Digital Learning Webinar Series Concludes with “Canvas & Learning Analytics”

Faculty exploring Canvas features

Canvas training


On Thursday, April 25th, we hosted our final Digital Learning Webinar of the 2018-2019 academic year. Yianna Vovides, Director of Learning Design and Research & Professor at CNDLS, and Marie Selvanadin, Senior Associate Director for Digital Learning and Development at CNDLS, talked about Canvas Analytics, what it is, and how you can use them.

You can re-watch the webinar in its entirety above as well as view the handout for the webinar at, but here we’re going to highlight some of the questions brought up during the webinar to further explore the answers.

What’s the difference between engagement and participation?

It’s easy to get the two concepts confused, especially in the context of the LMS. What Canvas Analytics can show you is an overview of what and how your students are doing in your course, as well as what and how individual students are doing with data that can help you discover the reasons why. For example, you can get a breakdown of how long students spent on a certain page, or what the average grade was for a certain assignment. This can allow you to make decisions around your course design with some data to back it up.

Participation is much more active; it’s commenting on Discussion Boards, doing digital annotations, answering questions in class, making value-added contributions. Canvas Analytics doesn’t provide that information, and it is up to you, the instructor, to make decisions around what forms of participation are meaningful to student learning in your course and evaluating them accordingly.

What are the ethics of all of this data collection? Is the information collected secure and remain private?

Instructors have been gathering data on students long before the LMS came along and automated much of it for us: taking attendance, giving participation grades, assignment assessments, pop quizzes, peer-review…these are all forms of data collection that we use to gage the progress of our students throughout the course of a semester. Data that we then use to make decisions about what we teach and how. For example, if a quiz shows that no one did the reading or that students are still struggling with a certain concept, then we make decisions as to how to address that gap.

What Canvas Analytics provides for us is more nuanced data to understand how our students are learning. With that comes (hopefully) a greater understanding of our students and our course, but also the moral imperative to act on that knowledge.

Having said that, of course there are new issues that arise when the information no longer simply lives in our paper gradebooks, but in a platform that lives in the cloud. One of the reasons that we selected Canvas as our LMS was because it does meet the privacy and security standards set forth by Georgetown and enshrined in laws like FERPA. Only the instructor of the course is privy to the analytics of their course, and it is protected like any other personal student information.

These are ongoing and evolving issues with education. It is important to have discussions with your colleagues and your students about the information collected. There are no easy answers, and what we come up with today as an answer may be irrelevant with the next technological advance. One excellent resource is this chapter, “The Ethical and Legal Implications of Information Systems,” and in it, the authors suggest developing your own code of ethics around these very issues and questions.

We at CNDLS are happy to have these conversations with you and your colleagues, as well as devise ways to use Canvas Analytics to improve your course. Please email us at to get the conversation started!