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Bring Clarity to your Canvas Course:
Course Navigation + Modules + Home Page

Part 3:  Home Page


Photo by Nathan Fertig on Unsplash

Hello, I am the Learning Management System Specialist in our K12 district and I provide support and instruction to our teachers and staff in the use of Canvas, promoting consistency, efficiency, and effectiveness.  Please visit the other two parts of the blog series:  Part 1: Course Navigation, and Part 2: Modules


As a K12 district we mostly have year-long courses.  A year’s worth of content can make for large courses with several modules and several items in each module. Clicking on Modules can mean scrolling and scrolling and scrolling to find the correct Module and content.  Some teachers move the current module to the top - this can be helpful, but then modules tend to get out of order, which can be confusing. To solve this, I recommend creating a Front Page with a clickable table-of-contents for your course, and setting it as the Home Page. This will help bring clarity to your course.


Here are my tips for having a useful and effective Home Page.


  • Reduce redundancy by not including links on your Home Page to items that already exist in your Global Navigation or Course Navigation. Items to *not* include on your Home Page are:  links to the Calendar, the Announcements Page, or the Quizzes or Assignments index pages. Use the valuable real estate on the Home Page to direct students to specific Modules/units, and resources they need daily.  (Add content such as pages, quizzes, and assignments to the corresponding Module. When Due Dates are added to assessments, students also can access them the Calendar, the To Do list. Other ways students can access assessments is via Grades and Syllabus.)
  • Use meaningful unit names. Instead of a link to “Unit 1” (what is Unit 1 about, anyways?), call it something like:  “1: Elements of Art.” By the time a student gets to a later unit, they won’t remember what was covered in Unit 1, so it’s important that links to the modules/units have meaningful names.
  • Avoid making students scroll on the Home Page. Avoid placing a lot of text, or using a large image at the top of your home page that will require students to scroll down to find the links to the Modules and other important links.  You may want to use a table, with two cells across, to organize your content. In the left cell can be a small welcoming image and a little text, and in the right cell have your unit links using text.   Be aware that if your Home Page is too long and students have to scroll down a lot, they lose visibility of the course navigation menu on the left.
  • Avoid multi-celled tables.  I’m not a fan of using multi-celled tables on the Home Page.  Why? For a few reasons: a) Tables can be finicky and sometimes require knowing HTML to format the way you need. b) Tables are not mobile friendly, and can display differently on mobile devices or different browsers.  c) Tables are not accessible and should be used for tabular data. (Personally, I need to spend some time learning how to use DIV tags, so if you have time, please do it. See Erin Keefe's Tweet for more info:
  • I know a lot of people are fans of beautiful, colorful buttons on the Home Page, but here are some reasons I recommend to avoid them:
    • Images may be meaningful to you, but perhaps not clear to students. If you do include an image, please include text of the name of the unit below it.
    • Screen readers may have difficulty understanding the “buttons” or other images, and this can make navigating the course more difficult for students.
    • You’ll need some image editing skills to resize images (you can use the RCE tools, too, but I recommend starting out with an image that is not ginormous).
    • Unless your course is all planned out, you’ll have to continue adding images for any new modules. Depending on the number of units or links with images, this can become visually overwhelming.
    • Home Pages with many images can become busy and cluttered.


Here is an image of a sample Home Page.  By the way, notice how clean and minimal her course menu is!


Course Home Page showing picture of teacher in left cell, and links to modules in right cell

In our district we are working on having more consistency across courses.  Some level of consistency across courses makes it so much easier for students. One way is for teachers to have a Home Page similar to the one above. This Home Page also allows teachers to do some customizing for their particular course needs.  And having a homepage with links to Modules helps direct students where they need to go.

Below is a letter I very recently sent out to our 160 faculty members after COVID-19 closed down our schools. Very little info had been directed to us from the administration except that we were to be doing OPTIONAL remote learning starting Wednesday March 18th and that under no circumstances could we teach new material or assign points of any kind. The concept of it being "optional" (in bold nonetheless) took the wind out of some our HS teachers sails. 


