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"Canvas Software" text
Type Learning Management Software
Launch Date 2010
Status Active
Product Line Instructure, Inc.
Platform Computer or iPhone/Android Application
Website Canvas

Canvas LMS, by Instructure Inc., is a web-based learning management system, marketed for use in K-12 schools, higher education and large businesses, to provide an interface for educators and students to interact, complete coursework, and receive feedback on submissions[1]. Canvas is defined as “an open and reliable web-based software that allows institutions to manage digital learning, educators to create and present online learning materials and assess student learning, and students to engage in courses and receive feedback about skill development and learning achievement”[2]. Canvas provides an array of features for both students and instructors. Some of these features are as follows: Files, Calendar, Syllabus, Assignments, Grades, Discussion boards, Zoom links, People, etc. Per teachers' preferences, everything a student may need for a course is conveniently stored in one organized interface location. In addition, Canvas has three iOS apps: Canvas Student, Canvas Teacher, and Canvas Parent[3]. These allow for each type of user to stay aware of course content when they may not have access to a computer. Likewise, it allows users to get notifications from the app to stay up-to-date on announcements and submissions. While Canvas competes with other learning management systems such as Blackboard and Google Classroom, the demand for these systems is expected to increase[4]. Canvas sets itself apart from other LMS systems by integrating outside platforms such as Google Docs, YouTube, Excel, etc[5]. Its simple design helps users freely maneuver the site with ease, allotting more focus on class material and assignments.


Learning Management Systems

LMS (Learning Management System) is an infrastructure that was developed in the 1990s to handle all aspects of the learning process (grading, different types of analytics, discussions, etc.)[6]. Learning Management Systems initially allowed for teachers to disseminate course content to their students remotely[7], increasing efficiency in streamlined education. As the use of technology became more widespread and the market turned toward easy to use interfaces that connected users quickly, Canvas was created.

History of Canvas

Canvas creators Brian Whitmer (left) and Devlin Daley (right)[8]

In 2008, Bringham Young University graduate students, Brian Whitmer and Devlin Daley founded the start-up Instructure (the product owner of Canvas) introducing a new look into the intersection of technology and education[9] . By the time of its launch in 2010, Canvas became the designated LMS system for all public universities, colleges, and schools throughout the state of Utah[10]. As of 2018, it passed its competition, Blackboard, to become the most popular LMS in the United States owning 35% of the market. A common reason for the switch seems to be the easy user experience for students, faculty, and staff along with support for collaboration. Professors also cite the SpeedGrader function as extremely helpful when grading large numbers of papers or assignments at once. Some notable universities that have adopted the new system include Stanford University, Case Western Reserve University, University of Michigan, and Cornell University[11]. Before the 2020-2021 school year began virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 13 different states signed with Canvas to provide statewide access for students to use the software [12].

Course Analytics

When an instructor first logs into Canvas, they can click on Course Analytics to view a graph or table representation of each students' data[13]. These analytics are divided into four categories: activity, submissions, grades, and student analytics. Activity measures a student's participation and engagement, highlighting the number of page views and levels of interactions with course content. The submissions tab refers to the quizzes and assignments that are distributed. This category measures the timeliness as far as when a student submits their assignments compared to the due date. In addition, the grades section offers a box and whisker plot of the class grade distribution. This plot describes the median, lowest, and highest scores produced by the class, allowing the teacher to retrieve a comprehensive glimpse of a student’s success relative to their peers[14]. The final measurement, student analytics, gives a breakdown of these groups categorized by student, providing an overall view of this students’ progress, or lack thereof, in a course[13].

