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.

Canvas: Rich Content Editor

The Canvas Rich Content Editor (RCE) is an editor for Canvas pages, assignments, discussions, quizzes, and announcements. If you’ve ever edited a Canvas page or added a description to an assignment, you’ve already used it! The RCE allows you to add and format text, insert photos and videos, and link web content in many areas of your course.

Table of Contents

Why Should I Use the Rich Content Editor?

The Rich Content Editor puts many powerful tools right in the fingertips of instructors. Besides allowing you to compose text, it also makes adding images, videos, documents, and links to many areas of your course incredibly easy. By using the RCE to keep relevant materials together in the same area, your students will also feel more confident in what they need to use and when. Consider how you might implement the following practical applications of the Rich Content Editor in your own course:

  • Link files in assignment descriptions. Avoid confusion from students over what materials are relevant to an assignment by linking them right in an assignment description. If your instructions reference a reading, link your PDF where you mention it. If you would like students to fill out and submit a Word doc you created, include a link to the file and then there will be no confusion over which file to use.
  • Update your course materials right in Canvas. Sometimes you may decide to change the details of a project or another course element. Rather than digging through your computer files to update a document and then reuploading it to your course, consider copying the instructions into the appropriate assignment, discussion, or page in your Canvas course where you can easily edit them anytime.
  • Make your course content easy for your students to access. Use the RCE to create your course content in Canvas pages instead of uploading Word or PowerPoint files. Creating your content within Canvas will ensure that your students can access it on all devices and ensure that the ability to view your content isn’t dependent on the installation of specific software. It will also prevent students from having to juggle many tabs and windows at once to switch between downloaded files and your Canvas course.
  • Use videos in new areas of your course. If you’ve taught online, you’ve almost definitely had a video embedded on a page before, but did you know you can also use the RCE to add videos to announcements, discussion threads, and even quizzes? If you’re one that prefers to communicate through speaking rather than written text, consider adding a video to your next announcement (while still including transcripts or a written overview for accessibility).

How Can I Use the Rich Content Editor to Make My Content More Accessible?

Use Built-In Text Formatting

The Rich Content Editor is a great tool for making your course content more readable. It is recommended that you format your text using Canvas’s built-in text styles from the dropdown menu in the Rich Content Editor. For example, Header 2 and Header 3 are great for page headers, while Paragraph is perfect for body text. Using these text styles will keep the appearance of your content consistent across your course, plus the text will scale correctly when a user zooms in on their browser. Canvas formatting also helps screen readers determine which parts of the text are headers and which are body text.

Add Alt Text to Images

Adding alt text to images is another best practice for making your course more accessible. Alt text provides a description of images that is readable by those that use screen readers. When you upload a new image with the New Rich Content Editor, add a brief description in the Alt Text field.

Use the Accessibility Checker

The Rich Content Editor also comes equipped with a built-in accessibility checker that runs some basic checks and makes recommendations to improve the accessibility of the content you are editing.

More Detailed Information

Do more with advanced HTML

You can do more with Canvas pages by using the HTML editor built in. CATL has some more information and sample code available here to get you started.

Reveal Additional Tools with the More Button

To see additional features, click the three stacked dots in the top right corner of the RCE toolbar. Depending on the size of the window in which you have Canvas open, more or fewer tools will be hidden behind this “More…” button.

More options

There is a menu bar at the very top of the Rich Content Editor. From this menu bar you can:

  • Cut, copy, paste, and undo with the Edit menu
  • Toggle between rich text and HTML view with the View menu
  • Insert various types of media, as well as tables and equations
  • Format your text
  • Explore external Tools (this is also where you will embed Kaltura videos)
  • Manage Table properties

Animated demo of the RCE menu

Course content and external content can be linked through the menu bar or toolbar. Photos, documents, URL links, and course content links can be added through the “Insert” menu or the toolbar buttons with icons that match those found within the Insert menu.

Course Link Menu Item

Access Third-Party Tools Through the Menu Bar or Toolbar

Office 365 content and Kaltura/My Media content can be embedded with their respective buttons in the RCE toolbar.

Office and Kaltura Buttons

Other third-party tools like YouTube, Vimeo, Films on Demand, and VoiceThread can be accessed through the “Apps” button with a plug icon. You can also access all external tools by going to Tools > Apps > View All in the menu bar. After you use a tool for the first time, it will appear under “Apps” without having to click “View All”.

Apps, My Media

If You Can’t Find What You’re Looking For…

To help you navigate this menu system, we’ve linked instructions below for some common features. Note that the process for each of these is the same whether you are using the RCE in a page, an assignment, a discussion, etc.


Canvas: Kaltura Course Media Gallery

Media Gallery Overview

The Media Gallery feature available in Canvas courses is part of a suite of Kaltura video tools. It allows instructors and students to collaboratively curate and view a collection of videos in a course-specific media gallery. Videos added to a  Canvas course’s media gallery can be viewed by all students enrolled in the course and are accessed by clicking the Media Gallery link in the course’s navigation menu. Media Galleries work hand-in-hand with the My Media tool.