What I realized is that without being near each other the culture can really become (in)/affected and fast! I felt compelled to try and change the narrative and hopefully inspire some hope in a time of uncertainty and ambiguity. Here was how I responded as a fellow colleague/part time Tech Coach.


Good evening,


It has been an honor to be able to serve full time as an instructional coach with you over the past week as we try to figure out how to navigate these uncharted waters together. And going off of Mr. Napaver and Dr. Lloyd's lead, I think we all know that education must continue in some fashion; our kids deserve it and they thrive off of structure/normalcy.


So perhaps we can try our best to give them some sense of normalcy (however that looks in your class); that could mean reteaching your last unit through enrichment videos, starting from the beginning of the term and work your way to the present unit playing review games, or perhaps through an open ended project. It will be a good starting place until we all find a rhythm with remote learning and just how short term it will be. Whatever you choose to do with your classes, be upfront and transparent with your students...start a daily blog or announcement to let them know what your class plan is (even if it changes each day or each week) or have them help you create that plan together. But mainly stay in touch with them; some will need you more than others.


Remember as much as we know Bart Simpson won’t do the work...don’t forget about Lisa and Milhouse...heck, even Bart may surprise you every once in a while if given the right opportunity! Equity while having grace and flexibility needs to be our mantra.


Those of you planning on engaging in video chats with students please have some ground rules. 

  • Cameras for students should be off unless they are in a public place and dressed appropriately as if they were at school. 
    • I say use a system that allows you to lock cameras for participants and leave yours on if you wish to humanize the experience as much as possible.

Also have a backup plan/platform...with the high traffic and free accounts sometimes platforms can struggle. 

  • Set up a backup in Google ‘Meet’ or Zoom meeting or Conference tool in Canvas that way you can redirect quickly and salvage the session.


As always, I’m here so please use me to: brainstorm ideas, make sure something is “okay” or even just to help you with your vision for what the next two weeks can be for your students/classes given the constraints and ambiguities. 


You are enough. You are a content expert and may (not) be a tech expert and that's ok (neither are all our students).







As far as the impact, we shall see, but I have already received amazing feedback from staff.


Here was my favorite response:

Thank you so much for all of your unfailing support and enthusiasm. You continue to remain positive, and focused on people over platform. Your passion for using technology to enhance and redesign instruction in a content-driven way has always been evident, but the way you've stepped up over the last few weeks has given everyone a sense of comfort and confidence. Please know how much it is appreciated.


The interesting part of that comment is that the person who wrote it is someone I really have not interacted with much before, which reminds me that our students feel the same way about us as teachers; we inspire them all at one point or another even if they don't show/say it.


Teaching and learning are a lot like baseball. We may not win 100% of the time, but when its our turn, we step in the box and do our best...over time we will have highs and lows, but it's the day to day hope that makes all of the above worth our time. I hope this offers you inspiration! Be present. Stay Well!

Bring Clarity to your Canvas Course:
Course Navigation + Modules + Home Page

Part 2:  Modules


Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Hello, I am the Learning Management System Specialist in our K12 district and I provide support and instruction to our teachers and staff in the use of Canvas, promoting consistency, efficiency, and effectiveness.  Please visit Part 1 of this series, Course Navigation.


Erin Keefe explains modules in So, What’s a Module Anyway? and how modules are similar to  folders to organize or chunk information and activities; how students can navigate with the next/previous buttons; and how you can create personalized experiences using prerequisites and requirements or mastery paths. In the Canvas Community Discussion, Improving Course Navigation Experience for Students, Rachael Sweeten offers valuable suggestions, based on years of experience, of why and how to use Modules and improve the user experience. And Emily Craddock has a clear and concise blog, Mad About Modules, with an accompanying video.


