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Changes often force us to adapt in ways we’ve never experienced, which can be a major driver of personal (and even professional) growth and development.

Improving Student Success

Canvas is a wonderful Learning Management System, but just like any technology, it is only as good as you make it. As faculty, your development, participation, timely feedback, and current grades make the course useful and supports student success. 

We hope that you will utilize the Canvas tools to support your teaching and improve your students' learning.

Formative Assessment is Important

Formative assessments are ongoing and often. They are low stakes, repeatable, open book, and group work: quizzes, assignments, and discussions. They provide the opportunity for students to practice and learn their strengths and weakness. They help faculty recognize their students’ shortcomings and allow faculty to adjust, share additional resources, or work with students to improve before midterms. Formative assessments will improve a student's ability to pass your course. 

  Formative Assessment Summative Assessment
Grading Usually worth low points or not graded Usually graded and significant score is noted
Purpose Improvement: to give feedback to faculty and students about how well students grasp specific concepts/material. Judgment: to derive a grade, and to allow students to work intensively with course concepts/material.
Focus Very focused on whether students have acquired specific skills or information. Less focused: allows students to demonstrate a range of skills and knowledge.
Effort Requires little time from faculty or students; simple; done in class or online Requires more time for faculty and students; complex; done in class, outside of class and online

Canvas provides tools to support formative assessments and feedback, such as:

  • Quiz: When faculty shuffle answers (Classic / New) in the quiz or randomize questions from a Question Group, the multiple attempts (Classic / New) provide more opportunities for students to practice and master. Question Banks: Classic / Item Banks: New are a place to house questions that can be added to quizzes across courses. Question Groups allow faculty to place multiple questions within a group for students to answer. Faculty can choose the number of questions that should be answered from the group and how many points to assign to each question. Creating a question group randomizes questions within a quiz.
    NOTE: Please see Quiz Best Practices to learn more about Classic and New Quizzes. 
  • Assignment: a space where students, or a group of students, can submit files for faculty grading. Assignment settings allow faculty to set multiple attempts. Faculty can create rubrics to provide clear requirements and feedback. The assignment tool also supports peer reviews. The SpeedGrader allows faculty to grade quickly and provide written and audio feedback for the assignment. If the course sections are merged, the faculty can provide unique due dates for each section.
  • Discussions: allow students to build on ideas and share information outside of class. Discussions allow students to provide peer feedback and support. It is better than answering course questions via email, and it can help create a community. Learn more. [Faculty can choose to use the Redesigned Discussion tool]
  • Grades: can be viewed by the student at any time. Students can see if their activities have been submitted/completed and if it has been graded or if they have received feedback. faculty can curve, weight, and exclude grades. Grades can be viewed as a whole, as an activity, or as a student. You can also view grades by sections (if they are merged). Options allow faculty to view history, hide student names (anonymous grading), set ungraded items to 0 pts, and show inactive. All graded activities will appear automatically in the Grades. 
    Within the SpeedGrader, faculty can "mute" the assignment feedback until all the assignments have been graded. The SpeedGrader also provides an easy tool for grading Discussions by displaying individual students’ posts. Quizzes are also graded in the SpeedGrader. Watch the video and learn more about the Grades tool

Why Rubrics?

As we covered earlier, assessments can be either formative or summative depending on the duration, ability to improve, and the level of feedback provided. 

Rubrics can provide a consistent structure to set criteria for grading and are most helpful when provided before the assessment is due. Rubrics let students know what is expected and can decrease the time it takes faculty to provide feedback. Rubrics may also list Program Level Outcomes (PLO) and/or Course Level Objectives (CLO).

Learning Outcomes & Objectives are measurable statements of what the students are expected to learn in a course. Writing clear learning objectives is an essential element of any course, regardless of format. Learning objectives communicate the skills, knowledge, and abilities students will acquire by the end of the course.

Things to keep in mind while writing a measurable learning objective:

  • A learning objective informs a student what they should be able to do and to know at the end of the learning unit, that they could not do before. As a good rule of thumb, precede your learning objectives with this phrase: "By the end of this learning unit, you will be able to..."
  • An objective focuses on the intended learning outcome, rather than the form of the assignment or activity. Avoid telling the student what they will do (i.e. "Read chapter two..."), rather focus on what knowledge, skills and abilities will be achieved through completing the assignments and activities. Assignments and activities propel students towards meeting the objectives.
  • An objective always begins with a specific action verb that states the knowledge, skills and abilities the student is expected to demonstrate. You can locate key action verbs in Bloom's Taxonomy a helpful resource for as you write your objectives.
  • Avoid using verbs that are not measurable like "learn" and "understand" and "know." For example, ask yourself how a student will be able to determine whether or not she has "learned" something or whether or he "understands" something. By communicating clear actions that students will be able to demonstrate, your expectations are more clearly communicated and will be easier to assess.
  • Use only one verb per learning objective. Do not combine verbs, such as "Identify and contrast common forms of bias."

To learn more about Creating Effective Learning Objectives, please self-enroll in our Canvas course. 

Early Alert Messages

Message students who...In addition to providing timely and helpful feedback on Assignments, Quizzes and Discussions (with rubrics or not), faculty should also reach out to students who are in danger of failing the course. Faculty can Message students who have not submitted or with a score less than. Reaching out to students helps them feel like you care about their education and success, provides supportive resources, and improves student success. 

Student Support Resources

When you reach out to students, what resources are available for them? 

Cal Poly departments have created a Canvas Page with all the Cal Poly - Student Support and Basic Needs listed. This is in the Commons and can be uploaded into your course

Supportive Materials

Grading Criteria & Rubrics (
Writing Effective Learning Outcomes (
Creating Effective Learning Objectives (self-paced online course)
Course Learning Objectives (CTLT)

University Learning Objectives (ULO's)
GE Program Learning Outcomes (PLO's)
Mathematic’s Learning Outcomes
Liberal Studies Learning Outcomes
   GrC Program Learning Outcomes
NRM&ES Learning Outcomes
School of Education Learning Outcomes
Biological Sciences Learning Objectives
English Learning Outcomes
Music Learning Outcomes






“Learning Outcome vs. Learning Objective.” UCLA Health, Accessed 18 Aug. 2022.

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