Canvas and HokieSpa both have inviting names. Canvas sounds like something a studio arts major might use, and HokieSpa sounds like a nice place to get a massage. Although they are in actuality neither of these things, Canvas and HokieSpa are still pretty useful.
Most Virginia Tech students will agree that Canvas and HokieSpa are the two most important university websites for students. In fact, you probably would get kicked out if you never used them.
Both services, located at canvas.vt.edu and hokiespa.vt.edu respectively, require signing in with your PID and password and using two-factor authentication. Required since summer 2016, two-factor authentication means that whenever you log on, you must confirm that it is you on another device. The easiest option is to download and configure the Duo Mobile app on your phone, although there are other authentication options.
When you log in, you will be prompted to send a request to the app on your smartphone. If you are on your own computer, you can also click a checkbox to keep yourself logged in for seven days.
Canvas is Tech’s learning management system of choice. It is the central hub for instructors communicating with their students online, allowing assignment submissions and course announcements. Scholar, which was Canvas’ predecessor, went permanently offline in June.
That’s for the best. Canvas has a sleek, functional design. Clicking “Courses” will show all of the courses that you are enrolled in where the professor has set up a course page.
Instructors are able to make announcements, share a syllabus, post assignments and collect submissions. Many instructors also use Canvas’ gradebook feature, allowing you to see your current progress in a course. The gradebook also allows you to enter a grade into slots for future assignments to see what would happen to your grade if you decide to skip that reading in November.
The university has faced some criticism in the past for putting Canvas behind the two-factor authentication wall. If your two-factor device dies or you do not have access to it right before an assignment is due, it can mean a missed deadline. The learning curve has also been steep for some instructors who had just gotten used to Scholar. In spring, Canvas went down along with a number of other major websites worldwide, translating into a major hassle for students and instructors.
HokieSpa looks like it rolled out in the 1990s. However, don’t judge it by web design alone — it may be even more important than Canvas.
On the landing page, you can manage your VT alerts subscription (so you can be notified in an emergency), access class timetables (so you know where to go on Aug. 28) and see your university account information (so you can pay your tuition).
Clicking on the “HokieSpa” link on that page or the tab at the top will open even more options. If you realize that studio arts are not your thing, you can fill out a change of major application during designated time periods. You can check who your adviser is under “General Student Information,” see how much scholarship money you did not get under “Financial Aid Information” and allow your parents to see your grades (bad idea) under “Guest Account Access.”
One of the most important features is the Degree Audit Report System. You can run a degree audit report under the “Degree” menu, which will show you the courses you need to graduate. Using the Pathways Planner, also available from the HokieSpa menu, you can create a plan of courses to fulfill those requirements. Then, you can run a report against that plan to make sure you can graduate sometime before 2030.
Later in the semester, the “Course Request” menu will become vitally important. When it opens on Oct. 17, you will be able to request the classes that you would like to take in spring. For popular classes, this may be the only way that you can get in — there might not be space in the classroom once the period when you can freely add and drop courses opens. After orientation, which you will register for classes as part of, the add/drop period for fall semester will reopen on Aug. 5.
A brand-new feature is the ability to buy tickets on Virginia Tech’s Campus-to-Campus bus. The bus shuttles 35 passengers between the campuses in the Blacksburg area and the National Capital Region near Arlington. For $95, you can ride in air-conditioned comfort with Wi-Fi and electrical outlets at every seat. The buses run twice every weekday and once a day on weekends except during university holidays.
Check both of these sites regularly. You do not want to miss an assignment or forget to pay your tuition because you thought two-factor authentication was too much of a hassle.