Resources, Teaching with Technology

Advanced Canvas Tools

by Sandy Gambill, Sr. Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

While Canvas makes it easy to post course content, it also has a range of tools that can extend and expand upon learning.  Here are three of these tools.

Learning Analytics

Formative evaluation is a powerful method of gathering feedback from students during the semester so you can make adaptations if necessary to ensure students are meeting learning outcomes. 

Canvas’ Learning Analytics tool allows instructors to gather data throughout the semester through a variety of reports about the work individual and groups of students are doing in a class. In addition to general trends and aggregate data about assignments, discussions, and quizzes, you can drill down to the individual student level through “student context cards.” 

While analytics can help the instructor develop an understanding of how students are doing, it’s also important to remember that they’re one piece of the picture.  The Reinert Center offers a Small Group Instructional Feedback service at midterm to help you gather feedback directly from students. [link]

University of Wisconsin has developed Learning Analytics Guiding Principles to help faculty place learning analytics in context with viewing the student in a holistic manner.

A recorded training session on the Learning Analytics tool is available inside Growing with Canvas. NB: Access is limited to SLU instructors.


Metacognition, defined by Saundra McGuire (2015, p. 16) as the ability of “students to monitor, plan, and control their mental processing,” is a powerful tool to help students understand how they learn. A journal assignment can help students practice metacognition. For example, you could ask students to keep a learning journal where they react to prompts such as “what in this new material connected to concepts you’ve already learned; describe the process you used to complete this assignment; what did you learn about how you interact in groups; what might you do differently based on what you know after completing this project?”

While Canvas does not have a journal tool like Blackboard did, it is easy to set up a journal assignment. [link] Canvas has the added ability for the student to record video or submit images, which expands the creative possibilities for reflection.

Eric Royer’s The Notebook post from March 2 details why metacognition is especially important for helping students in the last couple of years, when students might not have a clear picture of their own growth.

Peer Review

Peer Review is a strategy that helps students see how other students are approaching course concepts.  In addition to providing feedback to each other, peer review helps students benchmark their own performance and expand their ways of thinking about course material. 

Canvas has a peer review tool that makes the process efficient. Instructors can attach a rubric to a peer review assignment as a way to guide the feedback process. [link] To circle back to metacognition, it might be interesting to ask students to write a journal post about what they learned from doing peer review and how it might impact their own way of thinking.

For assistance in developing assignments using these tools or to discuss how they might be useful in your teaching, please feel free to schedule a confidential consultation with the Reinert Center.


McGuire, S.Y. (2015). Teach students how to learn: Strategies you can incorporate into any course to improve student metacognition, study skills, and motivation. Sterling, VA: Stylus.