Allow folders in Pages


The Files section of Canvas allows folders for organizing files. Pages does not. Why the awful inconsistency in the user interface? I currently have 30+ pages that I've created in - all in flat directory structure. I'd like to be able to organize them, you know, like Files and stuff I have on my computer.

Comments from Instructure

Please refer to the update from the product team here

Instructure Alumni
Instructure Alumni

Hey all, this is a great topic, and the discussion seems to be evolving from what seems like a straight-forward feature request to a reflection on what makes navigation most efficient and effective for both teachers and students.

Product isn't currently planning a major overhaul to content in general, but I dig this discussion. Here are a couple questions that aren't entirely rhetorical Smiley Happy

1. Is the major challenge, As a teacher or a designer I want to navigate my own content in Canvas more quickly and easily?

This I totally understand. For anyone making many Pages in Canvas -- and as Laura points out, using Files, too -- finding and using these resources quickly and painlessly is important.

In this case, it seems like several of the suggestions made already make a lot of sense, using best examples from elsewhere on the web: centralizing content organization for designers (rather than splitting Files and Pages), tagging of resources for filtering, within-course search, faster hyperlinking to anything.

Note that here I am not addressing a designer's desire to "organize" -- that is certainly a task designers must do, but generally only while building another end state for users.

2. Is the other major challenge, then, As a designer I want to deliver nested folders to students as an alternative navigation scheme?

If so, I think we should dig in and ask "why" as Laura suggests, and see where we end up. 

Other commenters have nailed why we might resist this on principle, having seen students struggle to find or to work through content that is bucketed, rather than designed for navigation.

Often times we have the instinct to present content to users in the way that we already understand it, not int the way that a newcomer would need to discover or learn from it. We are the domain experts, and we have often spent much of our careers organizing information and knowledge into schemata that, much like the above case, help us as experts cognitively "find" and "reuse" that information. Using information architecture as navigation is a common design mistake that is not limited to online courses; in web design, too, we teach a user-centered approach to presenting content to support our users, not ourselves. (I bet we all have been frustrated hitting websites that reflect the owner's understanding of the topic, not the end-users' needs.) Yet we still need a clear information architecture so that, as designers, we can navigate / build / understand more efficiently.

This doesn't mean there aren't creative ways of using folders and buckets to create learner navigation that is effective, but those tend to be rare, and perhaps tied to learning objectives that themselves focus on self-navigation.

As this discussion continues to shift toward focusing on the underlying challenges over the (perhaps obvious) features will certainly make things clearer and easier to consider for Product, so thanks for that!

Community Champion

Thanks for the big questions,  @jared ‌!

One very cool thing at Khaki was thinking about how global search (YES! it's coming!) can be a big boost in terms of course navigation. One of the student use cases we were thinking about was how students could use a good search term to avoid the click-click-click of getting to a document or other course resource that they access repeatedly. We also talked about the case of faculty/designers who need to able to access content. I remember participating in a redesign of the university website years ago, and we did some actual user testing to see how people were navigating the site, and the strong (STRONG) preference was to use the search box rather than to click through the menus. This was most true among students, but also among faculty, staff, and general public users that they looked at.

Just speaking for myself, I use search constantly in the wiki, blog, and GoogleDrive spaces where I do my content development, and I benefit from the Google Search options that work for my blogs and wikis where I can add site-specific search terms to the Google search. That works for public Canvas courses also; somebody (was it awilliams?) shared a great example of a faculty support site he had built in Canvas that was using a Google Search to do the site search for him that way.

In my own work with students, I was kind of flabbergasted to find out that many students don't use bookmark tools extensively. A few had never heard of bookmarking; they were instead searching for everything over and over with Google OR pasting links into a Word document (which is admittedly a creative solution to the problem). One person told the story of leaving her laptop on and running for several days with all the sources she was using in a research paper open in tabs of their own so that she wouldn't lose them. Because she had never heard of browser bookmarks. So, now I explicitly teach students about bookmarking with their browser.

