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Best Practices | Canvas Analytics


In a face-to-face course, an instructor often promotes student retention and success by assessing students' engagement or participation in the course. Are students showing up to class? Are they taking notes? Participating in discussions? Are assignments being turned in on time? Have students read the material? Do they look confused? Are they awake? While some of these cues are observed behaviors, many can also be measured in an online course.

Learning Analytics (LA) is the collection and analysis of data that is gathered while students are engaging with and in the learning management system (LMS) (Pappas, 2014). Instructors should be aware of how students are using the online course so that they can look for patterns and predict outcomes, make meaningful adjustments to the course, and proactively intervene on behalf of at-risk students, if necessary. Knowing when and how to use course analytics can empower the instructor and help to prevent students from falling through the cracks (Avella, Kebritchi, Nunn, & Kanai, 2016).


In Practice

Canvas features course-wide and individual student analytics reports for published courses. These reports can provide a snapshot of how and when the system is being used, when submissions are taking place relative to set due dates, and what student achievement looks like in terms of scores.

In Course Analytics, there are four main sections that can be displayed graphically or as a table.


Activity reports the number of page views and participations (posting to a discussion, submitting an assignment or quiz, joining a conference, etc.) by date.  An instructor may look for and consider trends such as greater activity as a due date approaches. This information may prompt the instructor to ensure availability accordingly (Lorenzetti, 2016). An instructor may also notice a week where activity is significantly lower and wish to add an element to motivate students to interact with the content or fellow classmates. Note that currently, activity on a mobile device is not recorded. In addition, consider the time students may have spent with content or activities taken outside of the system (for example downloading and reading a PDF or working on a project using an external program or website).


Submissions shows the breakdown of those on time, late, and missing by activity. If a large percentage of students submitted late or not at all, the instructor might consider breaking the assignment into smaller chunks for the next iteration of the course or sending out a reminder announcement before the next assignment's due date.


Grades provides the point distribution for each activity, including the lowest, median, and highest scores, the interquartile range, and the possible points. An instructor may wish to consider the activities that deviate from a normal distribution. Was the assignment too challenging or not challenging enough? Were the objectives, content, and assessment all in alignment? Be wary of late assignments for which you have not yet entered a grade of zero. The distribution only features scores that have been entered and could be misinterpreted for that reason.


The Student Analytics table gives information on the page views, participations, submissions, and score for each individual student. It is sortable by page views, participations, or score. This could be helpful in determining which students are low scoring and why. Is it because not enough time is being spent in the course or some other reason? By clicking on a student's name, the instructor will be taken to the Student Analytics.


Another way to access individual Student Analytics is from the People link on the course menu. Student Analytics features four sections, which can be viewed graphically or as tables.


Activity shows page views and participations of the individual student by date. The instructor may wish to navigate to an at-risk student and look for trends, for example declining activity. For such a case, the instructor may wish to contact the student in an attempt to re-engage him or her.


Communication shows a record of Inbox conversations between an individual student and instructor, by date, according to who initiated. This may be a helpful visual representation of students the instructor has communicated with most and least frequently, when communications have taken place, and whether students have responded to the instructor's communication and vice versa.


Submissions reports when a student submitted an activity, whether it was submitted on time, late, or not at all, and displays future assignments. For this section to be meaningful, the instructor should set due dates for all activities prior to the start of the course. (Tip: Use the drag-and-drop feature on the Calendar to quickly and easily assign due dates.)


Grades gives a picture of how the student is scoring on graded activities relative to other students in the course. This may be helpful for an instructor to determine which students require special attention and on what types of activities. An instructor may find that a student has scored below average on all activities or that a student typically scores well on discussions and assignments but not on quizzes.

Additional Resources

For more on when to monitor analytics, see this Checklist.


Avella, J., Kebritchi, M., Nunn, S., Kanai, T. (2016). Learning Analytics Methods, Benefits, and Challenges in Higher Education: A Systematic Literature Review. In Online Learning, 20 (2),7-9. Retrieved from


Lorenzetti, J. (2016, May 13). Using Student Analytics for Online Course Improvement. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from


Pappas, C. (2014, June 3). 5 Reasons Why Learning Analytics Are Important For eLearning. eLearning Industry. Retrieved from