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Use Canvas Insights to send an Early Alert

February 24, 2021

Use Canvas Insights to Send an Early Alert

The beginning of each semester can be overwhelming to finalize the class roster. The attendance continues to change based on enrolled students.  I often find myself responding to many questions about the course set up on Canvas, quizzes, papers, discussion boards, and process of submitting assignments.  After week two, I can settle into the course material and teaching.  Now I need to know who is engaging with the material and doing the assignments on time.

Underlining this, I need to track who participates and is engaged with the class. How do I find this out? The CSUN Academic Technology team has created a customized alert tool that works right inside Canvas utilizing analytics called Canvas Insights. Research suggests early alerts have been recognized as effective in student retention (Villano, Harrison, Lynch & Chen, 2018). There was a report published by CSUN Institutional Research on The Importance of Timing of Early Alerts. In addition, the College of Science and Mathematics utilized Canvas Insights for data on Improving Student Success using Canvas Insights and Linking Interventions in CHEM 100.

Here is How Canvas Insights Can Help Now

Canvas Insights allows faculty to customize filters to quickly identify:

  • student engagement in the Canvas course
  • groups of students with high and low scores on assignments
  • students who are missing assignments
  • students who are doing well (or not) in your class

Once students have been identified based on the filters faculty choose, faculty can send out a personalized email through Canvas Insights to that group of students.

Here is How Early Alerts Work

To send an early alert, first use the filters in Canvas Insights to identify students who would benefit from a little nudge in your course. These filters use the information (grades, missing assignments, late submission, and gradebook views) that you have already entered into the Canvas course.  Data can determine who would benefit from an early alert (Bear et al., 2020).  Using Canvas Insights allows you to scale up the alert to students in large classes or with multiple classes.

During week 2 of this spring semester, I used Canvas Insights to quickly identify two students from different courses who have not yet signed into the Canvas course.  I used the “Logged into Course” Yes / No checked box to identify the students who had not checked into Canvas yet. Two students were identified out of 182 students overall. I clicked on “email this list” and used the “I am here to help” email template to send a personalized message.  I heard back from both students the same night as I was able to help them get started with the material in the Canvas course.

According to research, sending out timely alerts to students is a key component to intervention for retention (Bear et al., 2020; Jayaprakash et al., 2014). Here is a general idea for a timeline to send out early alerts:

Week 2 - have a simple assignment due early
Week 4 - more advanced assignment due
Week 6 - check in with students before midterms
Week 8 - midterm check in
Week 10 - not too late to still pass the class

In addition, send out an alert to students after major assignments are graded.

Finding Students Who Have Not Logged into Canvas

Here is how you find students who have not logged into Canvas yet:

  • Go to your Canvas shell for any course you teach
  • Go to Canvas Insights in the side navigation
  • Once in Canvas Insights, change the Course filter at the top to (All)
  • All students for all your courses will show in the table to the left
  • At the bottom of the Canvas Insights navigation, you will see “Logged into Course” Yes / No – deselect Yes, have only No checked
  • If there are students in any of your courses who have not yet logged into your Canvas course they will show up in the table
  • From the table select “Email this list”

The next window will display the students who have not logged into your Canvas course. Here you can send a personalized email to the students.

Utilize the “I am here to help” Template

This template offers students resources available at CSUN: links to COVID information, CSUN with a Heart, technology help and student life.

Remember these templates are completely editable, you can change the introduction:

For Example:

“I hope this message finds you well. I noticed you have not signed into our Canvas course and you have not had the opportunity to attend any synchronous Zoom meetings. I wanted to reach out with some resources.”

Your early alert has been sent.  Keep in mind when sending out an “I am here to help” personalize message, students will respond, so be ready to help.

To learn more about Canvas Insights check out the instructional videos on the CSUN Academic Technology YouTube Channel or you can attend a weekly workshop Using Canvas Insights for Early Alerts.

To learn more on Early Alerts, check out the Faculty Development Canvas course module on Early Alerts.

By Joyce Marie Brusasco, EdD.



Bear, L., Hagman, A., & Kil, D. (2020). Preventing a winter of disillusionment: Artificial intelligence and human intelligence in environment. Educause Review (1), 46-54.

Jayaprakash, S. M., Moody, E. W., Lauría, E. J. M., Regan, J. R., & Baron, J. D. (2014). Early Alert of Academically At-Risk Students: An Open-Source Analytics Initiative. Journal of Learning Analytics, 1(1), 6–47.

Villano, R., Harrison, S., Lynch, G., & Chen, G. (2018). Linking early alert systems and student retention: a survival analysis approach. Higher Education, 76(5), 903–920.