Is Canvas a useful resource for students?

Illustration: Madalyn Drewno - The Sentry


CU Denver uses Canvas to organize all online course information and assignments for classes. Instructors use the online program as a major source of information. Courses utilize Canvas to take tests, quizzes, and homework online, but it is one of the most confusing and unhelpful tools out there.

Upon first logging into Canvas, no information is given to help the user navigate for the first time. With no prior knowledge and no tutorial, it is easy to get lost.

The structure of each course varies greatly in terms of web page structure. Each course has its own list of tabs to choose from, yet each course’s list of tabs differs from the last. Whether some courses’ tabs do not contain the same type of content as another, or some courses do not have the same tabs at all, the erratic nature of this program confuses many of its users.

There is little consistency among the course selection tabs, which throws some students off. Some tabs aren’t utilized in their proper way. For example, the syllabus tab. Some teachers use the tab for their syllabus, while other don’t use it at all and instead file their syllabus in the files tab. “Unlike many of the programs I have seen used before, Canvas is the hardest to navigate by far,” Sean O’Brien, a CU Denver student majoring in business, said. “They try to simplify things by using color coordination, but utterly fail when it comes to compatibility.” This color coordination makes a presence in the calendar section of Canvas, where classes display due dates for papers, quizzes, tests, and homework assignments.

There are many possible solutions to the Canvas problem, whether that comes in the form of demanding consistency for online class structure or ditching Canvas for another system like Blackboard, the program that MSU utilizes. The main problem with Canvas is the inconsistency among the courses, which needs to change in order for it to become a useful tool for students. Online courses need to be helpful, easy to navigate, and user-friendly for students at CU Denver. Canvas seems to fail at meeting those needs.


Canvas is the platform used by CU Denver students and professors alike, offering an endless well of resources for students. It is used to structure courses, set due dates, give exam reminders, post announcements; the list goes on.

For each course, Canvas creates an individual module allowing for exceptional organization of each document, assignment, discussion board, and anything else that is included in the course. All relevant information is stored neatly in its respective place, allowing syllabi or class schedules to be easily found in the modules, aptly titled “files” or “syllabus,” rather than leaving users frantically scouring an ostensibly endless amount of handouts or through a yearly planner.

The most convenient feature of Canvas is the ability to clearly see deadlines and significant class events on the homepage. It is not uncommon for students to get overwhelmed with part time jobs, familial issues, and lectures—so forgetting important due dates for quizzes or homework assignments is unavoidable. Thankfully, the Canvas app sets up automatic notifications when assignments are either created, graded, or coming up; which is all also visible on the Canvas homepage.

Although the argument that the platform is “difficult to navigate” is not unfounded, this issue can be easily remedied by consulting with a professor who can demonstrate the basics. Even a quick Google search of “How to use Canvas (for students)” offers numerous articles and videos for any discombobulated student.

Although some professors prefer to use the Canvas calendar while others do not, providing some inconsistency, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Having a calendar that is relatively uncluttered can be a lot simpler to consolidate with a calendar on a cell phone.

Also, the calendar feature on Canvas is not one that necessarily needs to be regularly looked at; every important assignment is clearly listed on the homepage in the “Upcoming assignments” section to the right of the page which for any forgetful college student is, frankly, a godsend.

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