What is Canvas?

Canvas is a cloud-based learning management system (LMS) that makes it easy for instructors to manage digital materials distribution, assignments and course calendar, communications, grading, and other aspects of instruction for their courses. This service is available at no cost and is supported for use by all faculty and instructors at Cornell University. 

Why Use Canvas?

The way you use Canvas for your specific class will depend on the course learning outcomes, what course content you want to make available, and the types of activities you will or may have students do.

Canvas can assist with:

  • Course content management (e.g. organize and store digital course materials, post lecture recordings, etc.)
  • Centralized assessment and grading (e.g. creating and grading online quizzes, portfolios, assignments using Canvas Gradebook tools)
  • Personalization of student learning experience (e.g. using a variety of features to control release of the content assigned to sections, groups, and individual students, availability of a student-specific course calendar, and ability to extend Canvas functionality via third-party applications)
  • Engaging students in collaborative learning activities aligned with your course learning objectives (e.g. incorporate online discussions, student collaboration tools, or peer review assignments)

Considerations for Using Canvas

If you are considering using Canvas for academic purposes, you will need to familiarize yourself with the law and policy around the protection of students’ education records as well as copyright for both you as the faculty member and for the students.

Family Education Rights Protection Act (FERPA)

Faculty should be aware that the content students enter into Canvas constitutes an education record and that FERPA regulations apply. Those regulations require that the content be protected from disclosure without student consent. Disclosure in this context includes posting student content openly on the internet. University authentication that is automatic to accessing these sites provides technical protection of education records.

Faculty who intend to have students post original work openly on the internet may do so with the students’ permission or by providing an opt-out option for individual students.

Copyright and Academic Integrity

Faculty own the copyright of original content entered into Canvas according to Cornell University Copyright Policy, unless other contracts or agreements have been arranged specifically between the faculty member and the university. Please note that students own the copyright of the content they contribute to these sites as well, unless they are working in their capacity as a Cornell employee or other holder of a university appointment.

Moreover, both faculty and students are advised to use Canvas resources responsibly by observing all laws and university policy that are incorporated into the Codes of Conduct and Academic Integrity. Some specific aspects of law and policy that might be well to remember are prohibitions against copyright infringement, plagiarism, harassment, or interference with the underlying technical code of software. For more information visit the Cornell’s Digital Literacy Resource page.


Canvas conforms with the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative and Section 508 accessibility standards. For more information, read about Accessibility within Canvas.

Related Cornell Policies

The following Cornell Policies relate to the use of Canvas:

Getting Started with Canvas

Contact the Center for Teaching Innovation to set up a consultation to learn more about how to incorporate Canvas into teaching and learning, or register for upcoming Canvas@Cornell workshops and webinars at the Canvas Workshops page.

We also have many other resources available in the CTI Learning Technologies Resource Library.