Organizing Canvas to Improve the Student Experience

Organizing Course Content

When teaching online, an important consideration is how to organize your content. For maximum clarity and visibility, we recommend organizing your content in modules on the home page. Students are generally used to working through online content sequentially, so arranging modules chronologically with the first week/unit at the top is ideal. You could also arrange your course’s modules in reverse chronological order, publishing the most recent one at the start of each unit/week, so the current week/unit’s module is always at the top of the page. If arranging your content chronologically doesn’t seem like a good fit for your class, you could also try grouping content in modules by project instead.

Modules can be rearranged by clicking and dragging the stacked dots in the top left corner.

Once you have decided how you would like to set up your modules, consider the order in which the content within the modules appears. The first item in a module is nearly always a page. This page should provide students with the context they need to successfully read/watch the necessary materials and complete the necessary activities for the week or unit. You can also use this page to provide an introductory paragraph with other necessary contextual information, as well as the learning objectives or goals for the unit/week. Depending on the depth of the material, you may also consider breaking this information down into multiple pages.

For example, your overview page in each module might include:

  • Introduction
    • Briefly introduce the materials and concepts covered in the module.
    • Provide any necessary background information students may need to know before engaging with the “meat” of the content.
  • Learning Objectives
    • Concretely describe what you would like students to know or be able to do by the end of the week/unit’s activities.
  • Readings
  • Lecture Videos
    • Embed your pre-recorded lectures for the module in sequential order.
    • Try to break down lectures into shorter, more digestible videos (studies have shown that 6—9 minutes may be the sweet spot, and a conversational tone is equally important (Brame, 2016)).
  • Activities
    • Link directly to activities that students are to complete for the week/unit (Canvas assignments, discussions, etc.).
    • Include both graded and non-graded activities.

After the page, add any relevant Canvas activities to the module, such as discussions, assignments, and quizzes. This will let students see at a glance what is due by the end of the week/unit. Keep the content in the modules simple and high-level in terms of information.

Linking Related Materials

It may be tempting to link all your readings, resources or other materials for a unit in the modules on the home page, but the more content students see at a glance in the module, the more overwhelmed they will feel. Instead, it is a good idea to keep materials related to each project, assignment, or other activity in the activity description itself.

In Canvas you can add links to files (documents that you have uploaded to the files area), content within Canvas (published pages, discussions, assignments, etc.) and external URLs (online articles or other websites that have content or activities you would like students to engage with). You can also embed videos that you have created (Kaltura/My Media videos) or videos from other sources that support embed codes (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.). Use this to your advantage by linking all relevant materials needed for completing an activity in the description for said activity. These links can be created anywhere the Rich Content Editor is available.

It’s not enough to just add links to materials, however. Any materials that you would like students to engage with also require clear, concise instructions for what you would like students to do with the content that you’ve linked.

Here are some questions to consider when you are adding materials to your assignments, discussions, and other areas of Canvas with the New Rich Content Editor:

  • What is the material?
    • Use the exact name of the article or video, or a clear, concise description for the inline text when you create a link.
  • What would you like students to do with the material, and to what degree?
    • For an article, for example, is your intention for students to skim it? Do a close read? Annotate it? Take detailed notes?
  • How much of the material is relevant to the activity?
    • Include page numbers for readings and timestamps for videos, when applicable.
    • This information also allows students to better gauge the amount of time they will need to complete an activity.
  • How does this material relate to the objective of the activity?
    • Provide instructions on how you would like students to apply what they have learned/accomplished from the linked material to the activity.
    • Decide if you want students’ use of the material to be open-ended or specific (e.g. for a discussion, do you want students to submit a free-form reflection on the reading, or answer specific discussion questions?).