Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Teaching Using Canvas: Learning Activities and Interactions

Learning Activities and Interactions

How Can Interaction Support Active Learning?

Keeping students actively engaged with you, the content, and each other promotes student success. When students are observing, doing, communicating, and reflecting, they are actively working with concepts and people. We describe these activities as interactions. Interaction is at the center of the teaching and learning process. When we move that process online, the way in which students and faculty interact changes. As we re-think how we approach interaction online there are three main types of interaction to consider. While learning activities will differ depending on the content, context, tools, and people involved, there are some strategies that can be incorporated in almost any course to foster interaction. 

Student <to> Faculty Interaction

Student↔faculty interaction can include both formal direct instruction and more informal mentoring and support as discussed in previously. Regular and substantive student↔faculty interaction is required for courses to be classified as "online courses" and not "correspondence courses" by the US Department of Education and the Higher Learning Commission. Courses considered to be correspondence are not eligible for student loans or to count toward full-time student status.

A few examples of student↔faculty interaction include:
  • Providing feedback on assignments, learning journals, or other reflective activities.
  • Participating in discussion forums or chats.
  • Sending frequent announcements to summarize the previous week or describe the next week.
  • Providing online or telephone office hours.
  • Mentoring individual learners.
  • Working with small groups of students assigned to help teach portions of the course (peer teaching)
Student <to> Student Interactions

Interaction between students can include formal course-related collaboration and interaction as well as more informal social interaction, which can increase students' comfort with each other and with the online environment. Student↔student interaction-based activities include but are not limited to:

  • group projects
  • group case studies
  • peer instruction
  • role playing
  • synchronous or asynchronous discussions or debates
  • collaborative brainstorming
  • peer review of selected work (For more on using Canvas tools to manage peer review, see the Peer Review section of the Instructor Guide)

Any of these examples can be used on a large or a small scale ranging from semester-long project groups doing research and presenting results to an optional live meeting where those present discuss a short video case or a discussion forum where they brainstorm alternatives to a textbook problem.

Depending on the size of your class, you can encourage student↔student interaction class-wide or in smaller groups or pairs. When working with smaller groups, it helps to emphasize individual accountability, positive interdependence, and positive interaction in grading the group's work (Kirschner, Strijbos, Kreijns, & Beers, 2004). This strategy leads to three grades on a group project emphasizing the three aspects of group work:

  • individual contribution to the group project
  • synthesis of the individual parts into a project that shows collaboration, consensus, and learning
  • working together to encourage and facilitate each other's efforts to complete the project

For more on using Canvas to manage your student groups, please see the Group section of the Canvas Instructor Guide.

Student <to> Content Interaction

Student↔content interaction includes students' concrete interactions with the course materials and their more abstract interactions with the concepts and ideas they present. It is more than just reading a book or watching a video.  It includes but is not limited to:

  • tutorials (using text, still images, audio, and/ or video)
  • quizzes (if the feedback is useful and usable)
  • web quests
  • studying recorded lectures
  • reading/video discussion or reflections (Reading a textbook is technically a student↔content activity but explicitly requiring students to reflect on the reading and providing directed prompts for that reflection improves the interaction.)
  • simulations.

It's helpful to think through the balance of interaction over the entire course. Particularly, providing activities that offer a range of student-student interaction (from substantial to moderate to light to none) allows students with different preferences for the amount of peer interaction to be comfortable at some points and challenged to expand their comfort zone at others. 

Key Elements

The keys to developing effective online learning activities are to make them:

  • include opportunities for active learning
  • allow for different types of interaction
  • sequential so each one builds on the preceding one,
  • include useful feedback on the activities, and
  • include opportunities for students to think and reflect on what they are learning, how they are learning, and the significance of what they are learning.



Kirschner, Paul; Strijbos, Jan-Willem; Kreijns, Karel; Beers, Pieter Jelle (2004) Designing Electronic Collaborative Learning Environments,  Educational Technology Research and Development, v52 n3 p47-66

Challenges in Being Present

Being present requires a lot of time and our knowledge and ability to use external and internal resources for help and efficiency in responding to students. Below, we discuss the difficulty of time commitments in responding to your students' needs, the technology supports that are at your disposal, and the Canvas tools that help you maintain your presence efficiently.

Time Commitments

Time is one of our most precious resources as teachers. One of the most common issues that arises when teaching is a feeling that there's just not enough time in the day to do what needs to be done. Emails from students need to be answered. Assignments need to be graded and grades posted in a timely manner. Groups may need to be monitored, technology issues managed, or replies to discussion questions posted.

The main areas that can cause challenges for instructors are:

  • saying they will reply to messages in a particular time frame but taking longer in reality
  • saying they will grade and provide feedback in a particular time frame but taking longer in reality
  • telling students to reply to others' posts with substantive comments and their own comments are "nice point" or "good example"

A good way to keep your time commitments under control is to manage expectations from the beginning of the course, both your students' expectations and your own. If your syllabus states that you will answer email within 24 hours or that grades will be posted within one week of the assignment deadline, that doesn't mean that you have to answer email as soon as it comes in and grade on the day the assignment is due. Knowing yourself and how you prefer to work will help you set expectations and boundaries that are reasonable for both you and your students.

Technology Support

Keep in mind that you aren't the only source of technical support for your students. There will always be students with technology challenges in any class. You are not the only source of technical support for your students. Providing clear, tested instructions and using videos if possible, will help reduce the amount of questions. The Canvas Guides are an excellent source of illustrated and video instructions for tools and tasks within Canvas. 

Canvas Tier I support provides 24/7 access for students (and faculty!). If students are experiencing technical difficulties with a university system or a university supported product such as Microsoft Word, you can direct them to the Technology Help Desk at UW-Superior, which has more traditional business hours.

One last thing: if you have a tendency to lose track of due dates and office hours or student meetings that you have on your Canvas calendar, you can add your Canvas calendar to Outlook by subscribing to your Canvas Calendar. This will show you all the calendar items for all the courses you are teaching side by side with your Outlook calendar. 

Canvas Tools for Grading Feedback

The Quizzes tool in Canvas provides options for automatically graded knowledge checks which can be mixed in with other, instructor-graded options like muddiest points.

The SpeedGrader tool in Canvas can help streamline your grading workflow. In SpeedGrader you review and comment on the assignment within Canvas. You can leave comments on the paper directly and/or you can leave summative comments to the side. Summative comments can be text but they can also be audio or video. If a student misses a step in an equation, it's easier to show them what they did wrong than to explain it in text. Note that the video comment feature that allows recording directly into SpeedGrader is flash-based and will not work on iOS or Android devices. 

Another useful tool when grading is the Mute Assignment function. This allows you to grade without students seeing their grades and comments until you are ready to release grades to the entire class. Without muting the assignment your students will receive a notification that their assignment is graded as soon as you enter the grade and move on to the next student, which can be problematic if you decide later in the roster that you need to make a grade adjustment. You can mute or unmute an assignment in SpeedGrader or in the Gradebook. Once you are done grading, unmute the assignment and your students will get a notification that grades have been released.  

Rubrics are both assessment tools for faculty and learning tools for students that can ease anxiety about the grading process for both parties. Creating rubrics does require a substantial time investment up front, but this process will result in reduced time spent grading or explaining assignment criteria down the road. The Rubric Tool in Canvas is an easy way to both share rubrics with your students and speed up your grading.  Once you create a rubric for the assignment, that rubric will appear in SpeedGrader where you can click on the rating the student earned for each category, adjust points within a points range for that rating, and make comments specifically to that criteria.  

Rubrics Overview from Instructure Community on Vimeo.