Have you ever been confused about how to make sure students can’t access a quiz scheduled for later in the semester, or wanted to make a module available at midnight without having it to publish it manually? This article explains Canvas’s tools for making items like Discussions, Assignments, Quizzes, and Pages visible or invisible to students.

Finding and Understanding Canvas Publication and Availability Settings

You are probably familiar with the publication settings in Canvas, but you might not be familiar with exactly what they do.

  • Publish: set the item so that it exists for students. If you publish an item and do not set an “Available” date or put it in a locked module, it will be completely available to students and will appear in the Course Summary and calendar (if it has a due date). Published items have green check-marks to the right when seen in the Modules, Assignments, Discussions, or Quizzes views.
  • Unpublished: item is visible to instructors, designers, and administrators, but students cannot tell that it exists. It will not appear in students’ to-do lists, the Course Summary, or the calendar, even if it has a due date set. Students will also not be able to see it in the Gradebook. If you have legacy materials in your course, you want them unpublished; anything that is part of the current course must be published for students to access it. Unpublished items do not have a green checkmark; instead, they display a circle with a line through it.

It’s common for faculty to think these are the only two options (all or nothing). Fortunately, you have many other options for customizing the visibility and release of your items. Note that you must publish the item for all these options to work.

  • Available From: date on which students can access the item if it is published. A published assignment with an “Available” date in the future will show up in students’ calendars and the Course Summary, but they will not have access to it. If your item is unpublished and has an “Available” date, it will not become available on the date and will not be visible in the Summary or calendar. You must publish the item before the “Available” date.
  • Until: date on which students can no longer submit the assignment/quiz/discussion. This is not a due date, and students will not receive a reminder. See this Canvas article for more information on “Available” and “Until” dates.
Screen capture showing the options for setting due, available, and until dates in Canvas
Setting “Available” and “Until” dates with the due date in a graded assignment, discussion, or quiz.
  • Lock Until: this option appears only in the module settings. It allows you to lock everything in a module until a specific date. Items in the module and the module itself must be published for it to become available on the set date. Even if a given item in the module does not have an Available date set, putting a lock on the module will make the item locked from any access point (e.g., the Assignments area).
Screen capture of the "edit module" popup menu, with the Modules page behind it. The first item in the menu is a checkbox marked "Lock Until", which is checked, followed by a date field and calendar selection button.
Setting “Lock Until” date and time from the module edit menu in Modules

There are also two ways to set a date when the item needs to be completed. They work similarly, but the process of setting them differs based on whether the item is graded or not.

  • Due Date: date on which a graded item (assignment, quiz, or graded discussion) is due; this date will display in the Course Summary and students’ calendars
  • To-do Date: date on which an ungraded item (content page or ungraded discussion) is due; this date will display in the Course Summary and students’ calendars
Screen capture of the options settings for an ungraded discussion. The last checkbox reads "Add to student to-do", and it is checked.
Setting a to-do date for an ungraded discussion in the options section of the discussion editor

What Is the Best Way to Handle Publication and Availability?

While the exact settings you use may vary based on your course and needs, here is a rule of thumb:

Whenever possible, publish your items and restrict their availability to students using “Available” dates on the items or “Lock Until” dates on the modules.

Why? Primarily, you want students to know what the requirements are, when they’re due, and how they will figure into the gradebook well in advance. This is especially important for major assignments like papers and tests. Secondarily, this method avoids the possibility of forgetting to publish items when you want them to become available. It also allows you to make students aware that items will exist without letting them see that you haven’t yet added the prompts! A published, unavailable assignment serves as an ideal placeholder. If you are concerned about students seeing a test or exam too early, an “Available” date allows you to prevent that.

If you have regular weekly assignments (homework, discussions, reflections, etc) that students know will recur, it’s not a big deal to have those unpublished until the week before.

Deciding Between “Available” Dates and “Lock Until” Dates

“Available” dates are set by item. “Lock Until” dates are set by module, and affect all items that are in the module, but only items in the module. If you have a module that is available from September 15, for example, and you have an item that is due that week but is not in the module, its availability will not be affected.

“Available” dates are best if you would like items in a particular module to be accessible at different times. For example, if you have a weekly discussion that you want to include in a module, but you would like to have a student discussant post discussion questions in advance, they will not be able to open that item if it’s in a locked module. If your module does not have a “Lock Until” date, you can make that discussion available a couple of days early and restrict other items until the beginning of the week using “Available” dates.

Using a “Lock Until” date is more efficient to set up and works well as long as no students need access to items in the module earlier. If you use “Lock Until” dates, you may need to leave major assignments out of the modules, which might not be ideal.

In either case, remember that the whole module has to be published (you’ll see that green checkmark in the module title bar) in addition to the items being published. From the Modules page, you can publish anything simply by clicking on the circle with the line through it; it will turn into a green check. You can learn about publishing items (link describes assignments, but other item types are the same) and modules in the Canvas resource guide.

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