Unofficial CMU Canvas FAQ Too much snark to be official.

What is this?

Didja read the big title up there? It's an unofficial (TM) Canvas FAQ for CMU people. If you are not a CMU person this is unlikely to help you. You can hit the back button now. It's fine. We won't take it personally.

Why unofficial? Because now you can't complain. It's not an official resource, it's just a little bonus information with a side of folksy charm. By reading on, you agree not to complain about how unprofessional it is. We're blowing off a little steam and making something useful while doing it. If you would like documentation that kisses your forehead as you read it, head over to the Official CMU Canvas Documentation.


  1. Why do my students disappear??

    So, you manually added some students to your course and like clockwork they get kicked out. Here's the deal: This will only happen when you add students to sections that are synced to SIS. How can you tell which sections are synced? Go to your course settings. Click on the Sections tab. Anything with a SIS ID is going to be synced to SIS. Zealously. But a student walked up to you with those big puppy eyes and asked to be allowed into the class. It's too cute to resist. We understand. Have some options:

    First option: Add them to ANY non-SIS section. You can even make a new section! A section named "Waitlist", a section named "Just Friends", a section named "Where Are We Going And Why Am I In This Handbasket?"... Sections for everybody! Second option: Enroll them in a SIS section, but give them any role that is NOT "Student". Anyone who has added TAs to specific sections and realized that *they're* not getting kicked out may have just experienced an epiphany: We only sync the "Student" role, and ignore everything else. Third option: Have your puppy-eyed student go fill out a Course Audit Form (PDF), which has the added bonus of letting the registrar know your class is so popular students show up and do work even if they're not getting credit! Official audit students get synced, too. Fourth option: Actually register them (We know, so novel).

    "What were you thinking? This doesn't work the way Blackboard did!" You're right, but it solves a lot of problems: 1. Less roster ambiguity: Manually adding a student to Blackboard that should be registered in SIS is misleading. A student could make it to the end of the semester believing they were squared away with the registrar... right up until the final grade deadline passes and a bundle of panic is at your door. A separate role or a separate section makes it clear that something special is going on. 2. Less cruft. Let's say you've registered a student in SIS, but don't want to wait for the next enrollments update. Go ahead and add the student with the Student role to the SIS section they will be in; the enrollment update process will see the student is enrolled as they should be and move along. The difference is that they will be automatically managed going forward: If they drop the class, your Canvas roster will reflect that instead of having the enrollment sit around like a zombie in Blackboard waiting for a manual purge. If that doesn't appeal to you, take pity on the intro instructor with a huge lecture section.

  2. What do the different roles do?

    1. Student: Can view all published course material, submit assignments, email, see other students, etc.
    2. Student (Limited Access): Same as a student EXCEPT they can't send email to fellow registered students. When combined with an instructor disabling the People tab, it results in them not being able to see who else is in the class or even their section.
    3. TA: Everything an instructor can do, but with a different title so we know who's boss.
    4. Observer: Can see course material, but not actually interact. Can't submit HWs, can't comment on discussions, etc.
    5. Grader: Like a TA, but can't modify course content.
  3. Why doesn't [thing] work exactly like Blackboard did?

    Shockingly enough, because this *isn't* Blackboard. We totally get it: You want to focus on the things that matter to you and not learn a new tool; it's not like you have an ocean of free time. We didn't decide to switch on a whim; we didn't decide to switch in a vacuum: We spent a year in pilot with courses in every school and worked with representatives from faculty senate, student government, etc. At the end of the day, it was clear that Blackboard was holding us back, and familiarity was not enough of a reason to stay. So it will be one inconvenient semester to transition and then you're good for another 10 years.

    While we're here under this question, let's go ahead and take a minute to remind ourselves that we are not designers (Actual professional designers please disregard). Say it aloud: "I am not a designer" (Actual professional designers please disregard once more). Now, if your comment was about to be something along the lines of "That was a stupid place for [thing]" or "That's a stupid color for [thing]", please consider two things: 1. Is it justifiably stupid, or are you just familiar with something else? 2. If something is legit stupid, the good news is Canvas is an open source project. You can go fix the thing you hate and contribute it back to Canvas.