My holy grail is to get them excited about using a tool like Diigo. So far, I've failed (and failed and failed again) trying to do that, but I have a new strategy for next year, which is to build some folklore-motif exploration spaces, and see if they think that is a way to get them used to the idea of navigation-as-exploration. I set up a very preliminary example just last week: Diigo Tigers (content is in GoogleDocs/Sites, but all bookmarked in Diigo for exploration... which will get much more cool when there are hundreds instead of just dozens of stories in the Diigo StoryLab). More to come on that as the summer progresses! I finally began to love Diigo once I learned how to upload thumbnails to go with the links. (Walls of links are such a turn-off... but walls of thumbnails, oooh, I like that, and my students as a general rule are very image-motivated also.)

Anyway, I am really optimistic that having the Canvas global search is going to be a HUGE boost for content-related questions and problems. Which is great! Then we can see what navigation problems are still NOT solved or at least mitigated by having global search, and tackle those directly.

In terms of the big "why" questions, I really want to design extensive quantities of content (and I mean EXTENSIVE) that can also offer lots of opportunity for curiosity-driven user exploration, rather than click-here-click-there preplanned navigation.

And why is that? Because life is more than a series of preplanned "next" pages.

So, at least for me, the advent of search is far more exciting than the advent of folders-in-pages. And insofar as there might be folders-in-pages, I see that more as a useful way to refine search (ARGH: why can't we do folder-delimited searches in Google Docs??? even the Google Mind fails us there...), in addition to whatever navigation benefits it can offer as well.

Community Novice

I'm really glad that  @jared ‌ separated out these two challenges. Challenge #1 got my up-vote. Challenge #2 seems like it could present some architectural challenges that are currently being solved by Modules. I'd assume that, if "page folders" were student-facing instructors would expect that students would not be able to view sub-pages underneath unpublished folders. Though it might not make a few instructors happy, I'd suggest it's probably also best to stick with a shallow (one level) hierarchy. Students already have a difficult time finding information due to course inconsistency, so it would be no good to add the challenge of finding information in deeply nested pages.

Community Champion

Hello  @jthoms ‌! Modules are definitely a great way to provide a roadmap for a student where the previous-next navigation is all preplanned, but for courses that are exploration based, having a fully functioning wiki (I think they used to call Pages a Wiki in Canvas?) is preferable to previous-next navigation through a series of Modules. And wikis really benefit from the ability to "collect" related pages in some browsable way. Different wikis do that in different ways; I use PBWorks wiki (as do many educators), its folder features are very well suited to student browsing, although you can only put a page in one folder.

And for that reason, I have to say kudos to Google Docs for allowing you to put a document in multiple folders, thanks to the (somewhat secret) power of Control-Z. 

Community Contributor

Here's a use case where folders within Pages would be really helpful for me:

In one of my courses (the one I teach in the summer, actually, so this is a pressing concern now), I have a couple of assignments where students crowd-source information and share it via Wiki page. The content of this online course is organized using modules, and students sign up for a topic on a page set to be editable by students and teachers. I then create linked pages for students to share the content they've created with other students. (laurakgibbs‌: you might find this interesting -- one assignment is to write bios of folklore scholars or collectors, and the other asks them to research a current or past digital folklore trend.)

I have to manually adjust the settings for each page I've created to give students editing permissions on those pages. If a Pages folder hierarchy allowed new pages created within an existing page to inherit the properties of that page, that would be a tremendous time-saver for me.

Beyond that, though, is the issue of rolling over the course in subsequent semesters. When I import content into a new Canvas site, I have to carefully select the content that gets copied and try not to copy over those pages. Or I have to selectively delete those pages in the new site. Being able to select or deselect folders of pages would save a lot of time here. I recognize the importance of this work (after all, it could potentially expose FERPA-protected information in subsequent years, as my students names are on the page), but it seems to me that Canvas could -- and should -- help to reduce this administrative burden, as these tasks can quickly become intolerable for a larger course.

My use case sits pretty firmly within the first question that  @jared ‌ identifies. As I control my students' navigation through modules and links (and hide everything I can -- files, pages, discussions, quizzes, etc.), I'm much less concerned about his second question.

Community Champion

 @lindalee  Do you have to delete the pages because they have the previous students' content on them still?

Community Contributor

 @jonesn16 ‌ -- The short answer is yes, and in some cases I may want students to be able to write about the same topic, without having the same info.

Simply deleting the content on the page wouldn't be enough (and would likely be more work), as the page history shows the page's content when it was imported from the previous course.

Community Champion

Ooooh, that sounds so cool,  @lindalee ‌! Folklore trends: yes!!!

