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An alternative structure for organising Canvas

Leslie Lee, National University of Singapore.

In this post, Leslie shares with you how he organises course content in Canvas such that the platform functions more as a repository for the course materials. 

The NUS Canvas blog encourages the use of “Modules” to organize course content by week or topic (, thereby recreating the “Learning Flow” function in LumiNUS. The organization of materials across weeks/topics creates a visual learning roadmap for students, while the internal organization of contents within the Module for a given week/topic allows the instructor to specify the order in which students should access the contents.

I can see this working particularly well for courses where there are many different files that need to be downloaded for each week/topic or for instructors who use a lot of different online content for each week/topic that are meant to be browsed on Canvas, e.g. videos, online texts, online quizzes, etc. The modular design will allow the instructor to put all the different resources for each week/topic in one place, thereby providing a consistent structure for students accessing the materials.

This of course requires some effort on the part of the instructor in terms of the deliberate design of the Canvas course site, but the availability of NUS templates in the Canvas Commons takes away most of the work. The payoff will be experienced by the students, who will have all the resources for each week/topic organized neatly for them in one place, to be conveniently accessed with a click of a button.

But as an instructor who doesn’t use many different files each week, and who mainly uses materials that are not meant to be browsed online, e.g. textbook chapters, library readings, PDF handouts, I have found this modular organization to be unnecessary (for my purposes). Instead, I simply use Canvas as a repository platform where I upload the materials, and let students download what they need each week from the appropriate folders. This approach is not particularly encouraged (, so why do I still do this?

Simply put, I want students to be responsible for their learning, and this includes keeping up-to-date with the course content. This approach transfers some of the responsibility of staying organized on to the students, which is an essential skill that some of them do not seem to have fully mastered.

Crucially, however, some structure must still be provided so that the Canvas course site does not simply become a navigation-unfriendly dumpsite. In my case, this structure is provided by the syllabus, which spells out a detailed roadmap for the course and resources needed each week, coupled with organized folders that are transparently labelled. The syllabus is thus the master document to which students refer for directions on accessing the course content.

To this end, I created a simplified template with only the most commonly used functions enabled, to ensure easy navigation, while still adhering to the guiding principles to a well-designed Canvas course ( The template can be found in the Canvas Commons.

The “Syllabus” page is set as the home landing page, and suggested fields are provided for text to be entered, including one for the course schedule, where instructors can insert a detailed table specifying the topic to be covered each week, the materials that will be needed, and the tasks that students will need to complete for that week. Alternatively, the instructor could enter a simplified course schedule on the “Syllabus” page, and spell out the details within the official syllabus document (which is what I do). Either way, students will have one consistent source to refer to for directions that will help keep themselves organized and up-to-date with the course contents, which they are responsible for doing.