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Three Quick Ways to Improve Your Canvas Course Site

August 23, 2017

By April Pelt, Digital Learning Strategist

Fall 2017 is the first time that many faculty are working in Canvas, Clemson’s new learning management system. To help everyone get in the swing of things, here are three quick ways to make your Canvas courses more student friendly.

Set Your Course Home Page

In Canvas, you can choose what students see when they log in to your course. Depending on when your course was created, your homepage will be either the Course Activity Stream (a digest of recent activity) or Course Modules. To choose the best homepage for your course, think about how you’re using Canvas.

  • Course Modules is a good choice if you’re using Canvas primarily to share course materials (e.g., readings, presentations) with students.
  • Choose Syllabus if you’re only using Canvas to share the syllabus with your students.
  • If you’re only using Canvas to collect and store electronic copies of student work, then the Assignments List would be your best choice.
  • A dedicated Front Page that you design would be a good option if you’re interested in customizing the look and feel of your course. Our self-paced Visual Design in Canvas course can walk you through the process of designing and creating a user-friendly landing page.

To change your course home page, navigate to your current course home page (available by clicking Home on the course menu). Select Choose Home Page and choose the option that works best for you and your students.

If you use Announcements regularly to communicate with students, you may want to set your home page to display recent announcements.

Set Syllabus and Other Files to Automatically Preview for Students

Most instructors upload their syllabus to Canvas as a file. To make your course more student friendly, set the syllabus file to automatically generate a file preview so that students can view the files without downloading them. To do this, you’ll need to:

  1. Upload your file into Canvas’s text editor, which is available for use in Announcements, Pages, and the Syllabus
  2. Place your cursor over the file name and click on it
  3. Click the link icon in the editing tools menu
  4. Select Auto-open the inline preview for this link
  5. Click Update Link

After you save the syllabus, page, or announcement you’re working on, the file preview will automatically generate. Depending on the file size, it may take up to a minute for the preview to load the first time.

Hide Unused Items on the Course Menu

Canvas offers many features and integrations, and almost no one uses them all. To help streamline your course for students, hide the items that you’re not using so that they don’t appear on students’ course menu. To do this, you’ll need to:

  1. Click Settings (which is always the final item on your course menu)
  2. Select Navigation (the middle tab at the top of the page)
  3. Move items from the active panel (at the top) to the hidden panel (at the bottom of the page)
  4. Click Save at the bottom of the page.

You can also use this process to reorder course menu items.

Not sure what each menu item does? Here’s a quick tour:

  • Home is what users see when they log in to your course.
  • Announcements is a list of all course announcements. You can also display recent announcements on your home page.
  • Assignments is a list of all course assignments. (You will use Assignments to set up your gradebook.)
  • Discussions is a list of all the discussion threads in your course.
  • Grades gives you access to the course gradebook and gives students a list of grades that they’ve earned so far.
  • People is a list of everyone enrolled in your course. Instructors can see how long each student has spent in the course.
  • Pages is a list of all content pages you’ve created in Canvas. (If you’re using Modules to provide students access to course content, then you may want to deactivate Pages from your course menu.)
  • Files is a list of all files stored in your course. Students will not have access to unpublished files. (If you’re using Modules to provide students access to course content, then you may want to deactivate Files from your course menu.)
  • Syllabus is an area where you can add or upload your syllabus. If you’ve set up assignments in Canvas, the Syllabus section will also compile a Course Outline (a calendar with due dates) for students.
  • Outcomes is an assessment tool that not many instructors are using. You will likely want to deactivate this from your menu.
  • Quizzes is a list of quizzes and exams that will be administered in Canvas. (Don’t use this feature if you are administering quizzes on paper in class.)
  • Modules organize course content into units. They’re analogous to folders in Blackboard.
  • Conferences is Canvas’s integrated web conferencing tool. Not many instructors use this, so you will likely deactivate Conferences from your course menu.
  • Collaborations is a Google Docs integration in Canvas. It’s a great tool for setting up collaborative documents for students.
  • Attendance is an external tool that allows you to keep a record of student attendance. This tool creates an assignment called Roll Call Attendance, so if you don’t want this to factor into students’ grades, you’ll need to indicate that in the Assignments section.
  • Chat is a synchronous online chat platform. Note that the conversations that take place in Chat are public, so while it may work great for online review sessions, it’s not an appropriate platform for online office hours.
  • LockDown Browser provides a list of assignments currently set to use Respondus LockDown Browser. You do not need this item on your course menu, even if you’re using LockDown Browser for course assignments.
  • SCORM is a rarely used feature.
  • Course Evaluations links to the end-of-term evaluations. Note that the evaluation app did not change when we switched from Blackboard to Canvas.
  • Library Resources links to (you guessed it!) a list of library resources available to students.
  • Photo Class Roll is an instructor-only tool that allows you to print a class roster that features student ID pictures. There’s no need to remove this from the menu because only instructors will see this.
  • CrossList Assistant allows you to bundle multiple sections into one Canvas site. There’s no need to remove this from the menu because only instructors will see this.
  • UDOIT is an accessibility tool that allows you to see what changes are needed to make your course comply with ADA guidelines.
  • Settings is the command center of your course. It’s where you manage access, customize navigation, and import course content.

Student View 

If you’d like to see what your course looks like from a student’s perspective, click Settings, then select Student View. Student View is an excellent way to make sure that you’ve published all material you want students to have access to.

Please note that course areas that are empty or that contain unpublished content will not appear on the course menu for students.

Need Help? 

If you need help carrying out any of these steps, contact Canvas support (available 24/7) by clicking Help on the Canvas menu. You can chat with someone online or give them a call at (855) 693-0147.



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