Russ Altman, Kenneth Fong Professor and Professor of Bioengineering, of Genetics, of Medicine (General Medical Discipline) and, by courtesy, of Computer Science
Russ Altman, Kenneth Fong Professor and Professor of Bioengineering, of Genetics, of Medicine (General Medical Discipline) and, by courtesy, of Computer Science

Canvas Course Profile – Russ Altman

This Canvas Course Profile features Russ Altman’s exemplary use of Canvas to enhance teaching and learning in his classroom. Professor Altman and his Head TA, Winn Haynes, share how they have used Canvas features such as question banks, varying due dates (or customized due date extensions), automatic grading, bulk grade uploads and automatic summary statistics to assess mid-term and final exams in their BIOMEDIN  214 course of 130 students.


Canvas Course Profile

Instructor: Russ Altman, Kenneth Fong Professor and Professor of Bioengineering, Genetics, and Medicine (and of Computer Science, by courtesy)
Head TA: Winn Haynes

Department: Biomedical Informatics/Bioengineering
Canvas Course: BIOMEDIN  214: Representations and Algorithms for Computational Molecular Biology

What has your experience with Canvas been like so far?

We liked using Canvas for our BIOMEDIN 214 class of 130 students.  The TAs found it reasonably easy to use for some submissions and tests and disseminating materials.  It is a major improvement over Coursework.

How has Canvas helped to enhance teaching and learning in your courses?

(e.g,  facilitating assessment and feedback, supporting interactions, collaboration and engagement)
We chose it mainly because of the excellent support it provides for tests, and we used it for our midterm and final exams.   This made it much easier to grade, as we had previously done it all by hand. The TAs were able to quickly figure out how to create a question bank, which accommodated all the question types we had.

Multiple Choice Question Type
Multiple Choice Question Type


Additionally, we were able to easily upload grades in bulk for assignments which were turned in externally. TAs were able to work collaboratively in creating and grading assignments.

What’s your favorite thing about Canvas?

It’s effective for creating tests and automatic grading.

Are there any challenges or areas for improvement?

We wish that we would have been aware from the beginning that Canvas only generates automatic summary statistics reports for tests with less than 100 questions. By the time we had learned about this limit for the midterm exam, it was too late (since we had already made the test in advance), and so, we couldn’t use this feature. As a work around for the final, however, we broke the exam into two shorter tests of 75 questions, which was awkward and not ideal, but it allowed us to use automatic summary statistics reports.

Also, our syllabus went on a page that made it appear as a long stream of text, and it would have been nicer to have a more attractive layout that included tabs or something. While the current format is serviceable, it makes text seem a little long and not visually pleasing.

What are some key lessons learned from your Canvas experience?

Students often react negatively to hearing that an “automatic grader” is being utilized when evaluating course content, so it is important to emphasize that the TAs and instructors are reviewing all submissions.

Because Canvas works well on exams with multiple choice style questions, transition exams to this format as much as possible.

Also, instructors are able to add deadline extensions and additional exam time for students with special circumstances and OAE disabilities. Instructors do not need to create separate assignments to accommodate these special cases.

Assign Due Dates
Assigning Deadline Extensions
































Final Exam Deadline Extension
Final Exam with Deadline Extensions







Do you have any advice or tips for faculty just getting started with Canvas?

Take advantage of the skilled Canvas staff who want to help.

What are your plans for future courses in Canvas?

Improving the layout of our Canvas page so that our students can find needed information more easily.

The VPTL Canvas team is always happy to help. Please contact us if you’d like to schedule an appointment to discuss your course and get one-on-one help or check out our Stanford Canvas help resources for instructors.


Want to share your Canvas experience? Please get in touch with us to contribute a Canvas Course Profile.

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