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Design Principles for Canvas

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At Stanford, a Canvas course site is the primary learning space through which students interface with any course. A well-designed Canvas course can do much to facilitate learning, foster community, and promote active engagement for students. You can apply these design principles to manage communications, increase productivity, and improve feedback and assessment.

User-experience matters

When a learning space or interface is user-friendly, appealing, and intuitive the students are free to focus their full attention on learning. But if the space is inconsistent, unappealing, or confusing the learners may spend too much energy trying to figure things out, leaving them frustrated or exhausted when it is time to learn. An effectively designed Canvas course should provide a smooth user experience with little extraneous cognitive load.

Clear and explicit expectations

The information that students will most readily want to know is, "What do I need to do to succeed in this course?" Providing this information to students in an easily accessed and unambiguous way can improve their feelings of self-efficacy and autonomy.

Consider the following suggestions when planning and designing a Canvas course site.

  • Meeting times, location, and links are prominent and easily accessible
  • Activities, assignments, assessments, and their deadlines are clear and consistent
  • Grading breakdown and policies are clear
  • Required course materials, their cost, and how to access them are provided

User-friendly and organized

A well-designed Canvas course is easy to understand. Ideally, students can fairly quickly orient themselves to the organization of the course. There should be a consistent logic to how the course is put together allowing students to comfortably find what they are looking for.

  • Content is "chunked” into manageable pieces 
  • Naming conventions for files, sections, and so on, are consistent and logical
  • Headers, text formatting, and visual/graphic elements are used sensibly to enhance clarity and organization
  • Links, files, videos, and external URLs are active and working

Motivating and communicative

Frequent communication and a supportive environment can motivate students to stay on track. A humanizing presence can be impactful especially in fully online learning. Consider ways to foster connections through the design of a Canvas course.

  • Include a statement of care, inclusion, and support for students
  • Add personalized elements that show off something about the instructor
  • Provide resources or contact information for getting help
  • Express confidence that all students can succeed in the course with persistent effort and support

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