Designing Course Content With the (K-12) Student in Mind

Consider a high school student named Trevor. He has missed the last three days of school for a baseball tournament. Trevor is a conscientious student concerned about his grades, and he knows that his teachers have posted all relevant learning materials in Canvas, plus he is up late preparing for his math exam. What will he find in his Canvas course? How did the teacher arrange resources for him to find?

Course design is a topic that could be discussed ad infinitum, and most teachers using Canvas are tweaking (or outright overhauling) their online resources from year-to-year. To make the most of the student experience in Canvas, here are a few tips that can help you as the teacher make Canvas a high-success learning experience for your students.

  1. Begin with the student in mind. K-12 students today are citizens of an on-demand culture. From streaming TV to audio apps, Generation Z is used to what they want with minimum wait-time. If they struggle to navigate, or don’t readily find resources you provide, they likely will not look deep into your course to find said resources, no matter how important they are.
  2. Label resources clearly. In my planning, I may know exactly what “Wksht B4 3.2” means. Does my student? If I upload this resource to Canvas, I may want to call it “Kinematics Practice Problems” or some other readily identifiable name so that my student knows exactly what I am referring to.  
  3. The online religion is technology agnostic. Chances are, you don’t know from which platform(s) your students access Canvas. Be technology agnostic in providing resources. Use PDFs when possible. Embed when you can. Use Control-K to provide “Open in New Window” when providing external links. Three-clicks to resource was the rule of thumb in the dotcom era; the closer to two clicks you make your resources, the higher the probability of utilization by student.
  4. Chunk data into bite sizes. Use the module feature to organize by topic. Limit the amount of information you place on a page. If you use videos, please do not post 45-minute instructional lectures, but rather 2-5 minute chunks of lessons.
  5. Show them the way. If you provide the students a resource on Canvas, show them where it is by projecting the Canvas course either through the “Student View” lense or by having a student log in. Show them the clicks they need to make to access the resources you have provided. Take it a step further: record a screencast and post it under the “Announcements” feature showing the students the resources made available and how to access.
  6. Ask them about their experiences frequently. It takes bravery to ask for honest student feedback, but the results will pay off tremendously. “How easy was it to find the study guide?” or “Did you have any questions about finding the discussion for this week?” will do more for steering your course design than any training you can take in.

To summarize, at Katy ISD we have found Canvas to be an amazing, scalable resource that can do everything from providing a “one-stop shop” for student learning resources, increasing efficiency of existing classroom procedures, and transforming learning into a 21st century modality. With careful consideration of course design, your students will reap the benefits of the efforts you make in providing a student-centered Canvas experience.

Keep Learning,

Jay Jackson, M.Ed.
Classroom Technology Designer, Katy Independent School District (Texas)

About the author: Jay Jackson trains secondary teachers in Canvas, several instructional web-based and mobile applications, and multiple device platforms in his school district. He is certified in secondary math and science with a decade of classroom experience and three years in instructional technology.