While My Media is a tool for collecting a personal repository of videos, Media Galleries act as a space in a course where My Media videos can be published and seen by all members. The course’s teacher manages the Media Gallery, but teachers and students alike can contribute their videos to the gallery. Teachers may turn on an option to moderate the gallery and require student-submitted videos to receive their approval before they are published to the gallery.

Ideas for Course Media Galleries

  • Media Galleries can be used to collect all of your lecture videos into one easily-found and searchable location.
  • Media Galleries can be used as a place for students to submit video projects that can be watched and reviewed by the entire class.
  • Students could be assigned to find and share topic-relevant YouTube videos to the Media Gallery to create a collaborative library of videos for research and discussion. Please see Adding Public YouTube Videos to My Media for information on importing YouTube videos into My Media.
  • Media Galleries can be used to create video playlists that can be viewed within the gallery and/or embedded elsewhere in your Canvas course.


The guide on how to use the Media Gallery is available on the UKnowIt KnowledgeBase here. If you’d like to explore whether or how to use the Media Gallery in your courses, just request a consultation.

Organizing Canvas to Improve the Student Experience

Organizing Course Content

When teaching online, an important consideration is how to organize your content. For maximum clarity and visibility, we recommend organizing your content in modules on the home page. Students are generally used to working through online content sequentially, so arranging modules chronologically with the first week/unit at the top is ideal. You could also arrange your course’s modules in reverse chronological order, publishing the most recent one at the start of each unit/week, so the current week/unit’s module is always at the top of the page. If arranging your content chronologically doesn’t seem like a good fit for your class, you could also try grouping content in modules by project instead.

Modules can be rearranged by clicking and dragging the stacked dots in the top left corner.

Once you have decided how you would like to set up your modules, consider the order in which the content within the modules appears. The first item in a module is nearly always a page. This page should provide students with the context they need to successfully read/watch the necessary materials and complete the necessary activities for the week or unit. You can also use this page to provide an introductory paragraph with other necessary contextual information, as well as the learning objectives or goals for the unit/week. Depending on the depth of the material, you may also consider breaking this information down into multiple pages.

For example, your overview page in each module might include:

  • Introduction
    • Briefly introduce the materials and concepts covered in the module.
    • Provide any necessary background information students may need to know before engaging with the “meat” of the content.
  • Learning Objectives
    • Concretely describe what you would like students to know or be able to do by the end of the week/unit’s activities.
  • Readings
  • Lecture Videos
    • Embed your pre-recorded lectures for the module in sequential order.
    • Try to break down lectures into shorter, more digestible videos (studies have shown that 6—9 minutes may be the sweet spot, and a conversational tone is equally important (Brame, 2016)).
  • Activities
    • Link directly to activities that students are to complete for the week/unit (Canvas assignments, discussions, etc.).
    • Include both graded and non-graded activities.

After the page, add any relevant Canvas activities to the module, such as discussions, assignments, and quizzes. This will let students see at a glance what is due by the end of the week/unit. Keep the content in the modules simple and high-level in terms of information.

Linking Related Materials

It may be tempting to link all your readings, resources or other materials for a unit in the modules on the home page, but the more content students see at a glance in the module, the more overwhelmed they will feel. Instead, it is a good idea to keep materials related to each project, assignment, or other activity in the activity description itself.

In Canvas you can add links to files (documents that you have uploaded to the files area), content within Canvas (published pages, discussions, assignments, etc.) and external URLs (online articles or other websites that have content or activities you would like students to engage with). You can also embed videos that you have created (Kaltura/My Media videos) or videos from other sources that support embed codes (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.). Use this to your advantage by linking all relevant materials needed for completing an activity in the description for said activity. These links can be created anywhere the Rich Content Editor is available.

It’s not enough to just add links to materials, however. Any materials that you would like students to engage with also require clear, concise instructions for what you would like students to do with the content that you’ve linked.

Here are some questions to consider when you are adding materials to your assignments, discussions, and other areas of Canvas with the New Rich Content Editor:

  • What is the material?
    • Use the exact name of the article or video, or a clear, concise description for the inline text when you create a link.
  • What would you like students to do with the material, and to what degree?
    • For an article, for example, is your intention for students to skim it? Do a close read? Annotate it? Take detailed notes?
  • How much of the material is relevant to the activity?
    • Include page numbers for readings and timestamps for videos, when applicable.
    • This information also allows students to better gauge the amount of time they will need to complete an activity.
  • How does this material relate to the objective of the activity?
    • Provide instructions on how you would like students to apply what they have learned/accomplished from the linked material to the activity.
    • Decide if you want students’ use of the material to be open-ended or specific (e.g. for a discussion, do you want students to submit a free-form reflection on the reading, or answer specific discussion questions?).

