Active Teaching Lab Recap: Improve Canvas Navigation

Wed April 21, 2021


The April 21, 2021 Active Teaching Lab focused on strategies and examples for clearer communication of expectations, simpler access to activities, and more welcoming design. 


“The result of calm technology is to put us at home, in a familiar place. When our periphery is functioning well we are tuned into what is happening around us, and so also to what is going to happen, and what has just happened. This is a key property of information visualization techniques, like the cone tree, that are filled with detail yet engage our pre-attentive periphery so we are never surprised.” – Mark Weiser & John Seely Brown, Xerox PARC

We operate most efficiently when we are in familiar surroundings, when we know exactly what to do, and when we are interested and engaged in the tasks we’re doing. As instructors, we are designing social learning experiences that we hope will introduce students to new content, encourage them to explore problem spaces together and find the rules and systems that predict and govern the content. How do we set up Canvas so students don’t spend unnecessary time trying to find out where to go, what’s expected of them, how to complete the tasks, or why they should value the learning experiences?

  1. Reinforce familiar structures: Rhythm is felt — innate in the beats of the music and often reminiscent/familiar. If it needs to be explained or charted out, you don’t have a hit song [yet…]. Set up a course rhythm that students are familiar with and repeat it so they inherently know what to expect.
  2. Streamline and simplify: To increase focus on learning course content, minimize administrative tasks around the content. Make it simple and clear for students to understand what and how to learn.
  3. Make content easy to find and scan: Use good design practices when creating (and iteratively improving) content.
  4. Add Context/Connection: We are much more tolerant of badly designed processes or environments when we are personally, intrinsically motivated to be there and navigate them. Help students build stamina and resilience by helping them understand why whatever pain they encounter is worthwhile. 
  5. Over Communicate: Nudges help even the most organized of us remember to do the things we forget to do when life interrupts. Remember that your students are not you — systems you’ve developed to stay organized may not work for them; they need to find and develop their own. However, you can help them stay on task by reminding them of tasks, due dates, expectations, connections, objectives, etc.

Analyze the whole course; start simple: Most don’t have the time to analyze and redesign an entire course in one sitting. Make simple iterative changes as you can.

To learn more and discover new resources, visit the session’s activity sheet.


Find out more about Active Teaching Labs here.