Maximizing Student Access and Success by Using Canvas Due Dates

This resource, derived from a student focus group conducted by ATSS in May 2023, summarizes the importance of consistent and systematic use of Canvas due dates on student access and success.

Canvas due date field in an activity highlighted; "Available from" and "Until" fields crossed out

Canvas Due Dates Defined

Canvas Due Dates are dates set for graded or ungraded Canvas assignments (e.g., assignments, quizzes, discussions, reading responses, and homework activities). Canvas uses these dates to populate the To-Do list for students. The use of Canvas due dates (red highlighted box) is different from the use of availability dates (gray dotted x). The accordions below address specific due date practices. The use of Canvas due dates is different from the use of availability dates, that are found directly underneath the due date field and should only be used for specific circumstances.

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Positive Impacts on Student Success

Increased Student Success

In Canvas, when due dates are added to assignments, each assignment gets added in the students’ To-Do list and the course Calendar. Focus group data shows how students rely on these planning tools in Canvas. 

While instructors may use due dates in their syllabus to indicate when something is due, for students, using the due date field in Canvas is crucial to help them manage multiple priorities and responsibilities. As seen in student focus groups, the use of due dates was directly connected to these premises:

  • Consistent and accurate use of due dates in Canvas maximizes students’ learning potential and opportunities for success.
  • Lack of due dates in Canvas assignments increases students’ cognitive load and workload as they pursue other routes to identify and complete coursework.
  • Canvas due dates have significant effects on students’ experience of the course that are not visible to instructors.

Another way that using Canvas Due Dates for all assignments and activities helps student success is that this field also feeds important information into APLUS, the University's system for academic advising, career services, and student services interactions/processes. Advisors are able to see more clearly what students are struggling and how they are struggling.

Increased Student Access 

Omitting the use of due dates creates unnecessary access barriers. At a time when learning management systems have become a basic technology to support higher education, furthering our commitment to an access-oriented, learner-driven education is crucial. Adopting an access-oriented approach that fully considers the impact of the integration of due dates in the learning experience can:

  • enable faculty to monitor students’ progress and learning paths;
  • enable students to successfully engage with course assignments;
  • reduce questions about assignment details, thus reducing instructor workload. 

Further Recommendations

Getting the right mix of Canvas features, organization, and interactions may take multiple iterations and trials depending on the course. However, adopting the consistent use of correct Canvas due dates on assignments can have a positive impact on student learning and experiences with the course. In addition, this access-oriented practice is a small commitment that translates into higher assignment completion rates. 

You can directly support access and success by adopting these recommendations as appropriate to your course and teaching context: 

  • Include a statement in your syllabus that your Canvas site will include the accurate due dates for all activities, assignments, quizzes and exams; 
  • Assign a due date to all assignments;
  • Review the differences between due dates and availability dates, and only use availability dates for special circumstances;
  • If you use Canvas Pages to describe work due, use the ‘Add to student to-do’ checkbox and include a due date;
  • Communicate the use of due dates to students and what they can expect with their use.

Associated Resources

The following guides, tutorials, and articles also provide additional guidance on the points covered in this article. You can also reach out to the Academic Technology Contacts assigned to your unit, department, or campus for additional guidance.  

Resources for Instructors

Resources to Share with Students

Role of Student Focus Groups

For the past five years, the UMN Academic Technology community has contributed to MPact2025’s commitment to student success by learning what supports successful use of Canvas, the UMN learning management system. By conducting system wide focus groups with undergraduate and graduate students as well as separate faculty focus groups, we have learned about instructional strategies that support learning before, during, and after emergency remote teaching. We have a better understanding of the barriers and challenges to success that Canvas can pose for students and teachers in hybrid, online, remote, in-person, and hyflex course contexts.

In April 2023, undergraduate and graduate students, from all system campuses and enrolled in all course formats, participated in three 75-minute focus group sessions and offered their perspectives and understandings about the impact of Canvas on their learning during the 2022-2023 academic year. To capture these new insights, a collaborative group of observers – including OIT’s Usability Services, Academic Technologists, as well as teaching and learning consultants from system campuses – aimed to understand what students identified as Canvas-related elements instructors used – or could better use – to support a successful learning experience in our ‘new normal’ of teaching with technology. 

Support the Canvas Due Date Initiative

The Academic Technology Informal Community of Practice at UMN continues to support the MPact2025 commitment to student success by helping faculty readily integrate due dates into their Canvas courses. 

Faculty and staff from system campuses and Extension are welcome to join our commitment. You can record your participation in this initiative by completing this short form. You will be able to provide feedback on the ideas and suggestions for using Canvas Due Dates. You can also provide information on unique circumstances and cases that we can consider to inform our suggested strategies and recommendations.