Keys to Better Course Design in CarmenCanvas

To help you build better courses in CarmenCanvas, instructional designers share recommendations and best practices they created based on student feedback. If you are not sure where to start, or you are looking for ways to improve your current courses, these tips can help you build courses that will truly engage your students. 

General Recommendations: 

  • Enable course announcements on your homepage. They'll display at the top when students log in, ensuring better visibility. Check out this brief video for instructions: Add Course Announcements to Homepage
  • Build to the lowest common denominator, and make no assumptions of the previous knowledge or experience of your students. There is a pervasive myth that all undergraduates are highly technically skilled and thus will figure out the learning management system easily. This not true, and assuming so disadvantages many students.
  • As for theories, design for everybodyUniversal Design for Learning (UDL). This is incredibly important and encompasses the accessibility needs of an online classroom and more. You can learn more about UDL at the National Center for Universal Design for Learning.  

Creating a learning environment: 

  • Be visible in the course as the instructor. Don't be afraid to put your personality and voice in your course, so that your students won't be afraid to do the same. Remember that you can use video and audio messages in announcements, content pages, discussions and assignment feedback. Using the recording tool in CarmenCanvas is a one-button, quick and easy way to deliver information to students. Further, extemporaneous videos are often more relatable and clearer than more formal written instruction. Alternatively, they can be a great way to provide the overview or explain the goals while specific requirements go into text below.
  • Allow students to determine submission type. Consider allowing students to submit assignments using multiple mediums such as text, video or website. Faculty often want more authentic and creative student responses, and giving students options is a great way to do this as well as to accommodate variations in learning styles. Many assessments can be turned into small projects where students create something to demonstrate comprehension or application. 

Organizing your content: 

  • Consider how your students work through the course assignments and learning objectives. Does the course have weekly goals? Do students have weekly expectations or benchmarks? If so, consider organizing all content (assignments, files, discussions) in weekly modules. These are a default mode of organization for many, as students (and staff) often organize our lives in weekly schedules. 
  • Is your course project-based? If a course is built around a few larger projects perhaps with smaller assignments within them, project organization might be a great option. You could create a Canvas "page" or a module for each project that links to all relevant content and assignments.
  • Add due dates to all assignments. It helps your students know what is expected of them and it helps them stay organized. Students will see those dates on the directions/submission page, in the calendar and in their notifications. 
  • Keep instructional content close to their related instructional activitiesin other words, if you have instructions on how to build a better experiment, and an assignment for building one, then have the assignment immediately follow the instructions.
  • All instructional materials and activities for a module should be in that module. Do not create a Week Two module with just the instructional materials, then house the assignments in a different module, the quizzes in another module, and additional references in another module. Organizing into capsules of time rather than type of content is easier for students to understand and follow. 

Mapping out the student experience and designing a navigation:

  • Did you know you can change the links on the left side in your course? Unlike the old system, CarmenCanvas is designed to allow you to determine what your students have access to and how their "path" through the course functions. As an instructor, you can see both available and unavailable links. The students can only see the links that appear in dark grey to you.
  • Course navigation should be logical and consistent. Students need to know what to do, when to do it and most importantly, where to find it. Changing the navigation is simple. When viewing the course, the bottom link on the left navigation will be settings. From here, click "Navigation." You can drag and drop the boxes to remove unnecessary links. Check out this brief video for help customizing your course navigation.
  • Remove any links your students don't need access to for your course (i.e. features you're not using, such as discussion board or collaboration tools).
  • Remove the Files and Pages links. Don't ask students to go sort through massive file lists. In general, taking the "files" link out of the course navigation is preferred. The "files" display is generally not the most helpful way for students to access content or understand course delivery.
  • Establish clear naming conventions and type words and terms out fully, without shortening them. Many instructors use quickly typed names that aren't fully capitalized or spelled out in their course. Not only does this make navigating the course more difficult and less organized, it doesn't necessarily model how we hope to see students execute their own work. For example, instead of writing, "Ess2prompt," type, "Critical Analysis Essay #2 Prompt." 
  • Echo module names in the module content. i.e., module one introduction, module one assignment, module one discussion, etc. This is very important for students using screen reader technology. 
  • Use student view within settings to preview how students will see your course. Consider asking a friend, partner or student if the navigation of your course makes sense to them. You can access student view by entering your course, clicking "settings" on the bottom left navigation and then entering the student view via the button on the right.
  • If you post something that references another item in the course (ex. an announcement reminding students of an assignment, perhaps a quiz that indicates they should read a handout first), you can link directly to that item. This minimizes time spent navigating and ensures clarity of instruction.