Here are reasons why Modules are so great for setting up a clear organization and navigation of your Canvas course content:


  • Content Flow.  While one could design a course using Pages and linking to other Pages and other content, essentially the course becomes a website, and there is no “map” or “tree” to see the big picture of how the content flows. This may be fine for smaller courses -- like for a topic that’s completed in one day or one sitting, but that “big picture,” or roadmap, is critical for more extensive courses (multiple units or topics to be studied in a semester or full year).   With Modules, students access the first item, and then can continue to navigate through content with the Next button. Or they can go to the top of the Module, and select to enter any of the items in the Module. 


  • Content Organization.  You can direct students to one place to see all items for a particular Unit or Module -- content Pages, Quizzes, Assignments, Discussions, Files, External URLs, all can be added to a Module in a sequential order.  The Index pages for Pages and Quizzes can get loooooong, and can’t really be put in much of an order except alphabetical. The Index page for Assignments includes Quizzes and Discussions that are graded (and Pages in mastery paths).  The power of the Assignments page is in creating Assignments Groups, which can be weighted, that match your syllabus and set up your Gradebook As explained in Bring Clarity to your Canvas Course Part 1:  Course Navigation, you can hide the links to those Index Pages, and just leave Modules enabled.


  • Content Type and Status. When all the various content items are added in a Module, you can see very easily:
    • an Icon identifying the type of item in the module: a content Page is a paper with text icon; a Quiz is a rocket ship icon, an Assignment is a paper with a pencil icon, etc
    • The Status of certain items:  if the items are Published; if there is a Due Date, if there are Points, and, if there is a Requirement, what the requirement is (View, Submitted, Score at Least).  See the image below:


Canvas Module showing item icons and item status


  • You also can add items to your Module and leave them Unpublished either because 1) you’re still working on it and will Publish it when it’s ready; or 2) you want it there “for your eyes only” -- such as hidden notes for a TA or substitute, or notes for yourself on how to improve a lesson or activity for the next time.


Reminders / Tips:

  • Modules are used to organize and present content in an orderly way -- all the items you add to a Module actually live in their respective Index pages.  So, if you remove an item from a Module, this does NOT delete it from the course.  You’ll need to go to the particular Index page to actually Delete it from the course.
  • Only by using Modules will you be able to use the power of Requirements and Prerequisites, and Mastery Paths.


In a year long course, your list of Modules can get long, and your Modules themselves can get long with several content items.  Having a Home Page with links to the Modules will help students (and you, too!) to not have to endlessly scrooooooll through that long list. A Home Page with links to the Modules, allows students to click and and go directly to the Module they need. Some teachers like to move the current Module to the top, and while it’s easy to do that, it’s an extra step, and then the Modules can get out of order (should someone actually want to scroll through the modules). 


So how does one create a Home Page with links to the Modules?  That is coming soon...   


Coming soon:

Bring Clarity to your Canvas Course:

Course Navigation + Modules + Home Page

Part 3:  Home Page

Bring Clarity to your Canvas Course
Course Navigation + Modules + Home Page

Part 1:  Course Navigation


Photo by Luis Guerrero on Unsplash

Hello, I am the Learning Management System Specialist in our K12 district and I provide support and instruction to our teachers and staff in the use of Canvas, promoting consistency, efficiency, and effectiveness.


When I offer Canvas instruction, or when I evaluate a teacher’s Canvas course, the first things I look for are:

  1. Is the Course Navigation menu reduced to the least possible number of links?
  2. Is the course content organized using Modules? and
  3. Does the course have a Home Page with links to those Modules?

 The value of taking a few moments to do this goes a VERY long way.  These features are interrelated, as are most Canvas features, making  them more powerful when used in combination.


Often teachers are pressed for time, eager to dive into developing content and assignments/quizzes; managing the Course Navigation, organizing content in Modules, and creating a Home Page can seem unimportant, but these steps help to setup the course for easier and clearer navigation and other efficiencies -- both for the teacher and the students (and anyone else needing to look at the course). 


