Following on from Friday’s Blackboard Ally post, today we look at File Structure within the Canvas’s File storage area. Some of this will relate to simple and complex structures for simple/complex content navigation. We think it’s fair to say if you have a simple module, the Files area might also be simple but consideration for file naming conventions is always advised.

If course navigation is complex, the folder structure will involve additional sub-folders. Both folders and file names will need consideration regards naming conventions.

Why create structure?

Imagine having a book with no table of contents or index available to detail the chapters or particular topics of interest. Also imagine it didn’t have page numbers. How would you find anything? If it was a slim book, one might chance exploring everything in a linear fashion to find what they’re looking for. However, what they seek might not be in the book or even relevant.

This becomes more problematic as the book gets bigger. There’s more content to search through. Searching more content requires more time and still no guarantee the content is there and/or of relevance or interest.

Now imagine the book has page numbers and a table of contents which details all chapters. You can view the ‘menu’ and skip to the section you want to read. This saves time, effort and extraneous reading. It also let’s you decide if the content is relevant and worth reading.

Thinking of the no-structure example, it makes searching for content more difficult. It makes sense to apply structure to your folder area (the metaphorical book). Don’t just put all the files for teaching, assessment, activities, practicals, feedback, etc., in the same folder. Create folders specifically for Assessment, Teaching/Lectures, etc.

In simple modules, one Lecture folder might suffice for all teaching files. In more complex modules, the Lecture folder might have sub-folders for each theme or topic taught, i.e., Biology, Anatomy, Behavioural science, etc. Why? To quickly navigate and find the right folder to upload teaching content to and then to find the right file(s) to link onto Canvas pages.

Let’s have a chat about naming conventions.

Naming conventions (simple navigation)

Needless to say, as an academic, you know your subject inside-out. Naming the teaching content by topic might make sense. If you teach on a module part-time or collaborate with many facilitators, how you name your file and where you store it becomes more important. Especially if it’s not you organising the Canvas module content.

This is were we link back to the Simple Navigation and Complex Navigation posts. Naming conventions for simple navigation may have ‘WK01’ in your teaching content titles. Doing this will arrange the teaching files from WK01 to WK15. It makes a particular item easier to find within a folder, especially if you know the week it relates to.

If you don’t know which week it relates to, simply having ‘WK’ as a prefix on the file name groups all teaching material together. This still makes it easier searching for files within the folder.

Rolling content over to next year (simple navigation)

When the content rolls over to a new academic year, some weekly content may move around to marry up with the new timetable. However, in Canvas filenames can be renamed quickly and easily AND it updates the link to the Canvas page the file is linked to. If teaching content in week 13 moves to week 12, those pages under the week 13 Canvas module need moved to week 12. It’s just a matter of lifting and shifting content for the new running order.

Naming conventions (complex navigation)

With complex navigation, you could name your files as per the lecture list number and teaching topic. For example, Lecture 11 Management of Anaemia on the lecture list would be the filename ‘Lecture 11 Management of Anaemia’. Not only would there be a page for Lecture 11 Management of Anaemia under the relevant module topic (i.e., Pathology), the actual file named ‘Lecture 11 Management of Anaemia’ would sit in a sub-folder in the Files area. The sub-folder would be labelled ‘Pathology’ too.

The example below shows content within a sub-folder using the Lecture Number and topic as a naming convention.

Canvas - Files and Folder names (complex module)
Canvas – Files and Folder names (complex module)

The example above is very complex. The module involved three areas of teaching throughout the year, thus there’s the module number and abbreviated three letter prefix in addition to the lecture number and teaching topic. In some instances, some modules/sub-folders may have content relating to all the overarching areas of teaching and it made sense to include the abbreviated three letter prefix. The module code was for the students benefit when they download files. This allows students to identify which teaching content relates to which module they are enrolled in.

The file structure in a complex course should mirror the module topics within Canvas. For example, if there are modules for Anatomy, Biochemistry, Clinical Skills; there should be sub-folders for these in the Files area as well. This makes it easier to find and link files to Canvas pages.

Students should be advised to set up their file spaces per module and/or theme, then download content into the relevant folder/sub-folder. This will help students navigate the content when it comes to revision. And if students are studying on a number of modules, it keeps each modules content together.

Rolling content over to next year (complex navigation)

When content rolls over to the next academic year, timetables may well change. The Lecture 11 Management of Anaemia file will still be in the Pathology sub-folder. However, the lecture number could change as it could be earlier or later in the timetable.

This means the page title under the Pathology module will need amended to reflect timetable changes in the new academic year. AND the Canvas page will need re-linked on the Lecture List as well. Why? Because when page titles change in Canvas, links break. Renaming filenames in Canvas is more forgiving. Renaming pages, breaks links. Be aware.

Page content may also need re-ordered under each module topic as a result of timetable changes. The page content will still be relevant with it’s previous information (with exception to the recordings of live-teaching for the previous module, these need removed (GDPR)). The new page title will determine where it needs to sit in Canvas with the slightly different running order.

Limiting file access

Did you know anything uploaded to the File Storage in Canvas can have restrictions placed on them?

Content can be:

  • published (available to all students)
  • unpublished (not available to any students)
  • available to students who have the link or
  • scheduled to be released at a specific date/time (all students)

If content is scheduled, students wouldn’t be able to view a file until the date and time you specified on the file. This is good practice in exam scenarios and also if you want to upload all content at the beginning of a course and make it available during a particular week of teaching. Do make students aware Canvas pages may be published but files linked to these pages may not be available until a particular week of teaching. This saves mass communications from students about ‘broken links’.

Content which is only available to students who have the link is beneficial where a larger class is broken down into tutorial groups, practicals and other small group teaching scenarios. The teaching content may not be applicable to all students, just those in a small group.

Using the options listed above allows you to plan your teaching strategy, organise the content and pre-select when content will be available AND you don’t need to upload content weekly.

Old content

Needless to say, if content rolled over from an existing module is not longer relevant, delete it. Save yourself some storage in Canvas.

Current content

Remember, any content coming from an existing module which will be used currently, please run accessibility checks and update the content as required. It’s law.

Next time

Tomorrow, we look at Canvas’s Announcement section and share some good practices.

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


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