More Transparent Canvas Assignments & Grading

Created by Laura Schmidli and Antonella Caloro. Published December 2022.

Transparent assignments make expectations clear to all students in advance. The less time and energy students spend figuring out what to do, the more time and energy they have to devote to course work. Clear expectations are also an important part of equitable teaching, as they help students understand the “hidden curriculum” that privileges students with more experience in higher education. 

Using Canvas provides a secure way to collect work, communicate expectations, and provide feedback and grades. Adopting a few simple strategies can make your assignments more clear to students through Canvas.

Strategies for Transparent Canvas Assignments

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Publish Assignments at the Semester’s Start

Creating and publishing your Assignments in Canvas at the start of the semester gives students an accurate view of the work required throughout the semester, including points and due dates. This can help students manage their time effectively, understand how their final grade will be calculated, and receive feedback more efficiently through Canvas. 

Also, if you offer extra credit, make sure you have a plan for how to accomplish this in Canvas as early as possible. See Awarding Extra Credit in Canvas for tips and options.

Use the Assignment Description Field

When you create a new Assignment in Canvas, you will see a text box you can use to describe the Assignment. Use this to help students understand what to do, and why the work is important. Is there a specific way they should start, or a process to follow? Is there a specific genre of writing or assignment they should use? What skills will they practice? How will the work connect to other assignments or goals? Remember that what is obvious to you may not be obvious to your students, who might be new to higher education and college-level work, new to UW-Madison, or new to the US. 


In the example below, the instructor is using the Assignment description field to tell students key details about what to submit, and why it is important. This includes how many sentences students should write, questions to consider in their response, and why the activity is important for their learning.

Canvas Assignment with a description visible to students that includes what to do, how to do it, and why it is important.

How To

  • For instructions on using this feature in Canvas, see How do I add or edit details in an Assignment? from the Canvas Community.
  • If you are uncertain what would be helpful to include in your instructors, consider asking a colleague or TA who is less familiar with the course content to review what you have written. You can also ask students for feedback on how clear your instructors are.

Accept Several Submission Types

A single Canvas Assignment can accept several submission types. For example, to complete a summary of a final project, students could type an answer directly into Canvas, submit a link to a Google Slides presentation, record a short video, or upload a Word document. All of these response types could be collected in the same Assignment, making grading easier. By allowing students to submit different types of assignments, you offer flexibility in how students meet the goals and requirements. This is a more equitable practice, because it allows students to choose how to demonstrate their learning based on their prior knowledge, strengths, interests, and technological fluency. If there are multiple types of submissions a student can make, be sure your assignment description includes this.

How To

Allow Multiple File Formats

If your Assignment accepts file uploads from students, you can restrict the types of files that can be uploaded. This is helpful in ensuring that you receive student work that you can access. However, overly restricting file types can be a burden to students, who use a variety of devices, operating systems, and software. A good course of action is to restrict file types to several that your students will be able to create, and that you will be able to access. For example, if students are uploading a written assignment, common file types to include are doc, docx, pdf, txt, and odt. Make sure that you are able to open all file types you allow students to submit.

How To

Use Due and Until Dates

Entering Due Dates in Canvas is an essential part of communicating with students, and helps students plan ahead and manage their workload. Due Dates allow the Calendar and To Do List features in Canvas to work for students. These are tools that students often rely on, but that instructors rarely use. To see these tools from a student’s perspective, see How do I use the Calendar as a student? and How do I use the To Do list and sidebar in the Dashboard as a student?

Until Dates in Canvas must match your late work policies, which should also be communicated in your syllabus. Students will be able to submit work in Canvas up until the specified Until Date. 

How To

Use Rubrics

Rubrics can be attached to Canvas Assignments, Quizzes, and graded Discussions. Rubrics communicate criteria for high-quality work as well as how work will be graded. In Canvas, attaching a Rubric to an Assignment as soon as it is published means students can view the Rubric before submitting work. This can help students understand how to do well and check their own work before submitting it. Rubrics can also help standardize grading and feedback – by one grader over time, or across multiple graders.


  • In the example below, a single point rubric attached to a worksheet Assignment in Canvas includes 3 criteria. Each criterion has a specified number of points and a space for the grader to provide comments. These comments can be saved and reused, even across multiple graders. Students complete one Assignment each week, and this same rubric can be used for each because the criteria have been written broadly to apply to each.

Canvas rubric for a worksheet with 3 criteria: fully completed, engages with course material, and demonstrates critical thinking.