Course Analytics[15]

Educator Insights

The Canvas platform provides educators with a great deal of classroom insight through the LMS method of instruction. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person instruction was much more common than virtual instruction. With in-person instruction, instructors can grasp a sense of how students are interacting with the class and course material. Conversely, with virtual instruction and the use of Canvas Analytics, teachers are able to enhance their assessment of the class at large by monitoring student activity directly on the individual and group level via the course page. Using Canvas Analytics to Ensure Student Engagement. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from</ref>. With this unprecedented amount of data, teachers may infer potential causation for why one student is falling behind compared to another, by assessing their time spent engaging with the course material and utilizing certain resources provided by the instructor.

Ethical Ramifications

Data Collection

The primary purpose of teachers' access to an enormous amount of data is to better understand the level of commitment and overall engagement presented by each student in a course, however, there is no reassurance by Instructure that analytical information is not being used for any other purpose [16]. A substantial amount of potentially valuable, identifying information can be drawn from Canvas, including messages on forums along with questionnaires that have been created by students [17]. This data is a prime candidate for use with predictive analytics systems in an effort to improve the software or build profiles from users without their knowledge or consent[18]. While an increasing number of universities and other school systems have adopted Canvas, these institutions are ill prepared to handle the privacy concerns that come with mandating faculty and student use of the platform [18].

Additionally, Canvas does not give users a choice to opt-out of this data collection[19]. Especially for students, as many institutions require students to utilize Canvas for submitting assignments and receiving grades without even realizing what data of theirs is being gathered. Unizin, an organization of higher-level learning institutions, developed contracts that allow the sharing of all data between other institutions[20]. They stress the ways in which lack of transparency regarding data gathering and use by Canvas through an institution creates risks of privacy breaches, poorly representative data models, and/or legal action taken against that institution[16]. Despite these repercussions, the majority of educators utilizing the Canvas platform do not present any sort of mission statement regarding the protection of user data being passed through the LMS[16].

Educator Transparency

Due to a global pandemic, universities have been forced to implement a virtual learning system to maintain a substantive academic experience, however, this transition has exacerbated already prominent concerns about surveillance and privacy[21]. Although students are familiar with the structure of Canvas, the significance of this platform as an asset to the universities it serves, has increased due to the vast array of functions and features available [21]. In addition, due to the pandemic the way in which students learning changed so rapidly, which provided little time for instructors to look into learning systems prior to implementation.

After a year of online courses due to COVID-19, it is clear that the level of transparency and communication between students and teachers is minimized due to the nature of not only completing coursework online but never attending a class in-person[22]. For example, when students come to professors seeking advice or counsel on how to improve their grade, the professor can refer to the data provided by Canvas to convey to the student, how and why their level of interaction with the course, correlates with their grade[22].


Social media platforms such as TikTok have given viewers new insights such as “Canvas hacks” and different ways to cheat the system. Some videos are simple tips and tricks to use when using the platform, yet, others include detailed steps to infiltrate the website and change information such as grades. One viral video posted by user @kadama_app that has since been deleted instructs viewers to right-click on the assigned quiz and choose Inspect Element. Through a series of additional movements in the inspector, students will successfully be able to find the file that identifies all of the correct answers to the quiz[23].



Educational institutions must ensure the equal opportunity for persons with disabilities to succeed in their academic goals [24]. Mark Pendergast, a professor at Florida Gulf State University claims, "University courses and the policies created to support students with disabilities are subject to a multitude of laws"[24]. While there are many rules and guidelines in place for students with disabilities, these need to be modified for online learning. Many situations that seem easy to accommodate during in-person schooling are not yet available in an online setting. Due to how quickly life converted from in-person to remote schooling, it has posed issues for educators. For example, a deaf student is usually provided an interpreter for in-person schooling, whereas online, Canvas provides a dictation software. However, it has been shown to have, on average, one error per sentence which in turn puts students with disabilities at a disadvantage[24]. Furthermore, lack of attendance cannot be penalized for a student with disabilities. When the journal was published in 2015, Canvas had no such function for tracking attendance, so there was no way to see what a student missed[24].


