UNF Center for Instruction and Research Technology

Instructional Design

Communication in Canvas


Cultivating instructor presence is essential to successfully facilitating an online course. Many instructors communicate their expectations to students through weekly reminder announcements, grades, and performance feedback. While these standard forms of correspondence certainly contribute to instructor presence, Canvas offers a number of convenient features that can be used to enhance learner-instructor interactions and open lines of communication in an online course.


While sending announcements may not be a novel approach to communicating in an online course, considering and applying strategies to make the most out of Canvas’ Announcements feature may pave the way for more engaging and effective correspondence. Many instructors opt to send a routine weekly announcement reminding students of upcoming deadlines and events. This type of announcement is a useful tool in supporting students, but consider the following tips to ensure the announcement successfully delivers its message:

  • Keep it short and sweet! Avoid cognitive overload by only including essential information.
  • Reduce repetition by avoiding the restatement of instructions or expectations; link to this information in the course if needed.
  • Use bulleted lists to organize important deadlines and events.

If an announcement becomes overcrowded with text or seems too lengthy, consider splitting it into a Monday announcement and a Wednesday announcement. While delivering too much information in one announcement can cause cognitive overload, sending announcements too frequently can cause students to become frustrated with the influx of information. Finding a balance between too many and too few announcements in a course is important to structuring an effective flow of information between the instructor and the students.

Want to take the Announcements feature a step further? Personalize communication with students by sending a video announcement; see Canvas FastTrack: Video Announcements. Or create a visually appealing announcement by delivering information in an infographic. Construct images to creatively display information in an announcement with a user-friendly infographic creator like Canva. Revamping the standard weekly announcement is a great way to engage students and effectively deliver important information.


Zoom is often adopted by instructors as a virtual meeting space for office hours. Rather than inviting students to attend scheduled office hours on campus, create more opportunities for learner-instructor interaction by encouraging students to schedule a virtual meeting. Utilizing Zoom allows for more flexibility in scheduling office hours, and this feature offers a fully functional workspace for students and instructors to communicate. And among other useful tools, Zoom also allows for screen-sharing and document uploads to add clarity and enhance one-on-one help sessions.

In addition to office hours, consider using Zoom for a variety of synchronous session types to bolster instructor presence. Schedule a study session on Zoom before an exam to allow students to ask questions and review complex concepts. Conduct group presentations on Zoom to allow students to report on their course projects and gain experience in utilizing virtual meeting spaces. Host synchronous class sessions to provide specialized instruction or present a guest speaker. Whether using this feature for direct instruction or interactive discussion, Zoom is well-equipped to enhance instructor presence and support communication in an online course.

Messaging in Grades

As an alternative to email, Canvas Inbox allows instructors and students to communicate with personal messages. While a Canvas user can click the Inbox in the main navigation menu to read or send messages, instructors can find one of the most helpful messaging tools in a less expected location – the gradebook! To provide timely and personalized feedback for an assignment, instructors can access Grades and opt to send messages to students who have not yet submitted the assignment, who scored less than a designated point value, or who scored more than a designated point value. See How do I send a message to my students from the Gradebook? for detailed instructions.

Create a dialogue to support students by using this messaging feature in Grades to deliver feedback and resubmission opportunities to students who scored less than 70 out of 100 points on a midterm exam. Or congratulate students who scored more than 80 out of 100 points on a final paper! Opting to send a message to students who have not yet submitted an assignment by its deadline is also a great strategy to reduce unneeded correspondence to the whole class while supporting the population of students who may benefit from this reminder. In coordination with other communication efforts including Announcements and Zoom sessions, the messaging feature in Grades serves to enhance instructor presence and support student progress in online courses.


Costa, K. (2016, Feb. 26). The Art & Science of Quality Course Announcements: How to Avoid the Trap of the Info Dump. Retrieved from Faculty Focus.

John A. Dutton e-Education Institute, Penn State. (2016). Best Practices and Expectations for Online Teaching. Retrieved from Penn State.

Weller, K. (2016, April 28). Tips for E-Learning: Announcements, Like All Good Things, Are Best in Moderation. Retrieved from LinkedIn.

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