Michael Harris

Changes in Navigation and Content Organization Capabilities

Discussion created by Michael Harris on Feb 22, 2016
Latest reply on May 5, 2016 by Jennifer Larson

I am thinking of submitting an idea to improve flexibility in navigation and content layout. I have specific examples that could be submitted piecemeal. However, it seems to me that the collective impact of these issues is larger than the impact of any single tweak.


Anyway, since this is a hodgepodge of stuff, I thought I would get community feedback before I submit my large idea request. Here is the 'idea' I was thinking of submitting, but I would like your thoughts and feedback before submitting it:


Proposal: Improve Navigation Flexibility and Content Organizational Tools to Better convey complex course information to students.


Situation: When teaching an online course it is easy to overload the student. If you design a course that is more than "read a chapter, take a test" then navigation and content organization becomes complex. This is also an issue for face-to-face, but in online the interface has to stand alone.


I understand the argument that standardization (reduced flexibility) is good. However with the rich set of canvas tools it is really not possible to have a standard interface. What if you use course-level discussions and I use group-level discussions? You use modules and I use pages? And where do discussions sit in your course curriculum?


I have included specific change suggestions below. These could each be submitted piecemeal. The problem with that approach is that the priority on any specific change is probably low. However, I feel that collectively these changes deserve to be upvoted. In addition, I recognize that it may not be these specific changes that are needed. Rather than a referendum on specific changes this is a request for a new design language for instructional designers that allows for flexibility and supports information organization.


I also know that many partial workarounds already exist. However I believe that some of my colleagues don't have HTML super-powers -- as a result many of the workarounds are not universally accessible.


Similar existing requests:

You can search ideas on “Navigation” for many specific ideas.  This request is more directly focused on the navigation tools for the instructional designer, not on admin interface changes, and on a collective set of changes.


Problem: Need the ability to turn off the breadcrumb trail by course.

The breadcrumb trail can be misleading and a waste of space. If I hide the pages menu, then Pages>Pagename is not functional since pages is not active. If I have direct links to a page, such as the groups page, the breadcrumb is People>Groups, but I didn't come from the people page. It also takes up valuable screen real estate.


Problem: Need more control and formatting over the navigation menu.

In order to make navigation more apparent it would be great to have more formatting control. such as:

  • Blank lines between menu sections
  • Section breaks such as horizontal rules
  • Non-clickable text headers that represent categories.
  • Ability to rename existing links.

Solution: This could be enabled by the ability to design the navigation menu in a fashion similar to the pages editing tools.


Workaround: You can achieve much of this today with HTML. However, it should be easier. The HTML approach would be to hide all menu items and then put a div tag with a float:left style. Within the div it is even possible to have hidden collapsible content. In addition to requiring advanced HTML this approach requires that you duplicate the menu code separately for every page. Furthermore, the code will not display on pages such as modules or grades.


Bonus Points:

  • Ability to turn links into buttons
  • Collapsible links to support submenus. For example, a "More" link/button could hide a set of extra menus. Click on more and the options dropdown.
  • Ability to move navigation to top instead of left side


Problem: Add a Navigation menu links to specific pages/tools.

Workaround: You can use the LTI redirect tool, but this has several problems.

  1. Basic users should be able to add links without needing an LTI tool.
  2. The redirect is slow: it loads a redirect page and then the destination page.
  3. Once the page is loaded, the original menu item is not highlighted. The user has no context telling them where they clicked. Depending on the link there may be no highlighted menu item, or the wrong menu item might be highlighted.
  4. From a maintenance perspective, links are tied to a specific course. If you reuse/copy the course you need to edit all of the links.


Problem: The group menu section is a mess.

  1. Why is it part of people? This leads to overly complicated instructions: Go to the people menu, then choose the groups tab, then visit your group, then choose the discussions menu.
  2. The groups menu should be editable. If I don’t use group conferences or discussions I should be able to remove them for my course.
  3. The tool names are confusing. Is Conferences group Conferences or Course Conferences. At least use ‘Group Conferences’ so students are not confused when they see Conferences on both the main menu and the group menu.
  4. Why do students need to go to a group-set and then 'visit' a group? This seems like an extra click? If they belong to a specific group and can't see other groups then opening that group set should send them to their group.

Partial Workaround: You can add a link to a group-set on the main navigation menu using LTI re-direct. However, all of the other caveats with LTI still apply and this does not address problems with the menu that appears once you get to your group.


Problem: In the syllabus, you should be able to turn off the links to assignments/dates. My online courses are more than just assignments. I have exercises and lectures and ‘stuff’ the user needs to go through prior to each assignment/exam. Inevitably I have students tell me that they clicked on an assignment and didn’t know they had to watch/listen to the lectures before the exam.


Workaround (1): I am aware that you can enforce pre-requisites with modules, but that still leaves students confused on where to get guidance from in regard to course workflow.


Workaround (2): I create my own syllabus page. Turn off the built-in syllabus and insert a LTI redirect.


Solution: Ability to turn off assignments/date and/or ability to use either a default syllabus or a custom syllabus that starts as a blank page.


Problem: In order to organize pages, Tabs would be very helpful (similar to admin settings menu). The issue is that a full page of text can be overwhelming. Tabs separate text into bite-sized pieces.


Workaround: I use the custom div class="enhanceable_content tabs" and it works fine. However it can be overwhelming to folks who don’t know HTML.


Solution: You should be able to create each tab as its own page. Then go to a summary page and insert a tabs tool. The tabs tool would take as input a number of individual pages. The title of the pages would be the tab name.


Bonus: Organization tools could also include accordians, popup dialogues, styled tooltips, clickable buttons and button bars as content dividers and more.


Problem: Unformatted tables

Tables are very useful to organize information. However, the default is unformatted tables. If you have a lot of content it can be difficult to even see the table structure since it uses a vertical alignment of middle, no shading, and no borders. If your HTML-fu is not strong you may not be able to use tables.


Workaround: Edit HTML and add styles in every table: class= table or ic-Table or other variations.


Solution: Create default tables with a class of either ‘table’ or ‘ic-Table’.


Problem: When viewing a finished page, you see breadcrumbs plus the page name (h1 style) in large type with lots of white space.


For accessibility purposes/screen-readers this is great. However, on my first generation Surface pro, the entire top half of the screen is taken up with the breadcrumb and the page heading. Content starts at the bottom half of the screen. Since I often have my own headers or explanatory paragraphs the actionable content can be below the fold.


Solution: Either turn off the page name display (and turn off breadcrumbs as mentioned previously). Or allow it to be formatted tighter (you may still want it labelled H1 for screen readers, but allow style overrides to reduce the font size and remove the extra white space.).



Problem: Sometimes there needs to be the same information on every page. Maintenance becomes a nightmare since every page needs to be changed.


It would be great to be able to create a 'header page' and a 'footer page'. Each additional page would include two checkmarks to include the header and footer. Bonus points: let the header also point to an uploaded file that contains CSS.


As I said, I am sure there are many more changes that could be made. And the experts at instructure do a pretty good job with Canvas so I am sure that if they put their minds to this from the perspective of an instructional designer they would be able to do a better job designing these changes than I can.


Thanks for reading this over-long post.