Introduction to Canvas for Students

Canvas is the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) used here at University of Birmingham. It's similar to other VLEs that you may have used in other institutions such as Moodle or Blackboard. You can use Canvas to do the following:

  • Access your course materials online 24/7
  • Submit assignments
  • Access grades and feedback
  • Find lecture recordings
  • Access Zoom meetings for live teaching sessions and Online Weekly Group Tutorials
  • Access multimedia content and resources for learning outside of the lecture
  • To discuss and share ideas

Student guidance on using Generative Artificial Intelligence tools ethically for study

Our Academic Skills Centre have developed student-focused guidance on using Generative Artificial Intelligence tools ethically for study, and the opportunities and limitations of its use.


This document contains the University’s approach to netiquette, and provides guidance to students on what to expect from staff and good online behaviour. Download or view the Netiquette Document.

Introduction to Canvas

Video length: 05:50 mins | Video transcript: Introduction to Canvas for Students – Transcript

Note: For a table of contents please click the arrow (^) at the bottom of the video above.

ACTIVITY: Update Your Profile (20 mins)

This page tells you how to update your Canvas profile so that you can:

  • edit and add a picture to your profile
  • set up how you want to be notified about new announcements/changes to learning content etc.

You can access your Profile page from the Account tab in the far left-hand menu of Canvas.

A quick guide to managing your profile

All Canvas users have access to the profile area. This is where you can upload a profile picture, add a brief biography and interests, add some contact details and some links. To access your profile go to the Account tab on the Global Navigation menu, then select 'profile'.

We encourage you to get to know your fellow students and engage in the online learning community while studying at the University of Birmingham. You can choose how much information you wish to share on your profile and you are not required to share any personal information if you do not wish to.

Upload a profile picture

To update your profile:

  • Click on the empty image box in the top left corner 
  • A dialogue box will open called Select Profile Picture
  • Select the Upload a picture link and click Choose a picture
  • Choose a file from your computer - make sure your profile image is appropriate and professional
  • Once you have cropped your image, select Save

Remember that your profile can be viewed by your fellow students and by your faculty, tutors, the Programme Director and by Canvas administrators.

Edit your profile

When uploading your profile picture and updating your profile, please ensure that you do not share any inappropriate images, or images which may cause offence to other members of your online learning community.

Canvas Community guide: How do I add a profile picture in my user account as a student? (Links to an external site.)

Staying in your Profile page, select the Edit Profile button from the right-hand side. Please edit the following sections, ensuring that you save (using the blue Save Profile button at the bottom of the page) before leaving the page:

  • Bio: Add some details about the programme you are taking, your professional background and the country where you are based. You can also add information about your interests and hobbies. Remember that your profile can be seen by all the students on your programme so don't share any information (such as your home address) that you don't wish to be made public.
  • Links: If you have a website or would like to add links to your social media sites (such as LinkedIn), you can add these here. 

Canvas Community guide: How do I edit my profile in my user account as a student

Update your notifications and user settings

Further details on Canvas and its functions can be found by watching this video.

  • Notifications and updates will be sent to your University of Birmingham email address which you are encouraged to check regularly. If you would like to add an additional email address, you can do so. Follow the directions in the Canvas Guide: Adding an additional email address.
  • The default notification settings mean that you will receive daily digest emails with information about discussion forums and immediate emails about announcements and grades. You can adjust your notification preferences to be more or less frequent. Please review directions in the Canvas Guide.

Step-by-step instructions are available from the Canvas Guide.


Navigate to your profile page and update it, adding a profile picture and information about yourself if you wish. 

Ensure that your notification settings are set up as you would like them to be.

READ: Guidance on Using the Discussion Boards (5 mins)

All of the Modules in this programme include discussion boards - usually at least 4 per Module. It is expected that all students post comments and engage with the discussions on at least three discussion boards per Module.   

On the next page you will get an opportunity to introduce yourself to your fellow students on a discussion board.  Before you do, please read the following information about using the discussion boards.

Why we use discussion boards

We use discussion boards for the following reasons:

  • They enhance learning as they encourage students to think about and share their thoughts and ideas on topics. Students also learn from other students' comments - as they would in a face-to-face seminar. 
  • They build learning communities, making distance learning less isolating

Concerns about posting:

Some students in previous years have told us they can be worried about posting on discussion boards - particularly if someone has posted a long and in-depth comment. Please try not to worry as:

  • No posts are ever evaluated
  • We respect and appreciate 'cries for help' as much as long detailed posts. The boards are a chance to ask questions and say you don't understand (as others are probably thinking the same)
  • Once you have made your first post in a Module, you will probably feel more relaxed
  • All boards are monitored by tutors who are there to support you.

Please make an effort to contribute to the discussion boards within your module.  If you have any concerns about posting please do contact the module lead / assigned tutor

Respect for fellow students

Please show your character and virtues when posting! It is great if you can support your fellow students by liking their comments and responding to them supportively.

Accessing Canvas VLE

Login to

Problems accessing Canvas?

If you have a University account and cannot login, consider the following:

  • There may be a problem with your account - if so, please contact the IT Service Desk
  • There may be a problem with Canvas - check  IT Status alerts to see if there is a known issue or planned maintenance.

Using Canvas on a public computer?

If you are using Canvas on a public computer, such as a PC in a campus cluster room, please remember to logout from Canvas and your email service at the end of your session and close all browser windows. 

Help and support

We offer an enhanced support service for all staff and students to help them make the most of Canvas. The support is available 24/7 via live web chat, email or phone call.  You can access this via the HELP button on the left hand tool bar.

If you’re having problems seeing information in relation to your courses, contact your programme office. You can usually find the relevant contact details on the course or programme homepage in Canvas.

For further information on using canvas please visit the:

Canvas Community Student Guide


Professional Services