Canvas Site Spotlight: Thomas Nechyba’s Econ 101 Course

At the end of Fall 2023, we asked students to share the names of any instructors they thought had used Canvas particularly well. We were thrilled to see dozens of instructors recommended, and are pleased to share with you a selection of these student-approved Canvas course sites. We hope this series provides inspiration for instructors who are either just starting out with Canvas or are reimagining how they organize their course sites.

When designing your course site in Canvas, there are a few principles that LILE advocates for

  • Provide a clearly organized homepage with key information.
  • Reduce the number of tools visible to students in the course menu to the fewest possible.
  • Use the Modules tool to present information and links to all needed content and tools.

In addition to adhering to these basics, Thomas Nechyba’s Econ 101 course site had a few other unique features that may work well for others – using an app to take attendance, using Speedgrader to grade short writing assignments, and posting class recordings.

In this post, we will explore some of these features of Nechyba’s course in detail, but for a short, student-facing tour of his course site, watch the video below:

Staying consistent using Modules

A common theme across the students’ comments was praise for the organization of Nechyba’s Canvas course site and his use of Modules:

  • “Used Canvas well, with the modules and the quizzes.”
  • “The organization of quizzes and discussion sections on Canvas for this class was exquisite.”
  • “He really understood how to use Canvas to help us learn the best in a very structured and organized way. It was easy to navigate in the course and easily access resources we needed to study.”

As you can see from his demo video above, Nechyba followed a very consistent structure for his course site: every class session had its own module, which began with the recording of the previous class, followed by assignments for the students to complete before the next class, and ended with a quiz. 

“They really get used to the rhythm of the class. Two weeks into it, you don’t even have to remind them. When I used Sakai, I used a similar system but I would send out reminders every time – here’s what’s going up now, here’s what you need to do. None of that’s necessary any more once you’re clear on how you structure these modules,” Nechyba said.

Taking attendance with Qwickly

Ensuring students actually attended his class was important to Nechyba, but because the course was so large with approximately 500 students, he needed a simple and elegant solution to track attendance. Enter Qwickly, an app that integrates with Canvas to automatically record student attendance. 

At a random time during the class, Nechyba used the app to display a QR code on the board that changed every three seconds. The students then used their phones to scan the code and be checked in.

“It worked beautifully in several senses. First, it worked for everybody. Second, it directly transfers the attendance score into the gradebook in Canvas. We actually expanded its use in the department. We bought a license and now I think four or five of our large courses are using it without any issues emerging, so it’s been a really good experience,” Nechyba said.

Qwickly is not available to everyone at Duke at this time, but individual or departmental licenses may be purchased.

Saving time with Speedgrader

For a large class with over 30 sections that may do different activities on different days of the week, finding a way for teaching assistants to quickly and easily grade student assignments such as discussion forum postings or weekly reflection write-ups posed a challenge. 

“It was actually the TAs who figured out that the Speedgrader option really is a fairly efficient way of quickly going through and making sure that everybody has put in the effort that they needed to. It just seemed to be more efficient than what we had done previously in other systems,” Nechyba said.

Posting class recordings

Many instructors fear that posting class recordings to Canvas will discourage regular attendance, but Nechyba starts every semester giving students a choice between two options to avoid this.

“I talked to my class upfront. I say, look, if I gave you a choice between not having to attend but no recordings of the class, or having to attend, and you get a score that’s part of your grade, and I post the videos, which one would you choose? And essentially, unanimously, they chose to have the recordings and be required to attend,” Nechyba said. “The whole class is about participating and engaging with the ideas.”

Nechyba has found providing recordings of his classes to have multiple benefits:

  • The class content is readily available for students with excused absences.
  • Students are more engaged in the class activities and discussion rather than obsessing over meticulous note-taking.
  • The videos are a useful study tool for students to review to prepare for exams.

LILE consultants are available to help with your course site

Whether you are just starting out with Canvas or are re-thinking how you might set up your course sites for the next term, our teaching consultants are available to help. We invite you to drop into one of our twice-weekly office hours, book a 25-minute one-on-one consultation, or send us an email at with your course design questions.