Basic considerations for Canvas: suggestions and examples

This page provides some suggestions for key components of a Canvas course, as examples of ways to facilitate teaching mixed-mode courses. The suggestions are demonstrated in the associated Canvas course.

Suggestions for the course Home page

The course Home page should be clear, friendly, inclusive and welcoming. Acknowledge all your students at the start. You might start to develop expectations for engagement here, and/or build them in a discussion with your students.

To create a Home page, add a regular Page and set it as the ‘front’ page.

Note: Check with your Faculty for any templates or requirements – some faculties require the Syllabus page to be the first page that students see.

A welcoming touch to establish ‘teacher presence’ from the start is to include an introductory video. This helps to present your ‘human face’ to the remote students, and might include important information for the overall course, including the following to ground and support students:

  • How to use Canvas (and/or a link to that information)
  • How to navigate the course structure
  • Contact information for teachers and class reps (if this is already on the syllabus page you can still repeat contact information for the lecturer, and your preferred means of contact)
  • Links to student support resources, services, and networks, or a Support & FAQs page.
  • An indication of what the semester might look like on a week-to-week basis
  • Where to find information about Assignment details and due dates.

Whether included in the video or not, this information should be on the Home page.

See the example Home page

Suggestions for the Support & FAQs page

Many students find it helpful to have a ‘one-stop’ page that links to all the help and support relevant to the course. This can also cut down workload for teachers as you can avoid keeping answering common questions.

Tables are a good way to organise your FAQs and are easy to update, but should be created with accessibility in mind. Watch this short video on accessible Canvas tables.

Check with your Faculty about student support and any specific requirements. You may find your Faculty has already developed guidance which you can link to.

See the example Support and FAQs page

Suggestions for the Syllabus page

The Syllabus in Canvas is intended to communicate course details, expectations and requirements to students. Unlike course Pages, there is only one Syllabus page per Canvas course.

The Syllabus page should provide information from the Digital course outline (DCO). If you have Course Director access, the DCO can be exported to a new page in your Canvas course, for copying and pasting into the Syllabus as needed. See the DCO Editor Quick Guide for technical guidance.

Your Faculty or programme may have a prescribed template or requirements for the DCO and Syllabus pages (e.g. specific banner images or faculty-relevant support services).

The Course Summary appears at the bottom of the Syllabus page and lists course assignments and calendar events. Information displayed in the Course Summary is automatically generated based on the assignments and events within a course. Details of these items cannot be edited directly on the Syllabus page, but can only be changed by editing the assignment or event.

All assignments (unpublished and published) are listed in the lecturer view of the Course Summary. Students however can only view those assignments and events that are published and assigned to them. If required you can disable the Course Summary on the Syllabus page.

If your faculty requires the Syllabus page to be set as the Home page, you can make it more friendly and welcoming by using some of the suggestions for the Home page.

See the example Syllabus page

Suggestions for Modules

Modules organise and order the course structure. Each module can contain links to files, pages, external resources, assessments and activities. The Next and Previous buttons at the bottom of Canvas course pages are determined by the order items appear within the modules. Modules can also be used to determine when course resources are made visible to students, and to set and track module completion requirements.

See an example of Modules

For more information about Modules, click on the drop-down menus below.

Using Modules to highlight important information

Consider creating a separate ‘Getting started’ module at the top of your modules for important information you want your students to access easily, e.g. Support & FAQs page, Course information. You may like to include a page or printable PDF of the key dates/’course at a glance’ here.

Keep this module as short as possible so students can get to the subsequent learning modules in your course without too much scrolling.

 

See the Getting Started module in this Canvas course example.

Module structure

Consistency and clarity are key in developing a module structure for your course. Establishing a repeating pattern in your modules can help support students in developing autonomy in their learning by making it easier for students to know what to expect for the week and how to prepare for their learning.

Use clear signposting to help students orient themselves and understand what to do with the resources you provide:

 

Some ways you might like to organise your modules:

  • By what you want your students to do before, during and after the session (e.g. tasks, readings, quizzes, etc.). This is how we have organised this example Canvas course’s modules.
  • By topics you will cover in that module/week.

 

Consider whether you would like to display selected sections of your reading list in specific modules.

 

Give contextual information so students understand how resources relate to one another and what they are supposed to do with them. You could:

  • Use Pages to house resources (e.g. external resources/links, lecture recordings, PDFs uploaded to Canvas etc) rather than linking directly to them in the module. You can then give further context, explanation and information, or instructions on how you would like students to use those resources using the Rich Text Editor in a Page.
  • Tell students what will be happening and what to focus on for this week’s learning, then sum it up and review the most important points at the end of the week. You can do this in Announcements or could add a Module Overview page and/or Module Summary page for each module.

 

Example of module structure in a Canvas course. See also this alternative example of module structure.

More information about Canvas Modules.

Module Overview Page

The module overview page can give a brief summary of the week’s topic and activities ahead. You can also use it to give a brief blurb at the top of the page to say how it links to previous content and highlight:

  • why what we learn this week is important;
  • where it fits into the context of this course, or more broadly in the discipline;
  • provide direction on what you would like students to focus on;
  • give any useful information about how it relates to assessments.