In the #canvascasters podcast episode, Magnifying MasteryPaths w/ Van & Ryne, at 22:55, Van Bardell and Ryne Jungling talk about the importance of consistency in course design across courses and starting by cleaning up the course navigation, and organizing content with Modules.


 So let’s get started with the why and how of cleaning up the Course Navigation...


Part 1:  Course Navigation

You’ve heard the saying, “Less is more.”  When talking about design, the cleaner, neater, less busy a course menu is, the easier and quicker it is to find what you need, which translates into less frustrations and more efficiency. 


Some people may argue, “Why not give students more ways to find the content?” The answer:  because it actually creates confusion, and takes longer for students to find.  Rachael Sweeten shared her real life experience as a student in a course with too many access points, including too many course menu items: 

I was a student in a course where, at the end of week 3, over 1/3 of the class hadn't found the actual course content in Modules but they thought they had. 1/3 of the class had clicked on Assignments and Quizzes…. ...and attempted them without even knowing there was anything else to see!  …..[students felt] angry and betrayed by the experience.”


You can help students know exactly where they need to go to find all the content.  Design your course so students navigate to one place instead of five or six places. Avoid sending students to:

  • the Assignments index page to search for their Unit 1 Assignments, 
  • the Quizzes index page to find their Unit 1 tests and quizzes,
  • Discussions to find the Unit 1 Discussion, 
  • and the index pages for Pages and Files to find content and files related to Unit 1.
  • Note that there is also no easy, clear, or consistent way to organize content on some of these index pages.


To help direct students to the content and so they don’t get confused and miss important information, clean up the course navigation menu and remove the links to the index pages for Assignments, Quizzes, Discussions, Pages, and Files -- these features, which are native to Canvas, can still be used when hidden from students in the Course Navigation, and they remain visible in the menu for the instructor to continue accessing.  Add all the Unit 1 items to the Unit 1 Module, so they are all together, in context. Make sure you do not hide Modules from the menu.  Once you Publish a Module, your Modules menu link becomes active for students.


What about all the other items in the menu?  Probably most can be hidden. The list below may help you decide what to hide from your course menu:

  • Chat, Conferences, Collaborations:  These are awesome tools, but unless you are actively and intentionally using them and providing students with guidance or direction for specific tasks, I recommend disabling/hiding these to help students stay focused on the course content (and not chatting, etc).  Enable these if and when you are actively using these tools.
  • People:   I recommend hiding People, especially if you’ve created Sections for differentiation, otherwise students can see who is in the differentiated sections.   However, if you plan to have students Self Sign-up into Groups, you do need to have People active in the course menu -- otherwise they can’t access the Groups tab to then access the Self Sign-up. (Student Guide: How do I join a Group as a Student?)  If you add students to groups yourself, you can hide People, and students can access their Groups from the Global Navigation.
  • Syllabus:  Syllabus can be overwhelming since it lists in chronological order Every. Single. Assessment. (Published or Unpublished). In. The. Entire. Course.  This makes sense for Higher Ed, but maybe not so much for K12 (especially year long courses) - I suppose it depends on your class and your students.  A K12 teacher might want to include a link to their syllabus from the Home Page, or create an “About this Course” module, and add a File or a Page with their syllabus.  But yay! COMING VERY SOON - on 3/21/2020: Option to Exclude Assignments from Syllabus - which will make using Syllabus much more attractive and usable. 
  • Attendance:  Do you take attendance in another system? If so, remove Attendance from your menu.  If you give a Grade for Attendance (our district does not), then this could be helpful. You might like Attendance for other things (clubs or other extra-curricular activities, maybe?).
  • Outcomes: Unless your district has loaded Outcomes, or you are adding your own, this too can be removed.  If you are using Outcomes, it may be sufficient for students to see the Outcomes and their progress in Grades under the Learning Mastery Gradebook.
  • Hide/disable any Integrations or External Tools your district has added that you don’t use for your particular course (such as Textbooks, programs, etc).  And if you don’t know what it is, it’s likely you don’t need it for your course.