Managing Course Pacing and Student Access (Canvas)

As you’re organizing your course content, you should also consider how you would like students to move through your course in terms of pacing. Generally speaking, online courses are built to be more adaptable than face-to-face classes in order to accommodate students’ work and class schedules, as well as other commitments like childcare. That being said, there is also research that supports creating a structure for student pacing in an online environment using the conditional release of content (Fisher, L., Brinthaupt, T. M., Gardner, J., & Raffo, D., 2015). Choosing the right pacing style is a balancing act between what will foster the best student learning for your content area, while also delivering on the promise of self-paced learning and the added flexibility that students have come to expect from online courses.

Module access

By default, all published content is visible to students from the start of the class. While this is good for transparency with your students, it also means that students can work on assignments out of order or work ahead. If this is not your intention, one option to manage student pacing is a conditional release, in which each module will automatically unlock when a student fulfills certain conditions. This is accomplished in Canvas by adding prerequisites and/or requirements to each module. These conditions can vary from simple and broad (view all items in Module 2) to assessment-based and highly specific (complete ‘Lab Safety Quiz’ with a score of at least 8 out of 10). The conditional release allows students to work at their own pace, while also encouraging (or requiring) students to demonstrate mastery of an area before moving along.

A different way to manage student pacing is to lock modules based on date, or scheduled release. This could be helpful if there is timely content that needs to be delivered before a student can move along to the next unit, like a synchronous class session or feedback on an assignment. For this method, each module becomes available to students at the same time.

Additionally, content can also be manually released if the instructor chooses to manually publish each module when they feel the class is ready to move along.

Lastly, there is open visibility, in which instructional content is visible for the entirety of the course (though instructors can still manage students’ ability to submit to assignments, discussions, and quizzes if they have availability dates set, detailed further down the page).

The table below compares some of the upsides and drawbacks of conditional release, scheduled release, manual release, and open visibility of course content.

Pacing Style Description Pros Cons


Each module becomes available to a student once they meet the predetermined conditions.
  • Students can work at their own pace.
  • Allows students to focus on one unit at a time.
  • Students are required to either engage with all content (at a minimum) or demonstrate mastery in an area before moving along.
  • Heavily reliant on auto-graded assessments.
  • Could cause additional stress if a student falls behind and is unable to move along/stuck.
  • Limited/no collaborative opportunities.
  • Limited/no class discussions.


Each module becomes available to all students at a certain date and time.
  • All students move through content in the course at the same pace.
  • Allows students to focus on one unit at a time.
  • Less flexible for students.


Each module is available to all students once an instructor manually publishes it.
  • All students move through content in the course at the same pace.
  • Allows students to focus on one unit at a time.
  • Allows the instructor to decide when to move along based on the gauged understanding and needs of the class as a whole.
  • Less flexible for students.
  • Requires instructors to remember to publish each module manually.


All modules are available to all students for the entirety of the course.
  • Students can work at their own pace.
  • Instructors can still choose to manually publish certain materials and restrict access to submit to assignments, discussions, and quizzes with open/close dates.
  • Allows for the greatest degree of transparency (students know exactly what to expect in terms of future assignments, etc.).
  • Students may rush through content without fully engaging with all the materials.
  • Students may get overwhelmed by the amount of material, especially if they fall behind.

Assignment and Assessment Access

If you are using an open visibility model for your course, you can still control students’ access to things like assignments and quizzes if you so chose. When deciding on how long students should have access to an assignment or other assessment, consider allowing a window of at least a few days so students can properly plan when to complete their assignments and assessments.

The first option for limiting student access is to simply leave select materials unpublished until you would like students to be able to see them, similar to the Manual Release method for module delivery. When an item is unpublished, it is completely invisible and inaccessible to students. This method requires you to be proactive in your communication with your students, as students are not automatically notified when you publish an item in Canvas. Note that if you unpublish an activity that students have already submitted for a grade, the activity will be excluded from students’ grade calculations until you re-publish the item.

If you would like the process for managing student access to be more automated, the other option is to add availability (open/close) dates to activities in Canvas. Discussions, assignments, and quizzes all can have availability dates. Pages can have “to-do” dates. Unlike unpublished Canvas items, closed activities are still partially visible to students. This Canvas guide details the differences between due dates and availability dates, and the table below provides a brief overview of what students can see and do before an activity opens, when it is open, and after it closes.

Canvas Activity Before opening While open After closing
Discussions Students can view the discussion prompt, any attached rubrics, and the due date. Students can post responses and reply to their peers’ posts. Students can no longer post to the discussion board but can read all the posts that were made while the discussion was open.
Assignments Students can view the assignment description, any attached rubrics, and the due date. Students can submit their work and comments. Students can no longer submit their work but can still view their submissions and make comments.
Quizzes Students can view the quiz description and the due date. Students can open, take, and submit their quiz. Students can no longer take the quiz but may be able to see their responses, depending on the quiz settings.

Adding “to-do” dates to Pages in Canvas allows you to set a read-by or engage-with-by type of reminder to students. This will appear in their Canvas calendars and also their course to-do list. The to-do date in Pages does not restrict student access after the set date. To add a to-do date to a Page, edit it, scroll to the bottom, and check the box “Add to student to-do.”

The option to add a page to the student "to do" list