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Community Participant

What are your top 5 design must-haves?

Hi all! I hope you don't mind me popping in, I have instructional design experience, but only briefly, at my previous job. I'm now working for a tiny liberal arts college and as I was researching the trend in instructional design I encountered an interesting article on the importance of instructional design, but also the role in such positions in widening the gap between high and lower budget and sized schools. 

My current school has no instructional guidelines at all and no one on staff to officially create them. My position is as close as we have, so I'm looking into it. I've stumbled upon two others on staff in different (non ID related) roles who have previous experience in this area, and as we're about to launch a curriculum overhaul, it seems the perfect time to pitch adding at least a baseline few elements. 

So here's my question: for a school that is likely years away from a single dedicated instructional designer (much less a full instructional design team), what are your top 5 must-haves in a course before it goes out the door? Where is the highest impact in instructional standard or design that will get us thinking about the most important things and seeing an impact sooner rather than later? 

I can't launch into a full one on one ADDIE analysis with each faculty member on every one of our nearly 300 courses, nor would I get any support from the faculty or dean in doing so, but if I can pitch a few specific, high impact practices, and ask that they be included in the redesigned courses, I think I might be able to find traction. 

What are your thoughts? To be clear, we currently have no requirements for course elements at all other than a basic template for the syllabus. Courses are not yet required to have any online presence. 

Here are some of my initial thoughts for instructional and general design, in no particular order, after a day or two of thinking casually about this:

  • Incorporate a branded (or at least on-brand-ish) home page for the new courses based on if they are core or specialization to give the new curriculum a unifying theme and connection to the new branding and initiatives
  • Prioritize at least one activity per course (could be flexible, based on course objectives) emphasizing social learning to make the most of our small size, on campus classes and close community
  • Require the basic learning modalities be present in all new courses 
  • Encourage (or require?) some competency based elements to allow for individualized learning
  • Assist building faculty in doing a backwards analysis of each new course in the early stages
  • Standardizing a few key course components to assist in ease of use, especially for later in life learners (we're a brand new Canvas school), thinking course navigation, a few set of set up options such as modules or a home page or both, etc

Basically, I just need your thoughts of things I can promote to a culture that doesn't see the importance of instructional design (and won't require a full support staff to implement) but can make small, high visibility/impact changes. 

What are your top five in a class before it goes live, if you could only have five? Assume you're starting at a baseline of word documents on a professor's PC (MAYBE dumped into the Canvas files, if we're lucky) that are often printed or emailed to the students, and in-person lectures and discussions with traditional papers and tests. 

46 Replies
Community Contributor

Thanks again,  @deonne_johnson ‌, for reviving this discussion with your much-needed checklist. I particularly like  @lturner2 ‌'s "super quick list" of sites that empower designers to embellish and improve the "connectivity" of our courses with our students. 

Community Member

I have been integrating VoiceThread with LTI (good forn verbal skills and demonstration of practical skills)

Community Contributor

I teach only in-person classes, but I learned a lot from the quality matters rubric.  I'm not an ID, but here are some of my must-haves:

1. A getting-started checklist with all the items I want them to do at the beginning of the class.  This has links to apps I think they might use, software that they can download, info about signing up for the homework program and textbook, a math quiz (used as a way to introduce quizzes to them in a low stakes manner), a google student information form that I give credit for completing, and instructions on how they can set up their notifications to receive announcements on their phones.

2. All assignments that go in the gradebook are entered in canvas.  I hardly do any online grading, but my assignments are listed in canvas with instructions for the assignment as well as due dates.   When I get questions about due dates or instructions, I can refer students to canvas.  Due dates are really easy to change in Canvas and there's even a way to change them in bulk. Adjust All Assignments on One Page

3. All major topics have resource pages.  I break up my class using textbook chapters.  In the resource page I post powerpoint presentations, any handouts or worksheets I use in class, and videos and tutorials I think might be helpful.

4. A way to organize the resource pages.  I use modules to do this, but since there's only one per chapter, I could just use another page (or the home page) to link these.  The pages navigation button takes you to the list of pages, but there isn't any real order to that so I hide it from students.  I still have my content pages in the modules, but this semester I'm also directly linking to them via the home page.  I'm hoping that more students will use these this way.

That's all.  And if you could get most of your faculty to do this much, it would be pretty miraculous.

Oh - I do post a syllabus in the syllabus area.  It's a google doc that I've embedded and I change the semester and section numbers, but little else, each term.

As a faculty member, I really appreciate all that Canvas offers, but I really like to make my courses my own.  I don't think there's a way to make faculty happy with templates unless you offer lots and lots of choices.

My two cents.  Good Luck!

Community Champion

Hi Amanda -- first -- kudos for taking on such a role without any additional support! You've already received lots of good feedback. My suggestion is consistency. Students don't want to have to relearn the "system" at the time expense of learning the new content in each course. If you decide on the sequence of tools in a navigation menubar like Canvas, how students will find materials (like I and many others recommend running all course content in Canvas through the Modules tool), standardize the look and components of the syllabus, and develop "getting started" module that contains basic knowledge resources, you've gone a long way toward a good design.

Feel free to reach out to me directly any time if you want to bounce ideas or chat (


Community Participant

We're in a similar situation -- two ID's for hundreds of courses, new to Canvas, and still working on defining priorities.  Starting from a Quality Matters rubric, I've compiled the following list of things to look for when a faculty member says "can you take a look at my course?"

•    The course includes a welcome and orientation section including descriptions and contact information of important campus services an appropriately named syllabus file.
•    The course engages students in active learning.
•    The course has listed, measurable outcomes.
•    The syllabus is aligned with assignments and instruction.  That is: the point or percentage values for assessments such as class participation or a final exam are described in the syllabus and agree with the point or percentage values shown on or implied by the Canvas assignments page.
•    The course is accessible, in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  For example, videos include captions, images include alternative text for screen readers, and documents are machine readable.

Community Participant

Hi amandabass
I know this is an older discussion, but i really liked  @hburgiel ‌ response above and it sparked my interest.
We also look at:

  • What is the course trying to deliver, prioritising our outcomes before we begin. 
  • Writing our content to deliver these outcomes, succinctly.
  • How does the course overall align to our internal company competency framework and does it help achieve this.
  • Activities and interactive touch points within the course, has to be fun and easy to use right
  • We try our best to use competency based learning but allowing for interaction with trainers throughout the lifecycle of the course, whether that be through live q & a or video recordings. 

Hope this helps, happy to discuss further (i fly solo with canvas at my institution and flew by the seat of my pants to make our courses great most of the time)

Cheers, Jacob

Community Member

Thanks for useful and practical suggestions