Time to clean up your course menu!

So, how do you hide/disable those items from your course menu?   Enter your Course => click on Settings => click the Navigation tab.  You’ll see a list of features/tools.  There is a top half and a bottom half.  Of the items in the top half, notice that the Top of the top half are tools native to Canvas, and the bottom of the Top half are Integrations.  Keep at the top the tools you want to be visible/enabled; drag and drop items below the line to the lower half to hide/disable. Last step: SAVE!!   Then go to Student View to see how much clearer it is for students to navigate your course!

Instructor Guide: How do I manage Course Navigation links?



Next let's look at how you can...

...Bring Clarity to your Canvas Course: Course Navigation + Modules + Home Page

Part 2:  Modules

Part 3:  Home Page

EEEK! I’m not an online teacher but I’ve been told the possibility of virtual teaching could be a reality due to the possible spreading of COVID-19.

You may be more prepared than you think you are! It’s safe to say that some of your lessons will need to be adapted for at home learning but you probably have access to tools that can help with this already! Tools to help you think through this possibility:

Learning Management System. Our school has access to Google Classroom for our lower school teachers and Canvas LMS for our upper school teachers. The ability to add content and share it with others is something that many of our teachers are doing on a regular basis anyway. The ability to have students share their learning back through various assignment options opens the door to many possibilities. For teachers of younger children, use SeeSaw Learning Journal to have students turn in work to you as a teacher- whether it be a video, a photo of something, or a worksheet that they can upload.

Google Suites for Education. Cloud-based computer application software allows for realtime collaboration without needing to physically be together. Students can open a Google Doc, Google slide, Sheet, and Email, to communicate and collaborate with you teachers and fellow students in synchronous and asynchronous options.

Video Uploads to Share Learning. Have students record their learning and upload it to you in video format (or try something like Flipgrid). For instance, a math teacher can assign a Khan Academy video to their students to watch to learn a new concept and then have them do a problem that shows they understand what they learned! Options like Screencastify, Quicktime, or just using the camera option on a device allows students to video learning and share it with the teacher.

Video Conferencing. Teachers can lead courses via options like Google Hangouts, Zoom, or FaceTime. These videos can also be synchronous or asynchronous in nature. Have students log in during 3rd block and teach as you normally would or ramp up the possibilities by having students video conference with subject matter experts, authors, or teachers from around the world for a day of learning outside the box.

Digital Discussion Boards. Discussion boards can happen inside your LMS- both Canvas and Google Classroom have options to keep the classroom discussions going. What a great way to talk about digital presence and expectations for appropriate use when it is happening inside a closed digital discussion board.

Consider assigning options that can’t be done easily at school! Have students cook things in the kitchen as a design thinking process. Have students interview family members for their views on a subject being studied and critically consider their view against that of their family members. Create a project based learning opportunity that students can do at home to share learning. Learning can happen anywhere, not just in the classroom. Send students to and have them learn how to code- attach it to the learning in your classroom. Work with the teachers in other departments and create a learning activity that you both can add feedback on. Send students to Brainpop, have them practice math facts with their home Alexa device, or visit an art museum around the world virtually. What are the websites or apps that you have students visit? Give them more opportunities to work with those.

Will the learning look like it does normally? No. You will have to push outside your bubble of comfortability to come up with ideas to turn your class into an online option but with a bit of creativity and planning it can happen!

Here are some other posts I’ve made in the past that might aid teachers in thinking about digitizing their courses:

Differentiating in Canvas:

Discussion boards:

Benefits of Digital Testing:

Free Apps that Integrate with Canvas:

Rethinking Teaching with Available Canvas Tools:

The Value of Relevant Teaching:

Teacher Tips for Canvas:

Digital Testing Safeguards:

Digital Course Design in a Nutshell:

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