If you are using video or audio files in your course: 

  • If you have instructional video content, host it through a video streaming platform like YouTube (which goes out onto the web) or Mediasite (which stays behind an Ohio State login) for videos you create. YouTube allows you to easily share your videos with your students and the rest of the world. Mediasite is great for making sure only your students can see your video, and it's amazing for tracking to see who is watching your videos and for how long. You can also consider using the Secured Media Library (for movies you place on reserve) or library databases (for Ohio State subscription content) for copyrighted videos. This allows you to bring copyrighted media into your course in a responsible way that meets the standards of The Ohio State University.
  • When using video or audio, make sure you make your media accessible to all of your students with captions and transcripts. This allows all students to see get your message, even if they are unable to listen to the video or if they simply prefer listening and read. It has been reported that 80% of people who use captions do not have a hearing disability (BBC Communication Report, 2014). To create transcripts and captions, many start by uploading their videos to Youtube and using their tools to easily create transcript and caption files.
  • Using the record video function and video upload function in Carmen are great features of CarmenCanvas. However, if all of your lectures and media are presented in this way, you will run out of storage space within your course. Many use the internal video recording function for video messages and updates that happen as the course progresses. For media/video that will be reused when you teach the course again, consider hosting it in Mediasite or on YouTube and embedding the video into CarmenCanvas.

If you are teaching an online-only course: 

  • Look at, or import, the model Ohio State online course and templates in Canvas Commons: these templates are created with a structure to align your course with Quality Matters standards.
  • Make sure you have students turn something in at least once a week to keep your students engaged with your class.
  • Be visibly present in your online course. Show your face in videos and include your image. Learners respond to faces as a stimulus in the course. Without an instructor presence, students tend to feel like the learning experience is unguided and boiled down to a series of screen-based tasks. Audio or video feedback comments in SpeedGrader are another effective way to connect with students online.
  • Be an active participant. Engage in the discussions, consider live office hours and be cautious of setting up a course that "runs itself." Even if you prepare all of the content before the term begins, you can still be present and active as a voice throughout the course. Posting impromptu announcements with videos is one option. Don't be afraid of being casual and personal. 
  • Leverage the discussion feature to connect students to one another and to you, and plan to be an active participant in these.
  • Give students (different types of) opportunities to interact with the content and reflect on their learning.
  • Give students different types of opportunities to interact with each other.
  • Encourage them to use the video or audio tools to get to know one another.
  • Don't assume students will automatically know how to use Carmen or the other digital tools you use in your course.

If you are teaching first year students: 

  • Don't assume students will automatically know how to use Carmen for your course. Teach them how to use it, along with other digital literacy skills. Consider going to the Commons in CarmenCanvas to import the student resources page, which lists lots of support options on Columbus campus, and make this part of the first week's content. Navigate to the Commons and then search "student resources columbus."
  • Consider collaborating with other instructors on basic university information via Canvas Commons. Many people teaching general education courses are covering the same information about plagiarism, libraries, and other tools, policies or expectations. These topics can be standardized and published to the Commons for your department to share and import into individual CarmenCanvas courses.
  • Include a scavenger hunt or syllabus quiz. If you like, set a conditional release on future modules in the course so that students can only access the second week of content once they complete the syllabus quiz. This can be a useful way of ensuring that important information is read.

This may be a lot of information to process, but these are truly essential skills all instructional staff should be using in their courses. These best practices, based on students' experiences and feedback, can improve engagement in your courses and enhance teaching and learning.