Welcome back. It’s Wednesday and today we will look at Canvas courses where the navigation of teaching content is more complex and non-linear. How could it be arranged?

Yesterday we looked at Simple Navigation where teaching content was linear but not all courses are like this. Let’s move on.


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 but the teaching content is non-linear with several teaching slots through the week, this is considered a complex course setup regards navigation. In Canvas, you need to create a lecture list and link to each page of teaching content under separate themes.

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 theme of teaching, i.e., Anatomy / Assessment / Behavioural Sciences, etc.

Creating a lecture list

Timetables will be available. These may be organised by Curriculum Co-ordinators and can be linked in to your Canvas module. Please do consult the relevant person(s) as to where the timetable can be linked in from. This might be a SharePoint site or an Excel spreadsheet which can be updated automatically and remotely by the Curriculum Co-ordinators if details change.

From the timetable information, you should be able to create a lecture list. We used Excel. This content can be copied and pasted into Canvas to become a navigation aid to assist students finding the relevant teaching content as per the timetable.

Below, you will find an example lecture list in Excel. Simply select the text in Excel, copy this (CTRL/CMD C).

Creating a lecture list in Excel
Creating a lecture list in Excel

To paste the lecture list into Canvas, firstly set up the ‘module’ container (Teaching materials (Lecture List)) and page (Lecture List (Navigation)). Label the page: Lecture List. Click on the page title and then Edit (top right).

Canvas - Lecture list 'module' and lecture list page
Canvas – Lecture list ‘module’ and lecture list page

Place your cursor on the edit window and paste (CTRL/CMD V) the content in. This will appear to you as a table (as shown below). Remember to save your work.

Canvas - lecture list pasted in from Excel
Canvas – lecture list pasted in from Excel

Once you have the table in and saved, we need to create the ‘module’ building blocks into themes underneath.

Subject themes

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 as pages and other content. 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, i.e., if required to be in alphabetical order (this is good practice). Just grab the eight dots on the left hand side of the ‘module’ and move it where you intend it to be.

In yesterday’s post, we used Canvas ‘modules’ for weekly blocks of teaching but that won’t be appropriate if navigation is complex (as shown below):

Canvas - Simple navigation with linear content
Canvas – Simple navigation with linear content
Complex Navigation

In complex Canvas modules, the ‘modules’ will be labelled as themes (as shown below). It also helps if the themes are listed in alphabetical order. It doesn’t matter the sequence they are created in, just remember to re-order them to be A-Z.

Canvas – creating ‘module’ themes

Once the modules have been set up, you can start to create the pages under each module. This will be different from yesterdays simple navigation as those weekly blocks used several pages to separate out Learning Outcomes, Teaching content, etc.

In a complex model, each page will be all of the resources for that topic or lesson of teaching and a page template is an excellent idea! More so if multiple contributors are working on the Canvas module. This provides a level of consistency in terms of layout and materials. Students like consistency.

Let’s consider what the pages under each theme should be called by talking about naming conventions.

Page naming conventions

Looking back at the lecture list (above), the naming convention should be the Lecture number and the topic title being taught. For example:

  • Lecture 1: Intro to First Aid
  • Lecture 2: Professionalism
  • Lecture 3: GMC duties as a Doctor

Note: It is very important these page titles DO NOT CHANGE in Canvas. This is because we are going to link to those Canvas pages and if the name changes, it breaks the link.

Under the themes, teaching content will have individual lecture pages which should include:

  • Learning Outcomes
  • Teaching slides
  • Recordings of live-teaching sessions
  • Reading and additional content
  • Activities (quizzes / discussion)

Each teaching page under the modules should be a standard layout for consistency purposes across the module. There may be multiple pages under different module themes and by following a nice consistent layout, students can quickly navigate the content and roughly know what to expect.


There are a number of levels of publishing within Canvas. Ensure the ‘module’ container (i.e., Anatomy / Behavourial Sciences) are published with the green circle and white tick (as seen below on Anatomy). 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.

Just a note on publishing ‘module’ containers. When you hit publish, all the content held underneath automatically publishes too. You’ll need to publish the container and unpublish the individual items until they’re needed. This will be determined by the actual timetable. Remember PDFs of teaching content should be available to students 48 hours before teaching.

This will involve a level of co-ordination and manual publishing to ensure:

  1. The lecture list is linked to the relevant themes lecture page and,
  2. The actual lecture page is published for students to access content.

Below, you can see the Anatomy ‘module’ is published and only Lectures 12 and 13 are published underneath. Lecture 28 and 32 may not have come around yet.

Canvas publishing of 'module' container and pages
Canvas publishing of ‘module’ container and pages

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 and content weekly before students need the content. Do publish content consistently, i.e., the same day every week.

How do I link the page to the lecture list?

Go back to the Canvas page with the Lecture List and click edit.

Highlight the title of the lecture. Click on the link icon in the Canvas editor and ask for Course Links. .

Canvas page being edited
Canvas page being edited

Navigate the Course links until you find the Lecture number and title, click on this. You’ve added this Canvas page link to the text on the lecture list.

Canvas - linking in Canvas pages
Canvas – linking in Canvas pages

Save your work.

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 dedicated 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 more complex and non-linear teaching delivery. This allows students to navigate via a lecture list to access teaching content.

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 how to roll over content from this years module to next years module.

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


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