 

Learning Outcomes

Consider highlighting which learning outcomes from the course syllabus are relevant for this week/module.

 

Activities

If there are particular tasks you would like students to do before/during/after the session or module, you could highlight them here. Consider using headings and bullet points to separate tasks out to make it clear to students.

 

Readings/Resources

If you have readings/resources you wish students to review before a session, you can tell students here. Consider giving guidance to students on what you would like them to focus on when reviewing these resources. If resources will be used in an activity during the class, explaining the activity can help direct students on how to approach their preparation. See more on engaging students with their readings and suggestions for using Talis reading lists.

 

Example of a Module Overview page

Module Summary Page

The module summary page can:

  • Briefly sum up the week’s learnings
  • Emphasise how they connect to the learning outcomes for the week/topic
  • Review the most important points to take away
  • Highlight information covered that is relevant for assessments.

Some teachers also like to use this space to highlight interesting points that came up during that week’s sessions or discussion postings and point to further resources for curious students. You can also use it to maintain student interest by connecting what you’ve covered this week to the wider context of the course, and to giving an indication of what you will look at next week. Announcements can also be used for these purposes and allows greater flexibility. You may wish to keep this kind of responsiveness to your students in Announcements only so you don’t have to keep updating your Module summary pages each semester.

 

Example of a Module Summary page

Suggestions for Announcements

Announcements are a useful way to send essential course information to all students. (Ask students to check they have Canvas notifications turned on, at least for Announcements, Conversations, Due Date and Calendar, so they receive notifications by email.)

You may like to send Announcements:

  • At the beginning of the course – to welcome students, highlight where to find key information in Canvas, details of first (face to face or online) class.
  • Throughout the course (e.g. weekly updates) – to keep students going, keep up the pace and help make sure students are still on board.
  • When there are any significant changes – e.g. to classes or assessments for on campus students, due to changes in COVID-19 Alert Levels.
  • End of the course – to provide feedback and wrap-up to the whole class, e.g. general feedback on assignments, average grades, encouragement and future learning options for students.

If you are teaching mixed mode (i.e. a mix of on-campus and remote students in the same course), where needed, you can send separate announcements to on campus and remote students by posting to a course Section. You may like to use this welcome template specifically for offshore students.

See also more detail on communication with students.

See the example Announcements

Suggestions for Discussions

Remote students don’t have the same opportunities to interact and share their work/thoughts with on-campus students. Use Discussions to facilitate interaction between F2F and remote students.

Consider how remote students develop a sense of belonging with their peers/learning community. One way might be to use Discussions to post introductions, negotiate rules, share expectations and create a sense of involvement.

Usually, Discussions are displayed in the order of most recent activity. Important Discussions that you don’t want students to miss can be ‘pinned’ to the top of the Discussions page

By default, you will automatically be subscribed to all Discussion threads you create in your courses and be notified when new comments are posted to the topic. However if your co-teacher creates a Discussion, you will not be subscribed to that unless you have set this in your notifications profile. You can manually subscribe to a Discussion thread by clicking the flag icon to the right of the Discussion title (it is green if you are subscribed, grey if not).

See examples of Discussions

Suggestions for Talis reading lists

The Reading Lists tab (on the left hand navigation menu) links to Talis, a reading list management system. This is a great tool for keeping course readings and resources in one place that is easy for students to find.

Talis also ensures the University is compliant with copyright, so it is important to use this tool. Libraries and Learning Services manages the library resources you place on your Talis reading list. Unpublished resources (e.g. lecturer course notes, lecture slides, exemplar tests and answers) are not usually included on Talis lists. This material can be uploaded to your Canvas course as long as you are the copyright owner or have copyright permission.

See an example of a Talis reading list

For more information about reading lists, click on the drop-down menus below.

Make readings accessible

See an example Talis reading list

Make readings relevant and foster active learning
  • You may wish to add a note for students to specific items to help direct them in their reading. This is a good place to add questions to prompt their critical thinking. Some generic question stems to provoke thought you might like to use are:
    • What are the implications of…?
    • Why is it important…?
    • How does this compare with… [another reading/source]?
    • How does this relate to… [concept/perspective]?
  • If you would like to add a note to your reading list without it being associated with a specific item or section, you can add a paragraph.
  • We recommend you remove unneeded readings from your list to help students focus on what is important. (To delete a resource, click on the 3 vertical dots on the right of the resource and choose Delete.) Reading lists are often rolled over automatically from the previous teaching term, so may no longer be current if teaching staff or content has changed.

See an example Talis reading list

Make readings engaging

Students are also able to interact with the reading list. They can:

See an example Talis reading list

Other general guidance

These Canvas tools can help you check the clarity and accessibility of your course, and improve the student experience.
 
For more information, click on the drop-down menus below.
Accessibility

Where possible, try to stick to accessibility guidelines to remove barriers for all students. Use the Canvas accessibility checker.

Student view

Use Student view to check how your course displays to students.

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