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Template or Not to Template

Community Advocate
Community Advocate
2 3 556

In the beginning of becoming a Canvas Admin, I was very adamant about not forcing templates on my teachers.  I firmly believed that having teachers use templates in their courses would take away from the creativity and the individualism that comes from designing their courses.  What better sense of pride could you have than knowing what you have created is being used in your course and just like creating the decorations in your classroom to showcase who you are as a teacher, the same can be seen in your Canvas course design.

I spent the first year of being a Canvas admin showing teachers how to create pages, assignments, quizzes, and modules.  Teachers would always ask questions like, "What is the best way to lay out the course?" or "What should I put as the homepage for my students?",   "Is there any way that I could see someone else's course layout?"  I tried to explain to them that creating a Canvas course should mimic your classroom and how you have your classroom procedures/daily agenda laid out.  For many of the teachers this was not the answer they wanted.  I could see the frustration in their faces and hear it in their voices.  I could tell they wanted more information and help in designing their courses, but I still didn't want to make a template page for them.

THEN COVID-19 hit in the spring of 2020.......

The further we went into the spring and summer of 2020 the more I realized my teachers could use the help creating their courses.  We were just finishing our first year of Canvas adoption and I saw more and more teachers needing help getting started.  Not all teachers felt comfortable creating the layout for their course.  The teachers are great at planning their lessons and teaching in person but organizing that same content into a virtual classroom was where they were running into questions and needed the help.

Now during the summer of 2020, I started meeting with teachers from our high school to design a template for the high school staff.  We came up with a simplified homepage, that had links to a calendar and then each day on the calendar was linked to a content page. (See below)

Template course.PNG       Calendar Page.PNG

At the beginning of the school year, I was a still a little hesitant with giving the teachers a template course, and was questioning how it would be received by teachers that have already spent hours designing/organizing their course for their students.  I was very pleasantly pleased when I spoke to teachers  in late summer helping them importing the content into their course and linking the information.  The teachers always said they had worked hard on their course but if it was in the best interest of the students they would follow the template, and the more they used it the more they liked it.   Once they learned that after importing the template course into their course it was just a matter of linking the content they had already created to the calendar pages,  I could see they could not focus so much on the layout of their course but rather on the content and how to engage their students.

I also found when meeting with new teachers at the beginning of the school year, especially those hired a few days before school started, were very relieved to see a template for them to start the school year.  I could tell in their expressions that have a starting point meant they did not have to learn everything about Canvas all at once (It can be a little intimidating if you are using it for the first time).  We also found that it not only helped the new teachers, but it also made the counselors job easier when helping parents navigate courses because the counselor knew that in every course the information the parents/students need would be in the same place no matter the course.

Some asked, why not just use the calendar that is already in Canvas?  We found that the assignments and other items with a due date would only show those items on their due date, but the teachers wanted to also show the items on the day they were assigned.  So the teachers found using the Canvas calendar to have the students show their due dates, but then also check the daily calendar to show the daily agenda along with links to everything they needed for the day.  

Since the Canvas calendar also shows when a student has submitted the assignment by crossing it out, it was a great place for the teachers to send them to when they asked if they had turned something in.

So I again go back to the question Template or Not to Template?  That is the question.  For me and my district we went the way of a template.

Community Team
Community Team

Before I came to work for Instructure about eight years ago, I worked in the community and technical college for a number of years where I helped many instructors and program administrators make decisions about course and program design.  However, when reading your post the experience that jumped to the front of my mind was my experience as a student in an online masters program.  I currently take one course per term, working towards another degree.  I have taken many online courses in the past, some better than others.  Where I am studying currently at Southern New Hampshire University they use a consistent program and course design across all courses and degree programs.  The course banners are different but I know what to expect every term and can concentrate on the materials and the interactions with fellow students and my professor.  Personally I love knowing what to expect and not having to guess each term about what someone was thinking when they designed the course.  Although we haven't spoken about it I would imagine this is true for my classmates and probably professors as well.

Community Advocate
Community Advocate

I still have a few teachers that are reluctant when asked to move to the template but when they find out how easy it is to use and the time is saves them, they really start to see the benefits.

Community Participant

I created a template for my teachers. The homepage and modules are set up in a similar way but the teacher still have freedom and creativity when it comes to adding images to the homepage and with their assignments. The reason we use a course template is that it makes course navigation easier for the students and when things are consistent across the school it creates a sense of community and unity. If every teacher did something different it would be confusing for the students. We have a lot of teachers who have kids at other schools and since everyone is using Canvas this year they have said that they now understand why I make them use the template. It's all about doing what is best for the students.