Yesterday we looked at Canvas: Getting Started to help new staff members with Canvas and their first steps with getting familiar with the Canvas environment.

Our topic today is creating a canvas module with simple navigation and content is linear. Let’s get started.


When it comes to creating any course (online or face to face), it’s important to map out and sequence the course in terms of teaching content, activities and assessment. As Module Co-ordinator, you will need to map out the sequence of what is going to be taught, student activities around this and set formative and summative assessments.

If your module runs from week 1 to 15 and the teaching from each week provides a foundation for following weeks, this is considered a simple course setup regards navigation. In Canvas, the content can be sequenced in a linear fashion.

The Canvas terminology is unfortunate. The word ‘module’ would normally mean a whole course of study. However, in Canvas, it’s a building block. A Canvas ‘module’ can be a section of teaching, i.e., week 1.

Simple Navigation

There are many courses of study across the university and some modules within the larger programmes may be simple and linear in delivery, whilst others are very complex. Today, we will look at the simple delivery (building upon knowledge) and how this could be set up within your Canvas module.

To create the ‘module’ building blocks within your Canvas module, go to Modules and click +module. It’s OK to have a number of these which are informational or pre-teaching content. For example, it’s good to have information on the programme of study, reading and more, i.e., student resources, QUB policies, social, etc. (as seen below).

Canvas – informational ‘module’ blocks

These ‘modules’ are blocks and the information is contained within these. Consider them as chapters within a book where all the relevant information is in that container. New ‘modules’ you create will appear at the bottom of the module list but can be lifted and shifted (moved) into place. Just grab the eight dots on the left hand side of the ‘module’ and move it where you intend it to be.

Then simply create a number of modules for the number of weeks long your course is. They can simply be labelled ‘week 1’, ‘week 2’, etc., or you can elaborate on the title. For example, ‘week 1: introduction to DNA sequencing’. Be descriptive. To edit ‘module’ titles, click the three dots on the right hand side of the title bar and click Edit.

Within each weeks ‘module’, you may have a number of pages for Learning Outcomes, Teaching Resources / Activities, weekly reading, quizzes and other student interactivity. Do consider using the same layout per week for consistency. Also consider page templates for consistency.

Canvas - simple linear navigation (week 1 to 15)
Canvas – simple linear navigation (week 1 to 15)

To add pages to a weekly ‘module’, click the + at the top right of the module and choose Page from the dropdown menu. Give your page a title, i.e., Learning Outcomes, etc., and click Add Item.

Canvas - adding a page
Canvas – adding a page

The page can then be edited to hold content. Content can be text, images and other multimedia. Just remember to save the edits.

It’s all fair and well setting up modules and content. However, remember to publish!


There are a number of levels of publishing within Canvas. Looking at pages (within ‘modules’), please note the green circle with the white tick on the right hand side (as seen below). These page / activity items are published. To publish, just click whichever icon is on the right hand side and publish/unpublish as required.

However, in order for students to have access to content, please ensure the ‘module’ container (i.e., week 1 / week 2) is also published, again the green circle with white tick (as seen below on Week 1). We have noted simple errors where content is published but the container holding the content hasn’t been published and therefore students can’t access it.

The whole of the course can be set up and content published in a just in time basis. It’s OK to publish the ‘module’ containers (i.e., week 1 / week 2) weekly before students need the content. Do publish content consistently, i.e., the same day every week.

Note: Publishing a ‘module’ (i.e., Week 2) will automatically publish it’s content as well.

Canvas - publishing 'modules' and module content (pages / activities)
Canvas – publishing ‘modules’ and module content (pages / activities)
When should content be released?

Teaching occurs Monday – Friday. Across the university, it is good practice to provide students with PDF copies of teaching materials 48 hours before the live-teaching session. Students do like PDFs and some also want copies of the PowerPoint. It’s up to you as the academic whether you share the PowerPoint file. That said, if you are teaching on Monday, that weeks’ content needs published the previous Friday to adhere to the 48hour rule.

We will have a post dedicated to how to upload and how to arrange file structures, etc., but needless to say there is only a certain amount of file storage available per Canvas module for the academic year. There is no guarantee this space can be increased. Do be considerate.

What can I upload to my Canvas Files?

PDFs are typically small in file size, very shareable, accessible and easy to download. PDFs can be annotated by students as well. To ensure PDFs of your PowerPoints are accessible, run your slides through an PowerPoint Accessibility Checker (resources one, two and three) and address the issues the checker highlights.

Word documents need to have structured text to become ‘tagged’ PDFs. Tagged PDFs are more accessible to users of screen readers. Again, run all Word documents through the Word Accessibility Checker.

Once the accessibility has been addressed in PowerPoint or Word, content can then be saved as a PDF and uploaded to Canvas and linked into the teaching materials for students.

Images can be uploaded to Canvas. Remember to fill in the ALT text descriptions.

What should I not upload to my Canvas Files?

Narrated PowerPoints, videos and any other big file-sized items.

Narrated PowerPoints can be rendered to MP4 and become video formats. Videos can be hosted on MS Stream or Mediasite within Queen’s and embedded / linked in to Canvas. Another advantage of using MS Stream or Mediasite, both platforms automatically generate subtitles/captions. This is an accessibility requirement by legislation.

It is YOUR responsibility to ensure subtitles/captions are correct and that video transcripts are available for students. The transcripts also make great learning materials as students can use them to make notes and for revision purposes.

There will be a more dedicate blog post about this later in our blog-a-thon. Watch out for it.


Today, we looked at how to set up a Canvas module with a simple and linear teaching delivery. This allows Canvas users to create weekly blocks and pages of content underneath.

These blocks can be published weekly to give students access to the materials, activities, recordings, assessment, etc.

Should you run into difficulties and require assistance, please contact the E-learning person in your School / Department.

Next time

As part of this blog-a-thon, tomorrow we will be looking at setting up a module that uses more complex navigation, i.e., where the content has teaching themes that are non-linear in delivery.

Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


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