The Conferences tool in Canvas allows you to start a real-time videoconference, web-based conference call, or live chat right in Canvas using a tool called Big Blue Button. Like Zoom and Google Meet, Conferences allows you to broadcast real-time audio, video, demo applications on your desktop, share presentation slides, or demo any online resources.  Here are the steps you should follow to start a Conference in Canvas:

Check Your Audio and Video Input

If you regularly use videoconferencing, you can probably skip this step. If you do not, you should first make sure your audio input and output device(s) are connected, if you use something other than your computer’s built-in camera, speakers, and microphone. Plug them in, or if they are wireless, make sure they are connected via Bluetooth. You may wish to check your computer’s input and output settings, which are found in System Preferences on Macs and the Control Panel on Windows PCs.

Start and Join a Conference

If you are creating a Conference for your class, go to Conferences in Canvas’s left menu. You will be prompted to enter information for your conference session. Note that unless you uncheck the invite box, all participants in your Canvas course will be automatically invited.

Screenshot of the Conferences creation menu, including options to name the conference, set a duration, enable recording, invite course members, and others.

Once the conference has been created, you can join directly from the Conferences page by clicking the “Start” button. Students will take the same path to join the conference, but the button they see will say “Join”. You will need to start the conference before they can join it.

Conferences area of Canvas showing a conference ready to be started.

Once you click the “Start” button, you will be redirected to Big Blue Button’s web interface, where you can grant permissions for you input devices (microphone and camera), test your audio and video, and run your session. If you are accustomed to using Zoom or Meet, you may find Big Blue Button significantly different. Canvas provides detailed instructions on hosting a session in Big Blue Button, which we recommend exploring in advance.


Interesting features of Big Blue Button/Canvas Conferences include:

  • videoconferencing
  • audio conferencing
  • text chat
  • screensharing
  • breakout rooms
  • polling
  • integrated whiteboard
  • uploading presentation files to enable annotation during the presentation

Troubleshooting and Tips

Compatible browsers for hosting Conferences are Chrome and Firefox. Big Blue Button does not work properly with Safari.

If you have used Big Blue Button/Conferences in the past and downloaded the client software, you may wish to update to the newer client or use the web interface. The old client relied on Adobe Flash, which is no longer supported. The new client and web interface do not use Flash, which avoids many problems.

If you want to share or show files on your computer (e.g., PowerPoint slides), try uploading them in advance to make screen-sharing smoother. You can upload these files through the Big Blue Button interface after starting the conference; you cannot upload them via Canvas.

Always practice with new platforms before using them with your students!

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