Faculty members most commonly utilize LMS as a supplement to lectures, in which synchronous functions such as chatting and online discussion were not frequently utilized[25]. This posed a large change during the COVID-19 pandemic when instruction went from primarily in person teaching at the majority of institutions to primarily virtual. Professors and educators with disabilities also may experience difficulty in using LMS technology. There have been a variety of issues noted within LMS studies such as: suitability of design in screen and system, easiness of course procedure, interoperability of system, easiness of instruction management and appropriateness of multimedia use, flexibility of interaction, learner control, and user accessibility[26]. In addition, these features and their potential issues affect user’s attitudes towards the LMS itself[26].

More specifically, a faculty member with a visual disability may attempt to grade assignments on Canvas, but because the page layout/design requires more attention to just simply interact with the LMS itself it makes it increasingly difficult to actually complete the grading[27]. More specifically, if the professor was blind it would take much more effort to figure out where on the page they are and understand the information environment before they can actually execute grading the assignment itself[27]. In addition, a flaw of Canvas is that the system itself does not indicate if the blind instructor is successful or not in the action they are attempting[27]. Another issue that may pose as a problem for an instructor who is blind or visually impaired is the inbox messages. The inbox messages show messages from all courses under the same section, so it would be a challenge to sift through and locate a specific message from a student[27]. There is a unique importance on successfully integrating technology into education in that the success is dependent on not only how available the technology is, but how instructors embrace and use it[28]. It is more difficult for instructors with disabilities, particularly visual disabilities, to use Canvas in a successful manner due to the implications in the design. In addition, not much work has been to study the outcomes associated with adopting new technologies[28].


The plausibility for error in student assessment is significant because, on a personal level, each student is entitled to their preferred learning strategy[29]. This level of oversight by the teachers has raised concern for students because of the lack of privacy as well as how objective the assessment is[29]. More often than not, each student will engage with a certain amount of course material that they see fit. Some require more effort than others to achieve success and the uncertainty in whether a teacher will only use these analytics as a direct correlation to their success or not may be a concern for students[30]. It suggests that regardless of the overall outcome, a teacher could primarily assess a student’s work due to the data presented by Course Analytics, increasing their risk of having an incomplete understanding of the student’s overall achievement[30].

Change in Educator's Plans

With Canvas, instructors can choose how they would like their course to appear. Many instructors plan on their students accessing Canvas through a laptop or desktop, however some students may be accessing Canvas through a smartphone or tablet[31]. So, instructors may plan for their students to have a certain experience using Canvas on their laptops and instead students may be experiencing something else on their phone or tablet. This could lead to differences in what and how students are acquiring information which could lead to inequities in the classroom.

Hesitancy in Use

Even though Canvas is becoming increasingly popular, especially with the rise of the pandemic, there are still some people who are hesitant to use it. It has been found more likely that instructors from business and economics backgrounds tend to utilize Canvas more than instructors from fine arts and life science backgrounds [32]. Because of this gap in usage, students might be getting different and unequal remote learning experiences. And, in order to better close this gap, instructors are calling upon educational institutions to offer proper, subject-specific training[32].

Reviews on Canvas

PCMag is a leading website on technology, delivering Labs-based, independent reviews of the latest products and services. Their industry analysis and practical solutions help readers and consumers make better buying decisions and get more value out of their technology. [33]


