; collect the answers to get a general sense of your students’ starting point.
  9. Choose your Thread:* ask students to read the poem “The Way It Is” by William Stafford, and reflect on what their “thread” is and how it sustains them.
  10. Draw* a picture or create a PowerPoint Slide where students can express why they are taking the class.
  11. Bingo: Make a 5×5 grid to use as a Bingo sheet. In each box, write a “fun fact,” or something that at least one of your students will probably relate to. Some examples might be: has traveled to Europe; plays a sport; is left-handed, but they can also be related to your discipline. Have your students walk around and talk to others until they find matches; the first to find all of them “wins.”
  12. Shoes Activity: This activity comes from Dr. Katia Levintova, which she uses in a large lecture class to develop community on the first day. Take a look to see how students’ shoes, a few minutes of silence, and shuffling groups helps her to do this.

(* = suitable for Online or Face-to-Face environments)

Why do an Ice Breaker?

Research around the first weeks of a course indicates that it is not just content expertise that matters to student experience and learning: it is also the environment that the instructor creates–ideally engaging students as active participants (Deluse, 310-312). First impressions are important—from the first time you greet your students to the built or virtual environments in which you teach. Sara Rose Cavanagh shows how students’ first impressions heavily influence their evaluation of courses at the end of the semester. (Cavanagh, 63) 

Email if you have an activity for the first week that you would like to share!


“!2 Icebreakers for the College Classroom” Center for Advancement of Teaching, Ohio State University

Angelo, T. A., and Cross, K. P. Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.

Cavanagh, Sarah Rose. The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion. First edition. Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 1. Morgantown, West Virginia: West Virginia University Press, 2016. [E-book requires UWGB login]

Deluse, Stephanie. “First Impressions: Using a Flexible First Day Activity to Enhance Student Learning and Classroom Management.” International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 30, no. 2 (2018): 308–21.

“First Day of Class – Design & Teach a Course.” Carnegie Mellon University. Teaching Excellence & Education Innovation – Eberly Center, 2019.

“First Day of Class Guide.” Vanderbilt University. Center for Teaching, 2010.

Holstead, Jenell. “Do’s and Don’ts for the First Day of Class.” Presentation Session presented at the Instructional Development Institute, University of Wisconsin – Green Bay, January 17, 2018.

Jaggars, Shanna Smith, and Di Xu. “How Do Online Course Design Features Influence Student Performance?” Computers & Education 95 (April 2016): 270–84.

Kibbe, Carly, and Katia Levintova. “Building Community in Large Lecture Classes.” University of Wisconsin – Green Bay, January 28, 2018.

Samudra, Preeti G., Inah Min, Kai S. Cortina, and Kevin F. Miller. “No Second Chance to Make a First Impression: The ‘Thin‐Slice’ Effect on Instructor Ratings and Learning Outcomes in Higher Education.” Journal of Educational Measurement 53, no. 3 (2016): 313–331.