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Preparing Canvas Courses for Summer and Fall 2020

With our new-found dependence on online course materials, many faculty are getting a first experience on setting up a second semester on Canvas. Even for the experienced faculty this process bears repeating, as it is only needed once a semester at most. Summer 2020 is starting soon, and the Fall 2020 Canvas course shells should be available for faculty right around the end of the Spring term.

At the time of publishing this article Palomar is still deciding if this “off campus only” format is going to apply for Fall 2020 as well as Summer, but even if not faculty may wish to continue using Canvas in some ways even when getting back to the classroom becomes an option. So here’s what is important to deal with at the start of a new semester:


Most of the time, when setting up a Canvas course for a new semester, you’ll want to pull content from an older course. The long explanation of this process can be found on the Canvas community site under “How do I copy content from another Canvas course using the Course Import tool?” For the short version:

  1. Go into the new (and empty) course.
  2. Select the Add Existing Content button.
  3. From the drop-down menu, select Copy a Canvas Course.
  4. Pick the course you want to copy from.
  5. Depending on which you want:
    1. Pick All Content to copy all the materials.
    2. Pick Select Content to choose which materials to copy.
  6. If you want to have Canvas automatically advance your due dates, select Adjust events and due dates; otherwise leave that box deselected. Specifics on how to do this are on the Canvas community site under “How do I adjust events and due dates in a course import?
  7. Use the Import button to begin the copy.

If you chose to copy all content, the copy will immediately run, otherwise if you want to choose the materials to copy you’ll need to use the Select button on the job listing. And once the copy job is complete, reload your course and you should have the materials from the other course duplicated in this new course.

Once your content is copied over, make sure you update any semester specific items, such as your syllabus. And be sure to use the Student View to review your course Make sure you can access everything you’ll want students able to use at the start of the class.

After that review is done, you may be ready to publish the course as detailed in “How do I publish a course?“. Some faculty wait until the official start of the class before publishing their Canvas courses, while others publish well in advance of the start of class.

I’ve heard several reasons for why faculty publish their classes early:

  • Give students access to the syllabus early, so they’ll come to class prepared.
  • Provide students with the information to get the textbook before day one.
  • Allow student interaction in discussions, to increase involvement with other students and (ideally) improve retention.

There’s an additional reason why you may publish your course early; Canvas only allows sending messages to students in published courses. So if you intend to send messages from the Canvas Conversations (Inbox) tool, you’ll need to publish your course first. If you’re wary of publishing your course, keep in mind that all the content within your course have publish statuses too, so just because your course is published doesn’t mean everything within the course is also published. Perhaps it makes sense publish the course but to unpublish the vast majority of your content, and publish that content at the start of class.

While you are in the process of setting up your course, should you run into trouble you can always select the Help option on the global navigation menu. That will give you a faculty support number direct to the Canvas techs at Instructure, who can even help you in the middle of the night. Or, if your trouble is something related to Palomar rather than Canvas, you have a link to the Palomar ATRC Support center where you can open a ticket with us in the Academic Technology department.

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