How to navigate Canvas

Jill Alt

Canvas is Iowa State’s online grades and technology-based academics platform. As a student at Iowa State, you’re going to become familiar with Canvas quickly. So let’s teach you the basics of navigating it. 


The main page is the Dashboard, where there will be a box for each of your classes. Here’s an example of what the tabs will look like. It will list the semester of the class, the class name, and several features. 

The features include:

  • The Bullhorn icon — Announcements from your professor and teaching assistants will be here. When you have a notification, there will be a red bubble by it. 
  • The paper and pencil icon — This is the assignments page, where your upcoming or overdue homework will be listed. All of your due dates should be underneath the title of the assignment. 
  • Message bubble icon — This is the discussions tab. Some classes will require you to submit responses in the discussions tab. If so, this is where you will need to do that. 
  • File icon — This one is pretty self-explanatory. Your professors may post worksheets or study guides on Canvas for you to print off if you miss class. This icon will take you to them.

The courses tab also will list all of your classes, so you can find anything you need for each of your classes.


Some professors will put in your assignments on the calendar tab as well, so you can look ahead and see what quizzes and tests and homework you have coming up. If you know you’re going to miss class, it’s a really good idea to take a look at the calendar to see what will be due. 


Sometimes you need to communicate with your teaching assistants or your professor quickly. If so, the inbox tab operates like an instant messenger so you can message them directly. You also can contact other students in your class to set up study sessions or to ask for the notes from class. 

These are the basics, but Canvas include many areas that you may or may not use. But if you can find your dashboard, you shouldn’t get too lost.