Using Canvas Data to Identify At-Risk Students and Gaps in Course Design

Here at La Salle, we carry an institutional mission to promote student success through a practical approach to the educational process. Just as St. John Baptiste de La Salle choose to teach his students in their native language of French when most schools at the time were teaching in Latin, today we still strive to meet the needs of students by focusing on what works for them and eliminating what doesn’t. In the 21st century, our technology tools can provide detailed feedback that identifies which students are struggling and which parts of a course may need updates. When a student’s academic success is in jeopardy, there are usually warning signs precipitating a course withdrawal or failure. With two Canvas tools, Course Statistics and Course Analytics, these warning signs can be easier for instructors to recognize.

Canvas Course Statistics

Image Courtesy of Canvas Instructor Guide

The Course Statistics tool focuses on the raw numbers of how much students are using different course areas. To access Course Statistics, click the settings link in the navigation menu. On the course settings page, click the Course Statistics button in the right hand column.

You can use the Totals area of Course Statistics to identify how many active students there are and the volume of activity on the discussions, assignments, and quizzes. Click on the Assignments tab of the Course Statistics area to determine which assignment submission types are most popular among your students.

The Course Statistics tool can also generate access reports that show the participation statistics of individual students as well as a record of their interactions with the instructor. From the Course Statistics area, click on the Students tab and then click on an individual student’s name. Click the Access Report button in the sidebar to see statistics on which content they’ve viewed, the frequency of views and participations, and the date and time of views. Consider using course statistics to check in with individual students about how they have been participating online.

Image Courtesy of Canvas Instructor Guide


Canvas Course Analytics

In a similar, more visual tool, Course Analytics gives instructors insights into four main areas: student activity, assignments, grades, and student analytics. To access Course Analytics, go to the home page of your course, and click the “View Course Analytics” button in the right hand column.

Within Course Analytics, the Activity graph gives an overall view of the number of page views (blue bars) and user actions (orange bars) over time.

Image Courtesy of Canvas Instructor Guide

analytics-activities-hoverIf you hover over a specific date, it will show you the numbers of page views and participations for that day. A participation is registered whenever a user takes an action beyond just viewing a page, such as posting a discussion comment, submitting a quiz or an assignment, or editing a collaborative document. If most of the bars in your Activity graph are tall and orange, it indicates that students are actively engaged in your course on a consistent basis. However, if you have stretches of short, blue bars, students might be more passive receivers of information, and there could be more opportunities created for them to interact with the course content.

Underneath the Activity graph, the Assignments and the Grades graphs show a course-wide view of how students are performing on course assignments.  Each bar represents one assignment, and you can hover over individual bars to see the details for that assignments. The Assignments graph shows the punctuality of student assignment submissions by color-coded bars: on time (green), past due (yellow), or missing (red). If you notice an assignment bar with a high percentage of red and yellow, consider redesigning that assignment or changing the time frame for completion and due date.

Image Courtesy of Canvas Instructor Guide

Below the Assignments graph, the Grades graph shows a snapshot of the median, high, and low scores for course assignments. The thin blue vertical line extends from the lowest score to the highest score, while the thicker vertical bar represents the middle 50% of student grades for that assignment. The median scores are marked by the horizontal gray bar.

Image Courtesy of Canvas Instructor Guide

To gain deeper insight into individual student performance, you can sort the Student Analytics table at the bottom of the Analytics page by student names, page views, participations, assignments, and current overall grade. Click on an individual student’s name in the table to see Student Analytics graphs representing the activity, communication, assignments, and grades data for that student.

Image Courtesy of Canvas Instructor Guide
Image Courtesy of Canvas Instructor Guide

In the Communication graph of the Student Analytics area, the speech bubbles represent Canvas messages sent between the student (orange bubbles) and the instructor (blue bubbles). In the Assignments and Grades graphs, you can see an individual student’s record of timely assignment submissions and scores (as represented by a dot) compared to the rest of the class. If you notice an issue with a particular student’s performance or engagement in the course, you can send them a message right from the individual’s analytics page by clicking on the mail icon located at the top of the page near the student’s total score.

Intervention Strategies

While the Course Statistics and Analytics tools offer a rich source of data, single data points should not be used as the sole measure of the effectiveness of course design. The Canvas course data are most useful when you want to identify inconsistencies in student activity within the course over time, but they are not accurate measures of students’ actual understanding of course materials. In conjunction with the Canvas data, instructors should incorporate multiple methods of checking up on students. Assign frequent formative assessments such as self-check quizzes, surveys, and other means of getting student feedback before, during, and after instruction.

In addition, getting to know a student’s background will help you identify the best instructional strategies for their success. Early in your course, ask them to share details like their learning goals, academic history, family responsibilities, employment schedule, and military status. Maintain open and frequent lines of communication to improve your understanding of their academic skills and to predict their preferred instructional techniques. By sending out weekly Canvas announcements, attentively moderating discussion board prompts, directly messaging students, and hosting open office hours, you can better guide and support them through course work while monitoring the course data to identify gaps in engagement.

Becoming reflective practitioners means taking a data-driven, informed look at what parts of your instruction promote mastery of the learning objectives and which parts may present unnecessary barriers to students. Can you eliminate wordy text and other distractions from your instructional materials and update them with more helpful multimedia? Are concepts presented to students in timely, manageable chunks with links to prior knowledge and clear explanation of contexts for new learning? Are there opportunities for students to apply content in collaborative and practical ways that promote long-lasting knowledge construction?

Whether in Canvas or in the classroom, teaching is at its best when it is a dynamic, reciprocal process in which instructors adjust quickly to students while still maintaining rigorous academic standards. An instructor’s ability to recognize warning signs combined with a willingness to apply intervention strategies can make all the difference for at-risk students. Consider how much more encouraged and invested struggling students will feel if given some individualized attention and allowed self-direction in how they choose to demonstrate mastery. Advanced and at-risk students alike can thrive from increased opportunities for practice with course content such as the option for multiple quiz attempts, extra time and choice when completing large assignments, and access to supplemental resources. While analyzing Canvas course data and implementing intervention strategies take time and effort, even small instructional adaptations and minor revisions to course design can go a long way in helping us fulfill our Lasallian duty of seeing students as individuals, meeting them where they are, and recognizing their potential.

Interested in reviewing your course data, but not sure where to start? The Instructional Design team is here to help! Email us at