  1. Canvas Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved March 12, 2021, from
  2. What is Canvas? (2021, March 05). Retrieved March 12, 2021, from
  3. Canvas Apps. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2021, from
  4. LMS Market. (n.d.). Retrieved March 12, 2021, from
  5. Israelsen-Hartley, Sara. (2010, June 20) BYU Grads Introduce Education Savy Software. Deseret News.
  6. Watson, William R., and Sunnie Lee Watson. "An Argument for Clarity: What Are Learning Management Systems, What Are They Not, and What Should They Become?" TechTrends 51.2 (2007): 28-34. Print.
  7. John, Ryan. Canvas LMS Course Design. 2014. Print.
  8. Israelsen-Hartley, Sara. "BYU Grads Introduce Education-savvy Software." Deseret News. Deseret News, 20 June 2010. Web. 01 Apr. 2021.
  9. Sulun, Caglar. (2019, January 03). Driving Educational Change: Innovations in Action. PressBooks.
  10. Canvas. Our Company Story. Instructure.
  11. Etherington, Cait. (2018, October 24). Why Colleges and Universities are Adopting Canvas. Elearning Inside.
  12. IBL News. (2020, August 22). Canvas LMS Will Provide Its Learning Platform to 13 U.S. States. IBL News.
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  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Ann Hill Duin, Jason Tham, The Current State of Analytics: Implications for Learning Management System (LMS) Use in Writing Pedagogy, Computers and Composition, Volume 55, 2020, 102544, ISSN 8755-4615,
  17. Rubio Fernandez, A., Santamaria Gonzalez, F., Munoz Merino, P. J., & Delgado Kloos, C. (2017). A Data Collection Experience with Canvas LMS as a Learning Platform. CEUR Workshop Proceedings, 1925(1613-0073). Retrieved from
  18. 18.0 18.1 Roxana Marachi & Lawrence Quill (2020) The case of Canvas: Longitudinal datafication through learning management systems, Teaching in Higher Education, 25:4, 418-434, DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2020.1739641
  19. Young, J. R. (2020, January 17). As Instructure Changes Ownership, Academics Worry Whether Student Data Will Be Protected. Retrieved March 26, 2021, from
  20. Unizin. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2021, from
  21. 21.0 21.1 Strauss, V. (2020, March 23). As schooling rapidly moves online across the country, concerns rise about student data privacy. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from
  22. 22.0 22.1 Lederman, D. (2019, October 30). Professors' slow, steady acceptance of online learning: A Survey. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from
  23. Carter, Kasey.[@mrskaseycarter] (2020, November 19) #duet with @kadama_app like 2020 wasn’t hard enough for teachers... TikTok.
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 Pendergast, Mark, "Leveraging Learning Management System to Accommodate Students with Disabilities: Issues and Experiences with the Canvas LMS" (2015). SAIS 2015 Proceedings. 36.
  25. Hustad, E., & Arntzen, A. B. (2013). Facilitating Teaching and Learning Capabilities in Social Learning Management Systems: Challenges, Issues, and Implications for Design. Journal Of Integrated Design & Process Science.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Fathema N., Shannon D., Ross, M. (2015). Expanding the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) to examine faculty use of Learning Management Systems (LMSs) in higher education institutions. Journal of Online Learning & Teaching 11, 2: 210-232.
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 27.3 Oswal, Sushil. (2019, October 28). Disability, ICT and eLearning Platforms: Faculty-Facing Embedded Work Tools in Learning Management Systems. University of Washington.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Pajo, K. & Wallace, C. (2001). Barriers to the Uptake of Web-based Technology by University Teachers. The Journal of Distance Education, 16(1), 70-84.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Biederman, A. (2017, October 10). Professors can monitor student activity through Canvas. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from
  30. 30.0 30.1 Martin, Florence and Ndoye, Abdou, Using Learning Analytics to Assess Student Learning in Online Courses, Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 13(3), 2016. Available at:
  31. Wilcox, D., Thall, J. & Griffin, O. (2016). One Canvas, Two Audiences: How Faculty and Students use a Newly Adopted Learning Management System. In G. Chamblee & L. Langub (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (pp. 1163-1168). Savannah, GA, United States: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved April 1, 2021 from
  32. 32.0 32.1 Fathema, Nafsaniath, and Mohammad H. Akanda. "Effects of Instructors’ Academic Disciplines and Prior Experience with Learning Management Systems: A Study about the Use of Canvas." Australasian Journal of Educational Technology (2020): 113-25. Print.
  33. Retrieved 15 April, 2021, from