And that inherited permissions thing is one of the many things that I like about GoogleDrive folders, which do indeed work that way. Also, I don't think there is anything in FERPA that prevents you from using shared/collaborative Google Docs for this type of assignment; if a student wants to write under a pseudonym or anonymously, it would be easy to make some anonymizing Google account available to them for that purpose  — although in my experience, students are quite excited about the possibility of sharing their work online... I always offer the pseudonym/anonymous option, but it is literally one student in a thousand who chooses that route (that's been my experience anyway; my students have been publishing their work online using various kinds of tools since back in 2002).

If you were doing something like that in public, I would definitely read it with curiosity, esp. to see what topics most get your students' attention. I learn so much from seeing what topics my students choose for their projects!

Unrelated to the question of Canvas pages and folders, but on the subject of folklore: I am creating a big new English Aesop project this summer... and already thinking of fun things my students will be able to do with this ton of Aesop stuff. 🙂

Aesop's Books: illustrated fables you can read online 

I've gotten all that done in less than week... I would despair of trying to build content like that in Canvas, that's for sure! 🙂

Community Champion

That makes a lot of sense,  @lindalee ‌. I've been thinking about it a bit, and I wonder if this could be a helpful solution while this feature is still in discussion:

-build a module of pages with the correct permissions set, and with instructions inserted where necessary

-export that module to Commons

It seems like this would minimize some of the excessive clicking and selecting you described. When its time to copy over to a new semester, you can use the "Select which content to import" option. Then you only have to uncheck one thing - the old, filled module containing your wiki. After that you can just import a clean copy of the wiki module you have in Commons.

Community Contributor

Thanks,  @jonesn16 , for your suggestions! While what you suggest won't actually work for me right now for several reasons (our institution currently isn't using Commons, for instance) and the setup of pages isn't in a self-contained module like you describe), it has given me an idea of what I can do -- including placing "clean" copies of the pages in one of my sandbox sites and copying it from there rather than from a previous course.

Community Champion

This is exactly what I was thinking while reading through this. Well put  @jonesn16 ‌!

While personally I think in some courses where I have a ton of pages that I want to use as resources that are constantly available I could see using folders for sorting pages. On the other hand, I have many other things I would like Canvas to be working on first which is why I could see voting down on this even if I might use it sometimes or it doesn't impact me if I don't want it. The mere fact that Canvas directs development time towards it does impact me. My brain is at a stalemate... luckily you have a current score over 400 so my decision doesn't have much impact anyway.

Community Champion

Ooh, ok. You got me off the fence. Thanks!

Community Novice

This is a great idea! The incorporation of page folders, in addition to file folders, will make it easier for students to find elements quickly and easily. Many times my students have had to call me over and ask me where a particular page was located in the menu because they simply did not want to read through the list. Having the pages organized in folders would lessen this issue.

Community Champion

Thanks for posting this idea. My pages are out of control. voted up up vote voting process #manage pages

Community Novice

This would be great for organization. If canvas is for organization and other tools to make it easier for students, then they should gave folders, even if they are basic.

Community Novice

I think that this will be a great tool. I believe that it will be a great way to organize the social studies material that I have. Great idea!

Community Member

Yes! Organizing by subject, grade, school or district is key to finding these files later. Although you have to be careful not to add too many layers to an already large module or discussion. You can use your module(s) to store the pages in separately although having multiple subjects within a module would require this idea. Thanks!

Community Novice

Yes, this is a great idea! At the end of the year my pages list was way to long and I would have liked to drop into quarterly folders. 

Not applicable

This would be a very helpful feature for me.

I also do not expose Pages to students; I use Modules exclusively. However, some of the pages in our modules have links to page content that is not listed in a module (because the content should be accessed as part of the page it is on, and not in isolation; or it's page 3 in a concept review/practice that we want students to start from the beginning instead of skipping to, for example, the quiz part of the review). But of course, I still need to be able to conveniently access those non-module pages in order to make changes to them as needed!

So, it would be extremely helpful for me if I had folders in the Pages space to organize this content. 

Community Explorer

While not trying to sound like a "Me too" reply I do think that even if basic tagging and folder structure was added for pages it would make them easier to manage for our faculty.  We usually encourage our faculty to lean on modules for organizing the flow of their content but manageability of it can be stretched pretty far when they have 40+ pages that they use and/or have archived via unpublishing.