Rachael Sweeten

Unpack Those Docs!* Best Practices for Course Design

Blog Post created by Rachael Sweeten on Feb 27, 2020
*You'll be glad you did.
 
In providing support for faculty and courses, certain best practices have been validated repeatedly. 
One of those is optimizing Canvas content pages to increase the likelihood your students will actually see and use them! 

 

Unpack Course Documents to Become Canvas Pages

When new instructors are transitioning to Canvas, the process can be overwhelming. An unfortunate, frequent shortcut is to simply “link” documents like the Syllabus or assignment instructions. This may appear to be a quick solution—but only for one semester. When the complexity of updating increases, the missed opportunity to apply best practices becomes apparent through extra hassles and files housekeeping over time. 

 
“A shortcut is the longest distance between two points”Charles Issawi
  •  
Bad reasons to Link documents in the RCE or Modules:
  • Seems faster.
  • Lower faculty skill-level or understanding of Canvas. Links to files are all the instructor knows how to do.
  • Instructor already has a big Masterfile with .pdfs and WordDocs that hasn’t been changed in years. 
  • Imaginary threats, like the fear that students will change the Syllabus and argue some detail with the instructor. 
  • Student UX hogwash! Courses have always been a big stack of papers to manage. Why suddenly make life easy for short attention spans?
  • Document was made on an old typewriter (or on MSWord) with lots of tabs and spaces to center the text. It will be a nightmare to learn the Word ribbon tool at this late date. 
 
Signs that .pdf/.doc overuse is an issue
  • The course files area has 6 old versions of the Syllabus from which to choose.
  • Course content is not updated because the instructor can’t locate their original doc for editing. 
  • Students don’t read the syllabus.
  • Instructors don’t understand why students don’t read the syllabus. See hint.

Hint: Students are looking on an iPhone and don’t want to clog up their memory by accidentally downloading that 10-page Syllabus yet again, plus the document opens in a tiny viewer in a 1 pt. font. Instead, use Canvas content pages to stream beautifully!

Upstream Management

Instead of waiting for increased difficulty all around, consider unpacking your .docs into Canvas as a best practice.
  • Accessibility
    • Transitions are an ideal time to use Headings/Styles, alt text, descriptive links, ribbon tools, and correct tables in the pages rich content editor (RCE). 
  • Encourage mobile streaming view for all content, versus documents to download and manage. 
    • Increases the likelihood of students being able to see and use the content on any device. 
  • Copyright
    • Transitions are an ideal time to check copyright, record your Fair Use justifications, and/or update content into safe compliance. 
  • Quicker updates each semester.
    • Compare updating a Syllabus in Canvas (Edit, type, save) with updating a linked document (Locate master doc, make changes, save, replace in Canvas, test to make sure you linked the correct doc, get rid of old doc, preserve link, etc.)
    • Remember, if you don’t do this every day, the workflow is forgettable.  Once a semester, and you’ll forget what you’re doing. 
  • Version control.
    No need to search for master copies on a former employee’s home computer. Everything related to the course lives in the Canvas course. 

 

Process

  • .Docs that are already Accessible easily become Canvas content pages that are accessible, with a simple copy and paste.

    • The transfer process reveals old-school tabs and spaces misuse. Oops.  Those must be manually corrected once the content is in Canvas RCE.

  • .pdfs can be a nightmare. Depending on the complexity of content, you may need to open a .pdf in Adobe Acrobat Pro and export it as a WordDoc, then scan carefully for substitutions, misspellings, and other transcription errors. 

 

Exceptions

Course builders work with what we have. Sometimes you just let one thing go—temporarily—to meet a deadline or inch toward progress. 
 
*Good Reasons to link a document in RCE or modules
  • Students need to download and print an entire document intact. Example: APA or MLA formatted example research paper.
  • Information is not likely to change and is not available another way. Example: an archived out-of-print article. 
  • Information that is already accessibility checked. Example: Government website downloads or official releases.

Ready or Not

Ready or not, increasing numbers of students view Canvas courses on mobile devices. (Numbers may vary by institutions, but the overall trend is upward for mobile use.)
 
Even if your course is designed for desktop/laptop, a quick check on iOS and Android devices will give you a more complete idea of what students see—and why they interact with the course the way they do. 
 

Outcomes