Course Structure and Organization

You can use Canvas to send announcements to your students, share course materials with them, collect assignments/assessments, and provide grades/feedback, or even facilitate online discussions. Think of Canvas as your online “classroom.” It is the space where all of your course material comes together, where many of your course activities happen, and where you will collect and assess assignments. Below we will outline some best practices in structuring and organizing your course:

Organizing Lessons

Flexible Hybrid

For Fall 2020, faculty in the College of Arts & Sciences presented their flexible hybrid course designs during the July Workshop Series. View the recording and handouts and contact an instructional designer in your college if you have questions.

When building your course in Canvas, you should try to be as consistent as possible with how you organize the flow of your course. We recommend using the Canvas Modules page as your primary spot to organize course material. Modules represent units of instructional material. They can be organized by instructional topic or by course schedule (a module may be one week of course material). Although Canvas does have separate sections for Assignments, Discussions, Pages, and Quizzes, the Modules page allows you to organize all of this material and provide your students with a consistent structure throughout the course. On the Modules page, you can organize your course into instructional modules that include all of the information and activities students need to complete that module.

However you decide to organize the material, try to maintain a consistent structure of information and activities in each module. Here’s an example of what a basic module may look like in Canvas:

Sample module

Typically modules in an online course will start with a module introduction that provides students with a brief summary of the module as well as the module objectives. Try also to explain how this module connects with and/or extends work done in previous modules. Some instructors also like to include a video of themselves introducing the module and discussing how this module fits in with the overall goals of the course. Such videos can help enhance your presence in the course.

After the module introduction, you move on to module activities. Organize your activities in the order that students need to complete them and be sure that all of your instructions are very specific. Don’t assume that students “just know” to do anything. Spell things out for them. Doing this will help cut down on the number of last-minute “help” emails you receive!

Course Homepage

It’s important that you carefully consider what you want your students to see first when they open your course. Some instructors prefer to set their Syllabus as their course home page, others choose to set the Modules area as their course home page. These instructions will help you change the home page of your course. A more advanced option would be to build a custom Page in Canvas and have that serve as your course home page. These types of course home pages usually consist of an image related to the course or a video introduction from the instructor, a brief text introduction to the course that includes a statement telling students how to get started, and then a breakdown of the major parts of the course (usually the course modules) presented as navigation links. You can also set your course to show recent announcements on your course home page. Here is an example of a course home page:

Example of a course homepage

Course Navigation

Providing concise and consistent course navigation for your students helps lower barriers to learning. The left-hand navigation bar is one of the main tools students will use for navigating your course. By default, this navigation bar may contain links to several tools or pages that your students will not use in your course. Removing these extraneous links is an important step toward providing concise navigation for your students. Using these instructions you can eliminate unnecessary links which will help your students focus on the items that are important for your course. Here’s an example of a default navigation bar next to one that has been cleaned up:

An example of course home page

Since we recommend organizing your course materials, assignments, and other activities on the Modules page, notice that we removed the “Assignments”, “Discussions”, “Quizzes”, and “Pages” links in the navigation bar. You can retain these if you consider it important for students to have a second avenue for accessing materials you have placed in Modules. Many instructors, however, choose to do this in order to make navigation more concise, and also to reinforce the organization of the course through the module designs. We also recommend removing the “Files” link to prevent students from accessing the file storage in your course. Any files that you want them to see can be deployed in the “Modules” area of your course.