Organizing Content in Canvas

Canvas has several tools for adding content to your course:

Here’s how to organize that content in ways students will find consistent and predictable.

Introducing Modules

Modules can organize course content by weeks, topics, or other parameters. They create a one-directional, linear flow of what students should do in a course.

Each module can contain files, discussions, assignments, quizzes, and other learning materials such as Pages. You create content using those Canvas tools, then organize it in modules.

OAI recommends using modules to develop course organization and simplify navigation. They can reduce the need to tell students to “go there and do this” and then “go somewhere else and do that.” This can be frustrating — as you may have experienced yourself in poorly designed online training.

A specific benefit of using modules: You can hide the Assignments, Quizzes, Discussions, Pages, and Files links from the Course Navigation menu in the student view. This gives students one central location to find everything. That means fewer “where is” questions for you and less frustration for your students.

Structuring a Module

Once you have all your content in a module, you can order items to help students move through it in a logical way. You can manually drag and drop each item or use the Move To option, which is also accessible from the keyboard.

Also consider using text headers and indenting to create visible sections in your modules.

Creating a Checklist

You can make your module function as a checklist by adding requirements that help both you and your students track their progress.

Using Pages within Modules

Pages are used to present content that doesn’t exist in a separate file or other Canvas assignment. Since pages can also include links to other Canvas items, you can use them to organize content into weekly outlines. This helps you share course materials with more context and different organizational structures than are possible in modules alone.

Building Consistency

Consistency is key: Once you choose an organization strategy, the best thing you can do for students is to implement it as consistently as possible.

Example Modules

Condensed Module: Each module begins with an overview Content Page that lists books or chapters as well as links to other items for students to read, watch, and explore.

A module that begins with an Overview page, which would contain links to readings, videos, activities, and other items or resources.

Detailed Module: Each item in the module has its own link. This includes readings as well as activities and assignments.

A module in which each item or resource — including readings, videos, and activities — has its own link.

Content Samples

Use this example from the Commons to get started organizing your own modules. (For help using Commons, review Meet Canvas Commons.)

Note: Samples will import into their respective tool. If you import the Weekly Overview Page, it will show up in the “Pages” section of the selected course.

Adapted from “Using Canvas Modules” in Start Here 102: Best Practices in Online instruction, licensed CC BY 4.0 by Grace Seo, University of Missouri.

Course Management Timeline

Instructors have a lot to think about before, during, and after each term. Be sure to accomplish these essential tasks.

(at least two weeks prior)

Don’t wait until the last minute to get your course prepared for the new term. Before opening your course to students, reflect on the last time you taught. Think about ways to enhance your course for the upcoming term. This guide points to articles about new teaching strategies, as well as steps you to make sure your course is published and open to students on the first day of the term.

University Deadlines to Consider

  • Schedule of Classes available online
  • Priority Registration begins

(Check the PSU Academic Calendar for specific dates.)

Weeks 1 - 3

Early and regular communication with your students is important and this guide offers key contact points and ways to help your students get the support they need before the term even begins. If you’re new faculty, make sure to use your Gmail account at This is also where you can access the Google Suite of Education applications. If you need help preparing your course, please contact the Office of Academic Innovation as early as possible to schedule a consultation.

University Deadlines to Consider

  • Last day to drop with 100% refund
  • Last day to add with instructor approval
  • Last day to drop without a “W” withdraw on academic record

(Check the PSU Academic Calendar for specific dates.)

Weeks 4 - 8

Being present in your course is key to keeping students engaged, leading to overall student success. This guide outlines a few things you can do to stay connected to your students and help them feel like part of your learning community.

University Deadlines to Consider

  • Last day to change grading option
  • Last day to withdraw from a course

(Check the PSU Academic Calendar for specific dates.)

Weeks 9 - 12

As the term ends, here are a few things to do before you relax and celebrate your course success! This guide highlights steps to share grades with both your students and the registrar, and helps you prepare for the next time you teach the course.

University Deadlines to Consider

  • Deadline for submitting final grades
  • Official grades available online

(Check the PSU Academic Calendar for specific dates.)

Supporting Students through Difficult Conversations

The classroom can be a place to explore controversial topics including equity, identity, religious beliefs, and political views. These topics may come up as part of your curriculum, or through external factors and events. You may or may not choose to engage students in difficult conversations — but either way, it’s important to prepare.

Notice your own responses and emotions surrounding a topic and recognize that you and your students may not be able to show up as your best selves for these conversations. One approach to this might be transparency with your students, acknowledging how challenging the topic is and giving everyone space to process before moving forward with a conversation.

If you do choose to engage students, it will be important to acknowledge the range of perspectives and intense emotions that are likely present in your classroom. The following tips may be helpful for framing a conversation where students with diverse experiences and points of view can engage productively with one another.

Helpful Tips

Establish community agreements before discussing difficult topics.

Encourage your students to help create these collaboratively. They might include one or more of the following agreements:

  • Addressing ideas rather than people
  • Taking and making space to ensure everyone has a chance to speak
  • Entering the conversation with a spirit of curiosity and good will
  • Welcoming correction and reflection

Identify a clear purpose for the conversation.

Is the class interested in exploring a question, better understanding the context of a recent event, reflecting on the impact of current events, or something else? There is no right answer, but it is helpful for students to agree on a focus and purpose before diving in.

Provide space to summarize the discussion.

Provide space to summarize the discussion, receive student feedback, and allow students to reflect on their feelings and experiences. This might look like a brief exit email or poll, a word in the Zoom chat, or a Google Doc with reflection notes.

Recognize that difficult topics may impact students differently.

Your students likely experience a range of emotions when responding to difficult topics, informed by a range of factors including their lived experiences, intersecting identities, and feelings of safety in the class space. Particularly during uncertain and highly stressful circumstances, some students may be more at risk for marginalization connected to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, or region/country of origin.

  • It may help to encourage a discussion of students’ relevant experiences while being mindful to not ask students to self-disclose information they may not be ready to share.
  • Consider asking students to complete an anonymous poll about their questions or concerns (or email you privately, if an individual response is needed). Options include Google forms, discussions, and survey tools. Find out whether students feel they are making progress, if they are having difficulties with the course, and if they have specific suggestions for addressing any challenges they identify.

Acknowledge the impact on your students.

If you do not choose to address a difficult topic substantively but still want to acknowledge it, you can:
  • Begin by recognizing that different people have strong emotions from a variety of perspectives, and it may be hard to focus.
  • Give your students a chance to write for a minute or two to process their thoughts and feelings, and/or identify people they want to reach out to for the types of connections and processing that would benefit them. Then move on to your plan for the day.
  • Note the difficulty of focusing and of controlling strong emotions and let students know they can feel free to take a brief break to refocus.

If a student raises a topic when you had not planned to discuss it, classroom discussion agreements might provide guidance to have a productive and respectful conversation. If you do not feel prepared for a conversation, you can recognize that the student might want to have the conversation, but explain that you want to think further about whether and how to engage it as a class.