How To

Strategies for Transparent Canvas Grading

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Enable a Grading Scheme in Canvas

Syllabi at UW-Madison are required to include a grading scale, or how percentages correlate to letter grades. Some L&S departments have specific grading scales, and in others, instructors determine their own scales. In either case, it is important for both students and instructors to have a grading scale specified in Canvas that matches the syllabus. This ensures that the view of grades across the semester accurately match this scale, and it makes entering final grades much simpler.

In Canvas, this feature is called a “grading scheme”. A default UW grading scheme is available, a grading scheme may already exist for your department, or you may create a new grading scheme.

How To

For instructions, see How do I add a grading scheme in a course? from the Canvas Community.

Use Assignment Groups with Weights, if applicable

Assignment Groups in Canvas help organize Assignments for students and instructors. Using Assignment Groups also allows other functionality, like automatically dropping the lowest scores within a group, or setting weighted grading that matches your syllabus. These features reinforce what is stated in your syllabus, save instructors time in calculating grades, and provide consistency for students between what they see in Canvas and what they expect based on your syllabus and other information.


In the example below, five weighted assignment groups are used to organize assignments and to structure the course final grade calculation. 

A Discussion Assignment Group is worth 25% of students final grade, Worksheets are worht 25%, Quizzes are worth 25%, Projects are worth 10%, Exams are worth 15%.

How To

Leverage the “Drop the Lowest” Feature within Assignment Groups

Canvas Assignment Groups can be set to drop one or more low assignment scores for each student in your course. This automates what could otherwise be an onerous set of calculations, or require a separate spreadsheet. By setting this process up in Canvas, students are able to use Canvas for an accurate grade estimation during the semester, and will be able to see an accurate final grade at the end of the semester. Making mistakes is a key part of learning, and adopting a policy that lets students drop one or more low scores allows students to make mistakes without penalty. This kind of flexible policy also reduces pressure on students who get sick, care for their family, or are balancing other obligations alongside academics.

How To

For instructions on using this feature in Canvas, see How do I create rules for an assignment group in a course? from the Canvas Community. 

Regularly Enter Grades

When and how an instructor enters grades impacts students’ ability to understand their performance in the course and their progress towards a satisfactory final grade. Many courses include a combination of work that is collected within Canvas and activities outside of Canvas, like participation, attendance, or in-class presentations. At the start of the semester, remember to create Assignments for all types of work so you can record grades in Canvas. For scores like participation or attendance, consider providing a weekly or monthly grade so students have an opportunity to understand how they are performing.

How To

For instructions, see How do I create assignment columns for non-submission assignments in the Gradebook? in the Canvas Community.

Enter Missing Work as Zeros

As you enter grades, be sure to enter a score of 0 for any missing work. If a student later submits the missing work, the 0 will be overwritten. One of the most potentially deceptive Canvas features is that missing work is not included in calculated final grades. This can give students with missing work a false impression of good performance. In Canvas, you can set a default grade of 0 to automatically assign zeros for missing work, or you can set a missing submission policy. 

How To

For instructions, see How do I apply a missing submission policy in the gradebook? and How do I set a default grade for an assignment in the Gradebook? in the Canvas Community.

Choose a Grade Posting Policy

To post a grade in Canvas means that the grade becomes visible to students. Canvas allows instructors to set a policy for when grades are posted at the course level and for specific assignments. Setting these policies mindfully helps students stay updated on their performance in the course. 

If a majority of your assignments are ones where you prefer to adjust all student grades before revealing grades to individual students (e.g., written work), you should set a Manual policy for your course. If instead a majority of your assignments are ones where you prefer students see an automatic grade immediately (e.g., a knowledge check quiz), you should set an Automatic policy for your course. You can then adjust this policy for individual assignments.

How To

For instructions, see How do I select a grade posting policy for a course in the Gradebook? and How do I select a grade posting policy for an assignment in the Gradebook?

Connect with Help

We are happy to connect with instructors about creating Assignments and planning grading workflows in Canvas. Meetings typically last 45 minutes and take place virtually. We listen carefully to understand your needs and recommend actionable next steps.

Schedule a Meeting

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

How to Credit this Guide

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. This means that you are welcome to adopt and adapt content, but we ask that you provide attribution to the L&S Instructional Design Collaborative and do not use the material for commercial purposes.

Example attribution: From More Transparent Canvas Assignments & Grading by the L&S Instructional Design Collaborative, licensed under the BY-NC 4.0 license.