Canvas FAQs

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about Canvas.

More detailed FAQs can be found in the Guides to Using Canvas at Oxford, which you can access once logged into Canvas.

The Guides also includes a glossary to help with understanding the terminology most commonly used in Canvas.

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Canvas is a virtual learning environment (VLE) delivered by Instructure, an educational technology company founded in 2008. Instructure is based in the United States, with UK support in London. Canvas, which was launched in 2011, is used in more than 50 countries by over 20 million students. The software is intuitive and easy to use, scalable and secure.

Canvas was the unanimous choice of the VLE review project board as the preferred supplier to deliver the new virtual learning environment. It was felt it would provide the best quality of user experience to support teaching and learning at Oxford, and in doing so provide opportunities to advance education.  

The decision is the result of a process that began with the 2016 Digital Education Strategy implementation consultation. This identified the need for a more intuitive and user-friendly VLE. More information about this process is available on the VLE Review web pages.

Canvas is used in the UK by institutions including the University of Birmingham, London Business School, University of Wolverhampton, St Georges University of London, Henley Business School and Manchester University. It is it the leading VLE used by a number of Ivy League universities including Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Cornell and MIT.

Canvas, the University’s virtual learning environment, is a cloud-based service delivered by Instructure, an educational technology company providing UK support in London.

On the rare occasions that Canvas is offline, it is likely that other European users will also be impacted. The service is usually restored quite quickly, but you may find the information below helpful for supporting your students should a longer outage occur.

Alternative ways to support your students when Canvas is down

Canvas is used to support teaching and student learning at Oxford primarily in an asynchronous mode – that is, students can access materials in their own time and instant communication is usually not necessary.

Much of the existing guidance from the Centre for Teaching and Learning around flexible and inclusive teaching contains ideas about how to design activities in flexible ways, using a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous tools (eg Canvas, Microsoft Teams, Panopto and ORLO).

If Canvas is down for an extended period, you may wish to consider using alternative methods of communicating with your students, particularly in the case of time-critical teaching materials. These include:

  • Creating a class team in Microsoft Teams: Class teams have unique permissions and features for teachers and students. As owners of the team, teachers assign work, share class content, start meetings, and control who can post in the team. Each class team is also linked to its own OneNote Class Notebook.
  • Using Microsoft Teams chat: If you already use Microsoft Teams for online meetings with your students, the chat channel should already be in place (as long as at least one chat message has already been posted there) and can be used to send quick messages and announcements to all course participants, as well as to share documents, links or images.
  • Using regular email: The course administrator may maintain a list of student email addresses which could be used for any urgent communications, for distributing time-critical learning materials, or for receiving formative assignments.
  • Using other free platforms: There are many free platforms which can offer a similar collaborative experience to Canvas, for example, Google classroom.

While the service is down, you might wish to spend time planning, preparing or updating materials that you intend to provide to students. This might include drafting documents that you will convert later into pages (or file uploads) in Canvas and preparing any required images. It is always a good idea to save your materials on your own computer or your One Drive, which will also serve as a backup. Then when Canvas becomes available, it should be much quicker to upload the required materials into suitable Canvas tools.

Finding out when Canvas is back up and running 

You will be notified by Instructure and the University when Canvas is back online but information about Canvas status can also be found on Instructure’s Canvas Status page.

You may also wish to follow Canvas LMS on Twitter (@CanvasLMS) for updates. This account sends out tweets for major, Canvas-wide outages, along with other news and events related to Canvas.

Canvas has recently launched their so-called Plagiarism Framework, which enables ‘deep integration’ with Turnitin.

This means that when creating an essay-type assignment in Canvas, the user can invoke the Turnitin integration. The student submissions will then automatically go through Turnitin ‘behind the scenes’, and return the Originality Report into the Canvas assignment interface.

Canvas works well with Panopto. There is seamless integration with Panopto ‘behind the scenes’, that is, lectures can be recorded via the applicable Canvas course, from where students can access the recordings. 

The following training opportunities and materials are provided:  

  • Canvas Fundamentals, covering the basics of Canvas. These sessions are hands-on and observational and delivered using Microsoft Teams. They can be booked through the IT Learning Centre
  • Learning Design workshops: please contact  for more details. 
  • Guides to using Canvas at Oxford, which can be accessed once logged into Canvas. 

Online guides and videos are also available from Instructure (parent company of Canvas). Please note they may not always reflect Oxford University's own use of Canvas. 

Yes, there is a Quiz tool in Canvas that is viewed as an ‘assignment’. It has features such as being able to provide one stimulus (e.g. a video or image) and posing multiple short questions about that stimulus.


Yes, these can be embedded into Canvas pages and modules (like the Lessons tool in WebLearn).

Canvas offers detailed analytics displays and reports, as well as a Gradebook into which markers can insert marks. Marks from graded activities such as assignments, quizzes and graded discussions will automatically appear in the Gradebook. This provides a full record of all assessments in the course and marks earned. You may wish to refer to the guidance: How do I enter and edit grades in the Gradebook? 


 Yes, it is possible to integrate the Oxford term dates calendar in Canvas. Please refer to the guidance page: Importing the Oxford calendar into a Canvas course.

Very customisable: you can create your own marking scales. Your grading scheme will not take effect until you have enabled it for the course via Settings > Course Details.