Designing a module in Canvas

Designing a module in Canvas

We know the next semester of teaching will be online, in this article we will explore some of the key decisions which will influence your experience teaching and your students experience learning.

What are your priorities?

  • Information communication
  • Developing professional identity or skills
  • Providing feedback
  • Knowing where you are up to
  • Reusing existing materials

What are your students’ priorities?

  • Getting through course work to focus on other priorities.
  • Developing professional identity and skills (career goal)
  • Content knowledge (knowledge acquisition)
  • Getting through (class, assessment)
  • Curiosity
  • Financial benefit (upskilling, transition)
  • Meeting family (or society) expectations


With these differing priorities how can you adjust and adapt to ensure both your and your students needs at meet effectively?


At RMIT we have the 14 Canvas elements and the additional 6 uplift elements to help structure and ensure consistent presentation of courses within Canvas.

Each element serves a purpose but overall the QA approach is to ensure consistency and predictability. From a student’s perspective knowing what information is under each menu item, and having a similar overall structure or design of each course helps when trying to find the information you are after.

As the academic responsible for a course, you are able to prioritise things you think are important – but remember you are creating this learning experience for the student, so help them meet their objectives.

Weeks Vs Topics

This means as a lecturer you only have a couple of points at which you can inject your personality and give your course an identity. The Canvas template is designed to use modules. Your first choice is does a module represent a week or a topic?

If you use a week structure:

Each week is linked from the menu, the tasks for a given week are presented together and students will be able to readily navigate around the course and content.

If you use a topics structure:

Try and ensure the amount of work in each topic is about the same, or the duration of study is clearly indicated so students don’t accidentally try and get a 4 week topic completed in 1 week.


Scroll vs pages

It is personal preference, as to if you have all the information on a single page and have students scroll through the pages to find and complete the relevant readings, tasks and activities, or if you break information across multiple pages. It is possible to use both approaches successfully but it really depends on what resources and activities you are using as to which makes to most sense for you and your class.

Single page and scroll:

This approach works well when you only have a small number of tasks, resources and activities which are sequential and can be done offline.

This approach doesn’t always work well when you have a larger number of integrated videos and activities, which require submission points. The page may take a while to load all the resources in for a student to view.


Multiple pages and click:

This approach works well when you have a range of resources and submission points (quizzes, discussion boards etc) which you expect students to engage with as part of their learning. The use of multiple pages and clearly number resources allows students to use the module menu item as a table of content to pick up where they stopped.

This approach doesn’t work so well when you only have a single file or resources for students.


There is a balance and once you have built out your content and activities it might become clearer which format works better.



  • A screenshot of a Canvas page showing 10 videos, links to resources and instructions.
    In this example, you can see the top video is Q&A session for week 8 – this recording of the live session was added during week 9. It has been provided in context to allow students to review it if they missed the session or when they are studying the topic in the future.


    This single page of information, suits the approach used for teaching and learning in this course, there are links to relevant information and integrated videos – which will play at full screen. The videos are 5-10 minutes long. Notice the videos have a decimal numbering system, and short title so a student can know which one they are up, if they have taken a break.


    screenshot of a weekly module in canvas with 4 pages – Overview, Before Class Activities, During Class Activities, Review and Reflect

    An example of how multiple pages in a module can be used to present the learning materials for a course.
  • A screenshot of a weekly module with 4 canvas pages – Before lectorial learning materials, lectorial notes and learning materials, post lectorial learning activities, tutorial materials


    An example of how material can be presented using three phases: pre class; in class; and post class resources. The use of a common structure helps students navigate and find information. 



    a screenshot of a Canvas page, with text introducing the week, identifying how it contributes to the course learning outcomes and a video and downloadable file for students to review.

    Using multiple pages within a module, with a clear introduction (overview) then chronology with preparation (before class activities), in class (during class activities) and reflection (review and reflect).

    Each of these pages then has specific details of the require tasks, instructions and resources related to each.

  • Book cover – interactive lecturing

    Looking for ideas for activities or interactivity? Try If you are looking for some ideas as to what activities you could include consider having a skim through Interactive Lecturing: available from the library as an ebook for some ideas.





Often when teaching online it is hard to know where students are up to, what content or resources have they looked at. Having clear instructions can help students know what you expect of them and when.


Additionally, having activities or submissions can help you (as the academic) get a sense of where students are up to and what challenges they may be facing. Since you won’t have students in the room with you and you will not be able to read their classes body language  to know if they are getting the concepts you will need to use a different strategy. Activities can help.

Activities includes things like a formative quiz (maybe 2-5 questions about the reading or video) which students can use to determine for themselves if they got the key points – this can be auto marked and unlimited attempts so students can use it for revision.

If you don’t think you have time to build a bank for questions for each week, or resources you could consider asking students to submit their questions (and examples of feedback) to the discussion board, or a shared document (word or excel) – from here you can create the practice quiz for students using the questions they provided.


Other examples include having specific discussion questions or prompts which you provide to students before they view the resources.


Activity 3.2 Kumal’s visit to the pharmacy

“While watching this 3 minute recording of Kumal’s interaction with their pharmacist, think about 1) what non-verbal cues the pharmacist has responded to, 2) are there any elements of good communication?”

<Link to video file>

Activity 3.3 Discussion

Based on Kumal’s video consider the elements of good communication you observed, could you always use these in your practice? Share an example (100-200 words) of when you’ve used one of some of these strategies and if it was successful and reflect on what factors contributed to the success or otherwise of the communication.

If you are looking for some ideas as to what activities you could include consider having a skim through  Interactive Lecturing: available from the library as an ebook for some ideas.

Time commitment:

For the various readings, videos and activities you set for students to complete – be aware of how long it takes for a students new to this area to engage with the content. Setting 2-3 entire textbook chapters for a single week may be too much for a student to actually read and take notes from. Maybe you don’t actually need students to read the whole chapters in detail before class, maybe you want them to review the textbook if they want more information, or perhaps skim the chapter.

Letting students know how long you expect an activity to take allows them to benchmark and plan their learning. Your time guide can be an estimate – and there are tools to help estimate– but you do need to be consistent or proportionately accurate.  For readings, you may suggest it will take 30 mins to complete something – overtime as a student I will learn, it takes me twice as long to do the readings as you suggest, so knowing what your estimate is will help me plan my study time.

Inclusive design:

When you are creating your Canvas site and presenting resources for students, if you can provide the same material in two different formats – for example whenever you have a video make sure you have closed captions or a transcript available – There are multiple platforms which can produce closed captions using AI (Canvas Studio, Microsoft Stream).

This is not ideal but if you don’t have time to quality check all the captions before you publish them – publish them with the warning the accuracy has not been confirmed and include a specific dedicated space where students can provide feedback/and or corrections (email, discussion board, comments, or editable document).

Other resources:

Design considerations – structuring your course

Closed captions in Canvas Studio

Making a micro lecture