The Canvas learning management system provides a built-in tool for organizing course content, discussions, assignments, quizzes, and other materials. This tool is called Modules, and is a great way to enrich your course for students, while at the same time simplifying the task of navigating it. Modules are an organizational system, not their own form of content. Think of them like a desk-organizer-plus-calendar.

Modules can have positive effects on student satisfaction, participation, and organization well beyond the effort it takes to create them. These effects may be invisible–fewer student questions or requests for more information, less confusion, fewer students who never participate–but they are important.

Modules Basics

The point of the Modules area of Canvas is to group tasks and content in logical, easy-to-navigate ways; usually this means creating modules by week. Good basic modules look something like this:

Screenshot of a simple module in Canvas, the "How to Use this Template" module available to faculty in the template. It includes a model page ("Instructor's Message for the Week"), a note that faculty can insert readings directly into the module, and model discussion, assignment, and quiz.

Creating a module like this for each week makes it easy for students to see at a glance what will be expected of them. You should add anything pertaining to or due during that week, even if it appears elsewhere on Canvas, like readings stored in Files, assignments, discussions, quizzes, and other content. Modules are simply an organization tool, so these are all “shortcuts” and do not duplicate the content itself.

To learn more about how to create and edit modules, explore Canvas’s guides to using the Modules tool.

You have the option to import templates into your course using a yellow button on the course’s home page. These templates provide you with basic module structures like the one shown above. Learn more about the templates provided by the CLT.

Leveling Up with Modules

Modules can do a lot more, though, particularly for virtual or hybrid situations, “flipped learning” design, and courses where you wish to provide a lot of resources, videos, or low-stakes activities. Modules allow you to provide not just a way for students to easily see what they need to do, but also a guide for how they move through a week or unit’s content and activities. A really robust module might look something like this:

Screenshot of a Canvas course showing a model module that includes multiple subsections, such as readings, practice, live components, assignments, and opportunities to "level up". Each subsection contains two or three items, which include readings files, links, quizzes, discussions, and assignments.

You can see that this module clearly shows what activities are graded and ungraded; what is required and optional; and in some cases, what needs to be done when. This is most effective when each week’s module uses the same headings; providing consistency to a course is one of the great strengths of the Modules tool!

This module, like all good modules, has an “Overview” page at the top. A weekly overview page explains in more detail what students should expect that week, and any special instructions about how to use the module. Here’s an example. Note the summary, goals, and bullet-point list of things to do:

Overview page for a very robust module, with a summary of the week, a list of goals, and a detailed bullet-point list of everything that the students need to do, including links to the components in Canvas.

In the following drop-downs, we describe categories you could include in your modules to maximize their benefits.

Your summary of the outcomes and goals for the module go here.

We highly recommend you include a weekly overview in your modules, even if they are otherwise very simple! The overview gives you a place to frame the week or unit by making connections to the previous week or unit, clearly state goals and rationale for the week, and summarize what students need to do. Bulleted lists are a great approach to the weekly goals and to-do lists.

A sample is available in the screenshot above and in the “Week X – Instructor’s Message for the Week” page in the importable Canvas templates.
Review/Recap (Building on Prior Knowledge)
Sometimes also referred to as “activating prior knowledge,” this optional but recommended section could include a start-of-week survey, pre-test, or reflection, or a more detailed discussion of how this week/unit connects to the previous one.

About activating prior knowledge: Brain science teaches us that we look for patterns and connections. When we activate a memory and recall related information, we welcome and create space for new information. Connecting prior learning to new learning increases long-term memory. Preparation pieces also support Universal Design for Learning and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, as well as motivating students and building confidence.
Your readings, videos, instructor-created content pages, etc. go here. 

You should include all your content in the module, even if it is uploaded to Files (the Canvas Files area is often confusing for students to navigate.) Content could include materials uploaded to Files as well as links to required videos or resource pages online. You can also create “text headers” in the module reminding your students to read chapters in a course text that is not on Canvas. 

Note that you don’t have to separate content from practice and assignments in this manner. Many fully asynchronous courses disperse activities through the content (e.g., students watch a background lecture, then do the reading, then participate in a discussion, then do a shorter supplementary reading, then write a reflection). However, in a primarily in-person course, organizing content, practice, and assignments in their own sections can be beneficial.
Activities (Practice and Process)
Could include homework, quizzes, discussions, activities, etc., especially if they are ungraded or low-stakes and count towards participation. Depending on how your class works, you might use only the Assignments section (below).

About activities: Teaching students to think like a professional and to be life-long learners means giving students several opportunities to process new information, think deeper, and do significant work. Review exercises, formative quizzes, collaborative meaning-making using concept maps, practice problems, reading guides, note-taking strategies, designing drafts, discussions, and peer review are all excellent ways for students to process and practice. Include any Canvas-based assignments, quizzes, or discussions that fit in this category here. Consider also including reminders about or links to non-Canvas-based activities that students need to complete outside of class meeting time.
Assignments (Graded)
Major graded assignments, including tests, papers/essays, artistic productions, lab reports, etc. You might choose to have a separate section for project components, if you have an ongoing project, or you might include those here.

About assignments: Assignments provide students an opportunity to express what they have learned, and give you an opportunity to assess their progress and mastery. Giving students some choice of expression supports Universal Design for Learning. Summative assignments can be case studies, essays, projects, and exams. Rubrics are highly recommended and should provide a list of criteria and their point value within the assignment. Students can preview rubrics that you set up in the relevant Canvas assignment.
Live/Synchronous Activities (for virtual classes)
Scheduling information and links to live sessions and sign-ups for one-on-ones, if relevant to the week. This section does not apply to in-person classes, but you might wish to add it if there is a snow day or other campus closure so students can find it easily.

In addition to the links, this section might include a page with detailed expectations about the live session, including any preparation instructions or special role assignments; any shared notes documents; any slides you used and wish to share with students after the session. We strongly suggest recording any live lecture, demonstration, or review content. After the live session, add a link to the recording to this section of the module.
Project Components
Any pieces of a final or ongoing project relevant to the week, especially components due that week. This is an optional section. In weeks when you release particular content or assignment descriptions related to the project, or a project component is due, you may wish to set this off in a separate section rather than including them in the Assignments section.

About major projects: A final project should measure if the student has developed or mastered the content knowledge, skills and attitudes to meet your course vision and objectives (learn more in our article on project-based learning). Separating out project components in each module makes this trajectory of growth towards mastery a little clearer for students. Your weekly modules can include advice or highlights related to the project even if there is no component due that week.
Level Up (Optional Exercises and Content)
Opportunities for students to challenge their skills. Including this section is optional and will serve some classes better than others.

Level up opportunities might include applying the skills and content of the module to a case study, or independently finding and analyzing an example. These exercises should encourage looking beyond the class itself. This is an ideal place to offer extra credit!
Recap or review of the week/unit, or preview of the next week/unit. 

You may optionally include a page, and possibly an activity like an end-of-unit survey, that wraps up the week/unit. This supports transparency by highlighting the course’s trajectory and foregrounding outcomes.

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