2. Supporting Students

Recommendation 2.2: Organization & Navigation
Organize the course, Canvas site, and other online components so they are easy for students to navigate.

Synopsis from Self-Review

There are multiple levels at which you can conceptualize the organization of a course. Scaffolding and chunking are two instructional strategies where concepts build on one another in manageable sizes and culminate in students achieving the defined learning outcomes of the course. Almost as important as breaking information down effectively is ensuring the right information comes in a logical order. Thinking through what content should be presented first, second, third, etc. will aid students in understanding the ultimate course goals.

How to Put Into Practice

All courses greatly benefit from a clearly defined structure. In online courses, where students often face additional challenges and distractions, intentional organization is even more crucial.

Effective ways to organize a course (adapted from Design+Teach+Engage):

  • Break up long segments of content and establish a module-, unit-, or week-based framework for the various instructional topics and components. This is what’s known as “chunking.” For example, when organizing course materials, create separate content items for each discrete concept, idea, or process step; when lecturing, adopt the ’10 and 2′ rubric of presenting information for 10 minutes before asking learners to take an action for 2 minutes.  
  • Scaffold the course: have each new topic build on the one that came before it. This way, the material becomes increasingly complex and challenging as the course goes on and students build skills at each stage which they will use in the next.
  • When delivering information, incorporate repetitive elements and activities, such as discussions. For instance, pause periodically during a lecture for students to work on practice problems or reflection activities.
  • Include summary statements after each chunk of content, transition statements connecting adjacent chunks, and introductory statements for each subsequent chunk.
  • Provide a consistent and repeating structure for learning so that students know what is expected of them and where they should go to complete assigned activities. 
  • Provide a “course rhythm” chart (create an editable copy) to convey activity sequence and pacing. Explore these course rhythm templates to find one that best fits your course design.

Organizing in Canvas

As you are developing the Canvas course, drafts can remain unpublished until they are finalized. Among its most prominent features are Modules, Pages, and Files or upload content.

  • Canvas Modules allow instructors to organize content to help direct the flow of the course. Modules are used to organize course content by weeks, units, or a different logical organizational structure: What are Modules? 
  • Canvas has several ways of uploading files so that they are available to place within your course: How do I upload a file to a course? 
  • Canvas Pages explain content and expectations to your students and combine different media and links together with that text: What are Pages? 
  • Canvas provides the option to add requirements to a Module item that students need to complete to move to another section or activity, such as “Mark as Done,” which provides a green checkmark when students complete a required Page or Assignment.
  • To jumpstart your Canvas course planning, review the Canvas site templates available from L&S and from DoIT and the Division of Continuing Studies.These include additional homepage designs, module layouts, and a variety of discussion, quiz, and rubric templates. Before using these templates, check with your School/College since they may have others they recommend you use.

Additional Resources

The Blended Learning Toolkit provides a helpful explanation of how to create a thematic and sequenced course structure as well as a template of a unit-by-unit outline that you are welcome to recreate.

For online and hybrid courses, the Letters & Science Instructional Design Collaborative provides useful information for organizing materials thoughtfully in Canvas, and specific tools for planning your course. These include a course map, course rhythm, and credit hour planning worksheet.

Background Information

What is this?

Creating a structured plan for how your course will be laid out can save time and provide clarity.

Why is this important?

Course content and materials are only effective if students can follow along. Thoughtfully organizing your course in an intuitive and navigable way helps to minimize the mental energy students expend finding what they need to be successful, thereby allowing students to focus on the learning activities themselves.

Where is this?

A course map and rhythm documents are useful planning tools, even if they will not necessarily appear in the course. Within Canvas, Modules can group a given topic’s materials, activities, and assessments. A clearly defined schedule can show when and how quickly they should proceed through each module.

Success Factor 2: Supporting Students

An inclusive learning environment is established when all students are supported in adapting to the structure, schedule, expectations, and technologies used in the course. Supporting students requires thorough communication about how their course is set up, what they have to do, how the course is run administratively, and what resources and services are available to help them succeed.

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