This Teaching Tip focuses on the Canvas learning management system (LMS). For summer and fall 2021 semesters, all UAF instructors have the option to teach in Canvas (visit our About Canvas page for more information).

Left-aligned menu from within Canvas LMS, reads: Home, Modules, Announcements, Assignments, Discussions, Grades, People, Pages, Files, Syllabus, Quizzes, Google Drive, Media Gallery, My Media.

One key difference between Blackboard and Canvas that took me a while to wrap my head around was understanding where content lives.

In Blackboard, you upload a file or create a quiz in your content area of choice, such as a weekly unit folder, and that’s where it is; there’s usually nowhere else for you or your students to find it. The Modules section in Canvas is the equivalent space for content organization but not the only location available. Canvas provides multiple pathways to access the content you create, and you can choose which ones you want to make available to students.

Canvas has index pages that allow you to see and sort content items of the same type. These indexes include Assignments, Quizzes, Files, Pages and Collaborations. The indexes are the ultimate home of your content — if you remove an item from a Module, it will still be available on its index page.

The following examples illustrate how these indexes work:

  • You upload an article in the Modules area, placing it with the other activities students are doing that week. That article will now also be in the Files Index section, where it can be searched for and sorted by name, size and date uploaded.
  • You create a quiz in the Modules area. The quiz can be found in the Quizzes and Assignments Indexes as well as the Course Summary in the Syllabus area.

These index pages are useful for you as an instructor, but should students be able to see them? There are multiple perspectives on that question, and it comes down to your students and your teaching style. (Here’s a tutorial on changing the visibility and order of your menu items in Canvas.)

Some advocate for a minimal style to reduce confusion and ensure that students see content the way you intend it to be presented in the Modules area. (Like this tutorial from Northwestern University.) On the other hand, there are plenty of situations where giving students the ability to search through and sort course materials can be a good idea. For example, access to the Files Index might be helpful to students in an upper-division course where scientific articles make up the bulk of the readings.

In addition to carefully choosing what menu items are visible, you can do two more big things to improve navigation in your course.

  1. Use a Homepage

    A homepage helps orient students right from the get-go and allows you to show them where they should look for course materials. (How to set a Homepage.) The UAF Course Template comes pre-made with a homepage that links to important areas of the course. Go to (use your UA ID and password to log in), then choose “UAF Course Template” in the unpublished section. If you decide to design your own, the “Leverage the POWER of the Page” site created by eCampus is a great resource.

    UAF Course Template in Canvas

  2. Use Hyperlinks
  3. It is exceptionally easy to create links to other course pages, assignments or files within Canvas. Taking the five seconds to create a link can save you time that might otherwise be spent responding to emails from confused students. (How to link to course or group content. How to link to files.)

Clara Noomah

Clara Noomah, M.Ed, is an instructional designer who has worked in the world of education for almost 10 years. She is part of the eCampus accessibility task force.