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Organizing Content in Canvas

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Delivering course content clearly and effectively through the course's Canvas site will help students easily find the information they need and can help you to keep your course organized. Highlighted here are strategies for presenting course content in Canvas.

Leverage existing Canvas resources

The Teaching with Canvas Resource Center is a comprehensive collection of guides covering a multitude of topics. It is a useful resource for anyone optimizing an existing course or building a new Canvas course. 

Most useful Canvas tools for content delivery

Files—A basic building block  

The Files tool allows the instructor to create a repository for the files related to the course. Upload your course content to Canvas using the Files tool. You can upload multiple files at a time as well as set usage rights and publish files in bulk. Content uploaded to the Files tool must then be published or it will not be visible or accessible to students.

Pages—Simple but versatile

Pages are content pages like any web page; they can include a combination of text, images, and files (documents, videos, etc.). Pages allow you to create context around a file. This can help students learn more effectively. For example, you might embed a useful video clip within a Page, with further written instructions on important questions to consider while viewing it, followed by a link to a related assignment. 

Adding files (PDF, Word, PowerPoint, etc.) to your course pages allows students to preview the files without downloading them. Creating pages that contain a number of related files, images, and links in one place can help keep modules from becoming too long. 

Here are a few ideas for ways to use the Page tool:

  • Create a home page for the course with an engaging image, class pitch, and welcome message from the instructor.
  • Outline weekly expectations, deadlines for the week's assignments, and convenient links to the needed files or assignments.
  • Create an asynchronous lesson plan complete with linked materials (Files, Course Videos, Assignments, Discussions, etc.) that live in a given Module.

Modules—Organize and structure your content

Modules are like a table of contents with headers and sub-sections that link to other Canvas elements. Modules offer an easy way to organize your class to make it easy for students to identify what is expected from them. They can be used to organize multiple Pages, Files, discussion boards, quizzes, and assignments into a more coherent whole.

Course modules are typically organized by topic or chronologically by week. They can provide a clear roadmap for the course, especially one that unlocks gradually for a self-paced learning experience. Within a module, use text headers to further divide content in an intuitive way, for example, to separate readings from lecture materials. 

Canvas templates

Course shell templates are a useful way to get started when building a course or adding new elements. To access the Canvas Online Course Shell templates, login to and find Canvas Commons in the red menu on the left.

Once in the Canvas Commons, you'll find resources from across the university. Use the "Search" feature to find templates or resources you want to import into your course. To import, click the blue "Import/Download" button on the right and select the course you wish to import the resource into.

Here are some recommended templates to start with. Find them by searching for the titles below:

  • Online Teaching Technology Accessibility Survey – Survey students at the beginning of the quarter. This template can be imported into the Quizzes section which can then be customized.
  • Online Teaching Module Week 1: Launching Your Class – This template will import into Modules and addresses the beginning of a course.
  • GSE Canvas Whole Course Module Shell – This Graduate School of Education resource offers a clean, structured approach to course planning. Imports will go into your Modules—if you've already set up your course, it will import above or below your existing modules. Once in your course, delete unneeded modules. 
  • Midquarter Feedback Survey: Remote Learning Version – Getting feedback from students is especially important in online instruction; this survey is tailored to the remote situation. It will import into your course Quizzes.

Comprehensive Canvas checklist

This Canvas Course Checklist is a comprehensive list of recommended elements for an effective Canvas course. Start with just the elements marked as "foundational". Keep in mind that any good Canvas course will be built incrementally over time. Be systematic and methodical in iterating as you try things out, gather feedback, and gain experience.

Learn more