The resources on this page cover the topics included in the “Design Your Site for Student Success” workshop. They are intended to help you learn:

  • Our course site design philosophy and suggested best practices,
  • How to create a course homepage, 
  • How to create an organizing structure for your course using the ‘Modules’ tool,
  • Pros and cons of using or making visible to students the Syllabus and Files tools. 

Our philosophy regarding site design in Canvas

There are many ways to organize Canvas sites, but our recommendation is: 

  • provide a clearly organized homepage with key information, 
  • reduce the number of tools visible to students in the course menu to the fewest possible (our template has the minimum: Home, Announcements, Modules, and Grades),
  • use the Modules tool to present information and links to all needed content and tools.

There are two important benefits to this streamlined approach:

  • provides the most support for student learning and creates a more inclusive learning environment for students,
  • reduces the effort it takes to understand your course site, so students can focus on learning course content. 

Create a Homepage

Unlike Sakai, there is no automatic homepage or Overview page. The default homepage is the Modules tool, but we suggest using a Page as your homepage. Here is an example homepage in the ‘Growing with Canvas’ training site, to which Duke instructors have access.

VIDEO: Customize your Course Homepage (3:24 min)

  • First, create a page which will become your homepage
  • To this page, add content you want on your homepage using the Rich Content Editor (RCE) to style and format the content, add links, etc.
    • Note the Accessibility Checker in the RCE, and fix any errors this identifies.
    • Possible content to include on your course homepage:
      • Attractive banner image, name of course, meeting times/location,
      • Name of instructor(s), contact info, office hours times/location/format,
      • TA names, contact, office hours, if applicable,
      • Brief course description,
      • Links to important course materials (syllabus, schedule, files, modules).
  • Set this page as your Front Page
  • Set the Front Page as your course homepage

Create an organized course structure using Modules

Detailed information about Modules: Canvas Instructor Guide: Modules

Modules are used like Sakai Lessons, to create an organized outline of your course. Modules can be organized by week, unit, topic or whatever makes sense for your course. The key is that any tool or piece of content in Canvas can be linked in a Module, to guide students to the materials and activities they should do in a given week - you do not need to (and we recommend that you do not) have tools visible in the course navigation for students to access them, as long as there is a relevant link in a Module. 

VIDEO: Modules Overview (4:10 min) or 

How do I add a Module? And Module Index Page and Settings

Examples of Modules in the ‘Growing with Canvas’ training site. 

  • We recommend deciding on a Module structure that will work for your course before beginning to add Modules to your site.
  • Then, add Modules and add items to Modules (see this list of instructional documentation, depending on what type of item you wish to add)
  • Create your Modules as an outline of your course, with links to readings, videos, class notes, assignments or homework, tests or quizzes, etc. in the relevant location in the Module, corresponding to the activities and content in your course.
    • Note that if you create new items while setting up your Module (for example a new Page or Assignment), those items are just empty shells to start with. Don’t forget to go to those items and set them up!
  • Students can only see published Modules, so don’t forget to publish your Modules.
  • Use Student View to see how your Modules look to your students. 

Notes about other tools

Syllabus Tool

In the Syllabus tool, you can add text regarding your course, and you can check the ‘Show Course Summary’ box to create a table of all the graded content and calendar events in your course with due dates. However, it’s time consuming to get this table to show anything other than graded items, because each ungraded item such as assigned reading would need to be added as a calendar event to get it to show up on the Summary. This makes the Syllabus tool difficult to use as a course schedule as you might have in your regular syllabus document. Because of this, the Syllabus tool is hidden by default. Our suggestion for the most helpful approach for students is to embed your syllabus document into a page or upload as a file, and link that page or file on your homepage or in modules. If you choose to use the Syllabus tool, see this Instructor Guide or VIDEO: Syllabus Tool Introduction (2:01 min).

Files Tool

The Files tool houses any file you upload to your course site, and (in a migrated Canvas site) any files that were in Sakai ‘Resources.’ However, visually it is not very user-friendly, and it’s not possible to provide context or explanation about the files there. For this reason, Files is hidden by default. We recommend that you build links to the necessary files in Modules or Pages instead. If you choose to use Files, this Instructor Guide may help.