Canvas - Learning Management System at Northwestern

After an extensive evaluation process involving students, faculty, and staff, Northwestern University selected Canvas to be the successor to the Course Management System, Blackboard. Blackboard will be available to the Northwestern community and fully supported through the spring 2015 semester. Blackboard will be retired, and no longer accessible, August 2015. Learn more about the Canvas Transition at Northwestern.

At a Glance

Canvas is a cloud-hosted learning management system (LMS), powered by Instructure, that allows Northwestern instructors and students to deliver course materials, submit assignments and tests, view grades, create learning activities, and configure personal notification options to integrate with services such as Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging. Canvas support for general questions relating to getting started, how to use Canvas features, and basic troubleshooting assistance is provided 24/7/365 for the Northwestern community.

Every Canvas course offering has its own section of student enrollments that is automatically created each quarter by the Office of the Registrar. Sections are assigned to a course site that can be used for individual, cross-listed, and multi-section coursesIn some instances custom course sites within Canvas may be created for academic and University business purposes upon faculty or staff request and authorization from a departmental chair, director, or dean.

In Canvas, the creation of new courses, modification of existing course information, and submission of assignments is dependent upon user roles and permissions in Canvas. Schools and departments may also assign Canvas Administrators who have unit-specific permissions to access Canvas.

All Northwestern students, faculty, and staff can log in to Canvas using their University NetID credentials. Access Canvas at Northwestern from a web browser (on a computer, smart phone, or tablet) or via the mobile apps distributed by Instructure.

Features and Benefits

Canvas features a clean, intuitive user interface with drag and drop usability and a comprehensive grading tool called SpeedGrader. It facilitates engagement in teaching and learning activities including:

  • Mobile Accessibility - Free, full-featured mobile apps are available for both iOS and Android.
  • Calendar – A global tool that aggregates due dates, events, tasks, and personal appointments into a color-coded unified view.
  • Two-Way Communication - The feedback area for assignment submissions in SpeedGrader supports two-way communication between instructor and student, including text, video, audio, and attachments.

Known Issues

NUIT is aware of the following known issues in Canvas and will provide more information as it becomes available. Visit the Canvas Learning Center for more information, including alternate solutions and best practices.

  • Complete log out requires clearing internet browser cookies.
  • Speedgrader does not work as expected after changes are made to a group set associated with a group assignment. 

Canvas Mobile Apps

Access to Canvas is available on the web and through a variety of free mobile apps.

  • Canvas by Instructure (iOS 7.0+, Android 4.0+) — Provides on the go access to Canvas for both instructors and students. Depending on your device, not all Canvas features may be available on the app at this time. View Canvas mobile features by version and device.
  • Polls for Canvas (iOS 7.0+, Android 4.0+) — Designed as an easy way for instructors to collect student opinion in their classrooms without any extra devices.
  • SpeedGrader™ App (iPad only, iOS 5.0+) — specifically designed for instructors and allows them to grade student submissions on the go. Syncs with SpeedGrader™ and the Gradebook.

Learn more about mobile applications in the Canvas Mobile Guides.

Learning Apps (LTI)

The Canvas LMS supports the use of learning tool interoperability (LTI), a technology standard that allows for the integration of a range of apps for adding tools, content repositories, and other functionality to course sites. While LTI apps offer new possibilities for enhancing courses in Canvas, these services are independent of Canvas. NUIT is currently developing a process for requesting the activation of apps in Canvas, which will include security, reliability, usability, and support assessments of both the app and the service provider.

NUIT Compatible Services

Mediasite is the University’s lecture capture and management service. It is structured as a partnership model, supported by NUIT, that provides lecture capture services for University schools, departments, and business units who wish to provide their users with the ability to transmit live and on-demand video streams over the Internet, or record and store them for on-demand viewing by students from a web browser.

Turnitin is an anti-plagiarism tool that works inside the Assignments area of Canvas. When a paper is submitted through Turnitin, it is compared against several databases; an originality report is generated that will show which elements of a student’s paper matches content from these databases. Step-by-step instructions on how to use Turnitin with Canvas are available in the Canvas Learning Center.

Canvas Support

Northwestern has contracted with Instructure to provide 24/7/365 vendor support for general questions relating to getting started, how to use Canvas features, and basic troubleshooting assistance. Canvas Help Guides are also available.

For Northwestern NetID-related issues, users should continue to contact the IT Support Center at (847) 491-4357 (1-HELP) or

Additional Information

Support Contacts

Support Contact:

IT Support Center
Central service desk for students, faculty, and staff.
847-491-4357 (1-HELP)
Submit a Support Request