In January 2023, UW System added a new Atomic Search tool to Canvas. This tool allows both instructors and students to more easily locate content within Canvas courses by searching for keywords. In a Digital Learning Environment student usability study conducted by UW System, students expressed having difficulties locating course content, especially when the layout of the Canvas course was not clear and consistent. Adding a search tool to Canvas was identified as a potential solution.
Instructors do not have to take any action to enable the Atomic Search tool in their courses. The search tool appears both in the left global navigation bar as a “Search” icon and in course navigation menus as a “Search” link. Starting a search from the global navigation bar will search within all of a user’s enrollments; starting a search from the “Search” link of a course navigation menu will search only within that course. The search tool respects all of the access restrictions an instructor can apply to course content items, so search results shown to a student will only include content that the student could find through normal navigation of the course.
The most important consideration for instructors is that the addition of a search tool in Canvas heightens the importance of making sure that outdated course content is unpublished or deleted. While preparing a Canvas course, removing an outdated Page from a course module but then forgetting to delete it entirely from the course is an easy mistake to make. With the arrival of a search tool in Canvas, students are now more likely to encounter an old page that you have removed from a module but never deleted or unpublished. Especially in those courses in which you’ve been reusing and iterating upon the same base of Canvas content over several terms, we recommend reviewing your course “index” pages—Announcements, Assignments, Discussions, and Pages—and deleting obsolete content and abandoned drafts.
While cleaning up your course, remember that removing a page from a module does not also delete that page from the course. Likewise, deleting a module does not delete its contents. Items that module contained will still be found among the Pages, Assignments, and Discussions index pages of the course. Fully deleting a content item from your course can only be done while viewing that item or while viewing the index page for that item’s type—for example, the list of pages you can view by clicking the Pages link in the course navigation menu. Anytime you plan on removing an unneeded content item from a course module it is a good practice to first unpublish that item so that even if you forget to follow up and delete it, students cannot find it.
After reviewing your course and deleting old content, we recommend running your course’s Link Validator to scan your course for any links which point at now-deleted content. Remove or update any broken links found by the validator tool.
Please also keep in mind that new content and content changes will not immediately appear in search results. After a change is made to course content, the search tool needs to “reindex” the course before it can deliver updated search results. For an active course, this reindexing process happens automatically at least once every 10 hours.