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Community Member

Improving Course Navigation Experience for Students

higher education #easy navigation#student learning‌ #course navigation

We're piloting Canvas currently and are somewhat disappointed by the experience of feeling lost in a course. We're looking for workarounds. The absence of breadcrumbs and being able to "bookmark" or "save" the page to return to later on are just a couple of needed features.

We're telling faculty to point students to the Modules "page" to orient themselves, to ensure links open in new windows/tabs so students don't get kicked out of the course, and to name pages and modules keeping in mind this navigation issue.

Any other workarounds you've heard of?

19 Replies
Community Member

Thank you Rachel, that was an incredible speedy and insightful response.

I too came to the absolute realization about the course navigation after a few years handling teacher/student support. It was very frustrating to hear the same issues of access and navigation again and again. 

I do refer faculty to QM Standard 8.1 Course navigation facilitates ease of use. I argue students should just simply go to Modules to access their course content, start at the top and end at the bottom. Very simple. I would love QM to add an example to their annotations to support a minimalist approach to course navigation.

You use the word "skipping" to describe a student bypassing the Modules to access assessments. I haven't tried using that word yet, and it might resonate with some. I hope you don't mind if I steal your line "Course content needs to be varied and interesting. Course navigation needs to be utterly predictable." I'm not sure if you borrowed that from somewhere but that is a good one!

Community Contributor

Please use that quote. My invented fortune cookie! Thanks. 

Community Contributor

Oh yes, Hicks law. Just re-read.  Yes, there is a tendency to think that variety and multiple routes are a bonus, but it can backfire. It takes a lot of time, decisions, and explaining  (cognitive burden) when that attention is needed for more urgent things, like the content! 

In conducting Faculty trainings and teaching students, I came to realize that boredom and overwhelm can look similar on the faces of your audience. haha

(Too many choices can backfire, and Canvas navigation is one example. My analogy is that it is like taking a toddler to a huge ice cream store. You can end up with a lot of tears and tantrums, and nobody gets any ice cream. Depending on the overwhelm potential, sometimes it is better before you even go in to say, "You can have vanilla or strawberry.")

Smiley Happy

Community Contributor

Stephen, So glad to hear you use QM.  That rubric can really focus your efforts and do away with the worst course offenses. 

I fell in love with QM because their first dozen items matched my personal support checklist that I assembled from frequently asked questions and my most common fixes offered during course support sessions. I feel like QM nailed it! So many common problems aren't a mystery anymore. The word is out. 

Faculty spend tremendous effort to be the smartest person in the room with something to offer their students. Unfortunately, learning new software (like Canvas) has a way of making people feel stupid and nobody likes that. Rushing to fix the situation sometimes leads to missing the real problem or creating elaborate new ones. 

Community Contributor

Thank you,  @a1224143 ‌

New Member

Rachel - thank you for your great advice. I've been using Canvas for about three years now, and have implemented several of these methods. However, I really like some of your ideas and am going to give some of them a try. I am also going teach a workshop on this topic in January (2020). A student mentioned to me that of all the courses she has in Canvas, my course is the easiest to navigate. That gave me the idea to share some of these ideas with my coworkers at a workshop. If you have additional information you are willing to share to help our students' experience be a more meaningful one. THANK YOU! Smiley Happy

Community Contributor

 @steeletm ‌ You'll see me repeat this in various posts and blogs:  Whatever navigation choices you make, if you are consistent your students will figure it out much more quickly and successfully. 

Your idea of sharing a successful navigation plan with fellow instructors is a good one. The learning curve for user experience is steep and the students suffer the most. (UX Design Puzzles versus Speed ) 

Teachers new to Canvas can be understandably frustrated  ("But why doesn't it work this way?") or have a natural desire to be creative, but Navigation is not the place to get creative.  Navigation needs to be utterly predictable!

Even if your course has some navigation problems or dead ends, if you are consistent, students can eventually figure it out.  In my experience, if every course is different, the institution looks unprofessional and the general attitude of student trust and optimism toward the teachers starts to erode. Teachers are distracted managing complaints, irritated by the LMS that is supposed to help. No one wants that. 

HI Ian

Apologies for not answering earlier - Rachael is correct - this is a feature of Cidilabs Design Tools. It is working really well for us.

Community Contributor

Unpack those Docs!  Best Practices for Course Design

saurilio More ideas for schools or instructors who are transitioning to Canvas. 

Start with a best practice to prevent cascading errors or maintenance burdens. 

New Member

It's cool that you design the service so that it is more convenient for students to use the service. I am sometimes surprised by services that help students with homework that have an incomprehensible design. That's why I'm used to using this professional paper writing service right away because this service at least has a clear interface.