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Learner II

Assignments vs Pages for Pre-Class Reading


Our school is in the process of migrating from Sakai to Canvas. I am helping design standards and practices that will be used for all our programs. We use Modules as the main organizational tool for the course content. It occurred to us that Assignments could be used to store reading homework. The main benefit is that time sensitive readings will show up in the Syllabus, Calendar, and To-do List. The main drawback is that it is overly prescriptive and affect students' sense of ownership of their own learning process.

Has anyone had experience playing with Assignments in this way? I am curious how it went.

Upcoming webinar on leveraging modules (5/19, 1:30-2:30)

JIVE Agenda: Leveraging Modules - Google Drawings 

Interesting blog post related to this topic:

Share UDL Course Design Tips, Tricks, and Techniques 

UPDATE: Thanks for your thoughtful responses. I think this design idea points to a needed feature in Canvas. What's missing is a way to tag modules and module items with dates. Students could see their readings in "Coming Up" instead of cluttering up their Assignment lists.

My current thinking on the topic has shifted, thanks in part to your responses.

  • Learning is highly individual. Forcing students to adapt to a single approach may interrupt their learning process. Instead, we should be equipping students with the skills necessary to take command of their own learning.
  • Syllabus, Assignments, Calendar, To-do, Coming Up would become overwrought with content. This could potentially create a lot of white noise across the course and courses.
14 Replies

As I am looking into classes from the Student View I can clearly see how people are missing vital information.

Maybe we can share ideas at Hack Night


Tammy, we do the same thing. We only recommend the Syllabus tool for courses that use Canvas in the f2f environment and route everything through modules, disabling Assignments and Discussions.


We have had some professors do the opposite and utilize the Modules and disable assignments.  This way students go through the Module process.  This works great with the integration of textbook assignments.  Some put their Syllabus on a page and disable the Syllabus in navigation or link  the Syllabus to a button on the home page.  Students then do not have access to the Syllabus page with the list of assignments.  They are still in their To Do list and get check off in the Module system as they progress through.

I look forward to talking more with others about course navigation @InstructureCon 2017.


That is a great suggestion,‌! I think it always helps to make readings into something MORE than just reading-to-read. In my classes, students are using the reading each week as raw materials for a writing assignment they will be doing, so for each reading, I ask them to post notes in their blog. It can be something super-short, but just some kind of action that they take on their part, in addition to eyes on the page as they read. Annotation is even better because it is social (I don't do annotation in my classes because the students are all choosing different things to read).

Learner II‌, I would like to offer you a third option by way of external tools. Consider turning the readings into social annotation assignments with‌ or (my favorite)‌. I hope that helps give you some new and exciting options for helping students read and tracking their engagement with the reading. 


Great point, Brian! I wonder, though, if it wouldn't be a bit confusing for students to see it as a TO DO item, but with no way to submit?


I just confirmed. Thanks so much for pointing this out!



Perhaps I am misunderstanding, but I expect the "Assignment bloat" in the gradebook can be resolved by setting the assignment as "Not Graded". That way the assignment functions like a Calendar Event, and is not added to the gradebook. It will still show up on the "To Do List" (If there's a due date), the Syllabus, and the Assignments list, but not the gradebook.


Hi David,

Some of our faculty create an event for each class meeting and list the relevant reading assignments there. This has the advantage of giving the readings due dates and having them appear in the Course Summary section on the Syllabus page, and various calendars and reminders. Our students seems to like it too.

All best,



I have some faculty who love to add readings as assignments for the sole reason that, as mentioned previously, students often go straight to the syllabus and access assignments there rather than going to modules. As the instructional designer for the school, I try to discourage that for a couple of reasons. I believe that assignments should be, for the most part, for those things the student needs to submit to the instructor. Adding them as assignments also leads, as mentioned, to gradebook bloat -- and ours are lengthy enough as is without adding all the readings (which at a college-level are quite extensive). And, finally, as a personal soapbox item, I believe that students can and should learn to use the tools that are available in the course correctly and see no harm in them learning that readings are located in modules or on pages or whatever -- of course a lot of this would depend on whether you're teaching grade schoolers or college students, I suppose.