Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Teaching, Learning, and the Flow of Content

Image of Canvas LMP
Image Source: Artwork by Author using Commons Content

A roadmap for student success, Canvas is one of the most popular learning management systems (LMS) used in academia today. Canvas is used just as easily for blended or online courses as it is for in-person courses.

This post is not a training workshop on Canvas. Your best resource in this regard is the Instructure website or your institution’s instructional resource center. This post summarizes how I use Canvas, specifically modules, to effect the best possible outcome for my students.

With the pandemic-induced change in class modality, I decided to invest some time into designing and setting up modules for all of my Canvas courses.

Great idea, right? Wrong!

I had prior experience using the LMS but had never attempted to use its module framework. Needless to say, the process was extremely overwhelming.

Tip #1: In setting up the modules and tailoring the course shell to accurately reflect the course learning outcomes, start small and then scale to fit your needs.

A module is designed to house course reading/video material, pre-requisite tasks, discussions, assignments, quizzes, and other learning material.

On a high level, modules allow for the chunking of course content into individual, trackable folders. On a more granular level, modules allow instructors to set the access conditions for progressing from one module to the next.

Modules give students an outline of how to advance through the course, and facilitate the tracking of progress through the modules.

The organizational framework for modules can be sequential, i.e., consisting of weeks, chapters, curriculum units, etc. It can also be thematic, e.g., learning outcome.

Canvas module image organized by chapter
Image Source: Author

For lecture courses, because they are content-driven, I organize by chapters, as shown in the image above. For laboratory courses, because they are process-driven, I organize by lab tests, as shown in the image below.

Canvas module image organized by lab tests
Image Source: Author

The modules for a graduate class that I taught recently were organized by course assignments. This course has a weekly theme. Ergo, a weekly module arrangement would also work for this course.

Canvas module image organized by assignments
Image Source: Author

Modules can be created from scratch within a course shell or imported from an existing template.

Tip #2: Beg, borrow, or steal — if you have to — a module template from a colleague to get started. Your sanity will thank you.

New modules can be added to a course even after it is published. Module items can be added, deleted, or reorganized at any time.

Regardless of lab or lecture, for each course, a “Course Introduction” module is a must-have, especially in a non-face-to-face course format. I use the Intro module to walk students through the course syllabus on the first day of instruction.

Typical contents of an Intro module, as shown below, include Canvas navigation, technology resources, accommodation resources, class organization, coursework expectations, attendance protocol, institutional policies, grading policy, exam policy, schedule, etc.

Canvas Introduction module image content
Image Source: Author

I introduce myself to my students by recording and posting the video on the course home page and/or writing an introduction message in an Announcement. I also set up a for-credit Introduction Discussion for students to introduce themselves.

As listed above, it’s important to include two separate pages that detail campus technology resources and campus accommodation resources in this module. This is especially necessary for an online course, to facilitate the borrowing of computers and other technology tools and to direct students to appropriate campus resources for any accommodation needs.

The exam policy is a critical piece of an online course. Clearly defining the exam environment and technology expectations in advance is key to alleviating student anxiety. In addition, I provide ground rules for each exam to enforce clarity and consistency.

As a general rule, I publish my Canvas courses at least a week before the start of the semester. That, in combination with the Intro module, provides an opportunity to reach out to the student body in advance, setting the tone for the semester.

Tip #3: It’s important to remember that Canvas could be new to incoming students. Allowing the extra time initially helps them adapt, reducing their anxiety.

In designing a content page and laying out the text, be generous with the use of headings, sub-headings, and white space, as shown below. All types of links can be included on a page: course links and external links. Links can be URLs, pdf files, or an area within Canvas, e.g., a module.

Tip #4: To increase a module’s visual appeal, try including an image or a video. You can also break up large paragraphs by cleverly inlaying a bulleted or numbered list, or a table.

Canvas module image Home Page detail
Image Source: Author

A note on equity and inclusion:

I always use the institution’s accessible online syllabus template to ensure coverage of these issues from a course administration perspective. Within the Canvas course shell, I make it a point to check all uploaded images, photos, videos, and external article links for equity and inclusion. For example, ensuring tone-specific and appropriate language; including material written/created by a diverse community of professionals; ensuring that examples incorporate a variety of worldviews; etc.

Tip #5: Test all course links, internal and external, for accessibility. This is an often-overlooked step, resulting in broken or erroneous links that are stressful to both students and instructors.

Have fun using Canvas modules!

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Raji Lukkoor

Raji Lukkoor

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Educator, author, engineer, trying to live her best life!