This article is about how due dates work in Canvas, specifically where they appear and what they do for students. If you want to learn how to set a due date, check out this guide.

The 2020-2021 end-of-year survey of students provided unique information about students’ needs based on the shifts in teaching during Covid-19. The single most popular and important use of Canvas, according to students, was the use of due dates.

While due dates have different impacts for different kinds of learners (some people love them, some people hate them, some people would not get anything done without them), we now know that clear, easy-to-see due dates are essential for student success. Knowing due dates well in advance is very useful for planning one’s time, especially at busy points in the semester.

Canvas due dates have significant effects on students’ experience of the course that are not visible to instructors.

How Due Dates “Flow” in Canvas

Due dates (or to-do dates, for ungraded discussions) can be set in the editing tools for individual assignments, quizzes, and discussions. (For graded items, they can also be batch-edited; see this Canvas article.) When you visit the Assignments area of Canvas, you’ll easily see the due dates for all assignments where a due date has been set.

List of assignments in Canvas with due dates and point values visible
Assigning due dates also makes putting them in the assignment name redundant!

From a student’s point of view, when you set a due date, more happens than the date appearing to you in the Assignments area:

  • Students see the due date in the Assignments area and when they click on the item from anywhere in Canvas
  • The item appears accurately in the Course Summary on the Syllabus page (an overview of all due dates throughout the semester
  • The item will appear on students’ calendars, which span multiple Canvas courses, and if students have their Canvas calendar set up to sync with their Champlain Google calendar, it will appear there as well
  • As the due date approaches, the item will appear on students’ to-do list, a sidebar in Canvas that reminds them of upcoming responsibilities in the course

What Due Dates Don’t Do (On Their Own)

It’s important to know that due dates are not effective unless the items themselves (quizzes, assignments, discussions) are published. Students do not know unpublished items exist, and will not see the due dates for them in any of the ways mentioned above. There are strategies for publishing items while making them inaccessible until a certain date; learn more in our article on the availability of Canvas items.

Note that putting items in Modules does not generate due dates, even if the module has dates in the title or is set to go live on a certain date. Students have noted that weekly modules are very helpful, but do not replace or serve the purpose of due dates!

Currently, due dates do not cause Canvas to send students an automatic email reminder to complete a task. Doing this manually by posting an announcement is a great idea.

Recap: How to Manage Due Dates Effectively

There are two key steps to managing due dates effectively:

  1. Set a due date for every assignment, graded discussion, or quiz that should have one. Assign a to-do date to any ungraded discussions. Learn how to set due and to-do dates.
  2. Publish every item that has a due or to-do date.

These two steps will cause the due date to flow through Canvas, with all the effects described above.

You might say “wait! I’m not ready for my students to have access to all my items because they aren’t finished!” It’s fine to publish an item without full information, simply writing “More information to come” in the description. Knowing the due date early is more important than seeing the exact description right away because it allows students to develop accurate expectations for your course. (As a bonus, it also appears in the grade book so students can have a better understanding of how they’ll be evaluated.) If you are very concerned about this, you can also explore options like setting availability dates, which make published items visible but restrict access to them.

We also recommend a third step if you are using weekly modules, which is to add all items to the relevant module. While this doesn’t replace setting a due date, it is a great supplement because it helps students see the entire week’s outline at once.

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