Jerri A. Harwell

You are probably used to reading textbooks. When assigned chapters, you have been taught how to read and study as you go. Chapters are organized and designed to be studied. Objectives are listed and perhaps a chapter review is provided at the end of the chapter.

Reading a Canvas (or Blackboard, Moodle, or other Learning Management System) course is different from reading a textbook. Since you aren’t turning sequential pages, you can easily get lost. Many of your courses will still have objectives and a review may be in the form of a short quiz.

Following are some suggestions to help you navigate a Canvas course using Open Education Resources (OER).



If your class is using OER, you don’t have to buy a textbook; instead, you may pay a fee for the course which is minute compared to the cost of a textbook. Everything you need to read, watch, and study is incorporated into the Canvas course. Still, here are some guidelines to help you be successful in this course and others.


Read Every Content Page

Again, instead of purchasing or reading a textbook, your readings and assignments are in Canvas. Canvas is divided into modules, content pages, assignments, discussions, and others. Be sure to read each and every page, click on and read every tab, and open all the hyperlinks if you want to get the most out of your course.

As you can see in the illustration below, sometimes there are several tabs and links to click. One strategy is to read the tab first, open the link in a new window and read that, then open the next tab and do the same, moving left to right until you have opened every tab and link and read everything.

screenshot of a Canvas page with intro paragraph above five tabs that each have content and links
An example of a Canvas page with multiple tabs and links.

 If you were reading an actual textbook and your teacher said to read Chapter 1, pages 1–27, would you skip pages 8 through 15? No, you would not. When you are going through an OER Canvas course, when you do not read a content page or don’t click on that link to read an article or watch a video, you are literally (and figuratively speaking) skipping pages and pages of information. When you do that and get to the assignment, you will be  unsure of what to do. Information your instructor assumes you have read and understood are in those pages and links.

As you read, you may want to take notes electronically, or highlight content on the pages.


Attend Every Class

Even though the coursework is in Canvas, striving to attend every class ensures that you do not miss valuable information. Sometimes life happens. You may wake up ill or have a family emergency. Make attending class the norm, and not the exception or the occasional occurrence.

If possible, arrive early to the classroom. Find a seat that will help you to focus on the instructor and not those around you. Remember, you don’t want to be distracted, especially by friends.

If you are taking an online class, take “attend every class” to mean “do something every day,” as SLCC Professor Karen Kwan, Ed.D. (Psychology) tells her online students. Often with online classes it is “out of sight, out of mind,” as I tell my students. Without getting into a daily routine, students simply forget to complete assignments.

If you are registered in a Hybrid class, attend in person or online, but attend each week.

If your class is Internet Broadcast, plan to attend or watch every lecture.


Read and Re-read Every Assignment

Do not attempt to complete an assignment without knowing and understanding what you are expected to do. Assignment guidelines are written in Canvas along with a rubric or evaluation criteria. A rubric should tell exactly what you need to do to ace an assignment. The assignment guidelines or instructions should tell you if you should use a particular style guide or handbook such as MLA or APA.

Ask questions in class or email your instructor if you need clarification. Take advantage of Student Writing and Reading Centers if you are not understanding an assignment. Appointments are free and are in person or online. A writing consultant can read over the assignment with you.

Don’t skip around in Canvas and complete assignments out of order. Read each content page and assignment sequentially if that is how your class is organized.


Complete Every Assignment

You might think this goes without saying but skipping assignments can not only affect your grade, it can also affect your understanding of the course content. Ignoring or not completing the smaller assignments can lead to failing to understand future assignments.


Submit Every Assignment

In middle school or high school, did you ever complete an assignment, but not submit it? Do not make the same mistake in college.

Be sure to submit your assignments in Canvas. Canvas will confirm that you submitted it with the submission confirmation, so you can verify this yourself. If you do not look away from the screen after you submit an assignment, you will notice the confetti falling congratulating you on submitting the assignment.

I would discourage you from emailing and calling your instructor to ask if he or she received the assignment. Your professors do not stay up until 11:59 p.m. (or whenever your submission deadline is) and watch as students submit assignments.


Submit Every Assignment on Time

Don’t miss that 11:59 p.m. deadline (or whenever your submission deadline is). Verify the time zone used for the submission deadline with your instructor especially if you are taking an online course. One semester I had online students from Alabama to Alaska; that’s a four-hour time difference. I made sure everyone knew to adjust the submission time for Utah’s mountain time zone. Keep this in mind if you travel between time zones for short trips or vacations during the semester.

Know the course policy for late submissions. Some instructors will allow late submissions and some will not. Some will allow you to submit an assignment late, but with a late penalty where points or a percentage of the total points are deducted.


Schedule Your Activities

Knowing how your course is structured is critical to studying. Does your instructor suggest you follow the Modules sequentially, or use the Canvas Calendar, To-do Lists, or other?

Depending on how the course is structured, you can create a schedule of your weekly activities. Perhaps you could read new content on Monday, participate in discussions on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, complete smaller assignments on Thursdays, and complete all other assignments by the weekend or whenever your deadline is.


Putting It All Together

Eventually you may learn about Descartes, Shakespeare, Bernoulli’s Principle, Physics, Music Theory, Psychology, Rhetoric, Ethos, Pathos, Logos, Rhetorical Analysis, Annotated Bibliographies, etc. while in college. In order to learn about them, you have to be successful in this class, and the next, and the one after that. Now is when you begin your college success story.

“KNOW YOUR LIMITS . . . SCHOOL, WORK, LIFE―BALANCE.”      – Glory Johnson-Stanton 



Johnson-Stanton, Glory. Email interview. Conducted by Jerri A. Harwell, 6–7 Oct 2020.

Kwan, Karen. Personal interview. September 2019.



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Open English @ SLCC Copyright © 2016 by Jerri A. Harwell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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