Canvas Spotlight

MSU Denver Canvas Blueprint

Last updated on March 1, 2023

A blank page is always a little daunting. Where to start, what to say? 

One way to overcome this kind of writer’s block is an outline of what you want to write. You can apply that same idea to your Canvas course. The MSU Denver Canvas Blueprint provides that structure for you. Packaged in every new course shell, it contains a series of template pages that you can fill in with your own content, starting you off on the right foot as you design your course. This will save you time, as well as help you format your content to promote student engagement and learning.

The two most useful components of the Blueprint are the Course Information and Sample Modules. The Course Information Module makes all of the expectations, policies, and objectives of your course easily accessed and referenced by your students. The Sample Module gives you templates that you can use for adding course content in a way that facilitates learning by using andragogical principles. Some of these principles include priming, chunking, and alignment, which we’ll cover in greater depth later in this Spotlight.

The Blueprint also contains a Policies and Resources Module. This module contains a great deal of information relevant to every student at MSU Denver, and its inclusion in the course is strongly recommended. You should never unpublish or delete this module. You don’t need to fill any information out in this specific module, but it can be a good place to include any departmental policies.

The templates and prompts present in the Blueprint are designed carefully to incorporate instructional design principles. The Overviews are an opportunity to gain students’ attention and introduce the objectives. As you start bringing in content in the Video and Lecture pages, you’ll have opportunities to relate it to previous learning and give examples. The Module Reviews are a great place to review information and promote retention. Incorporating these pieces of Gagné’s 9 Events of Instruction can significantly improve student learning outcomes.

Let’s take a closer look at the Blueprint now.

Best Practices

How Should I Use the Course Information Module?

  • The Course Information Module contains a collection of template pages that you can use to present vital information about your course to your students. Think of it as an alternative to a syllabus that presents similar information in a format that’s easier for students to reference later. You can still use the Syllabus tool in Canvas if you prefer, but the most accessible and user-friendly option is to make that content available in the Canvas pages in the Course Information Module. Uploading a syllabus as a file, like a Word document or PDF, can introduce a host of accessibility issues, such as errors in reading order, alt text, and table functionality.Plus, it is easier and quicker to make changes in Canvas than editing a Word doc and re-uploading it.
  • Use the Course Overview and Instructor Introduction to introduce yourself and the material to your students. Doing so personalizes you for your students, which is particularly important in asynchronous online classes. Embodying the instruction helps students connect better to you and the material.
  • The Student Introductions, FAQ, and Casual Conversations discussions provide a space for your students to create a sense of community through discourse. You can replace the prompts for the Student Introductions discussion to tailor the responses to better suit your course or your teaching style.

How Should I Use the Sample Module?

  • The Sample Module provides a variety of templates for you to use just like the Course Information Module. These provide scaffolding for your content that you can fill in to save you time and structure your content for a better student experience.
  • Don’t directly edit the pages in the Sample Module. Instead, duplicate them and then edit these newly created files so that you preserve the original template and can make more duplicates later. Once you’re finished, you can move the edited page into whichever module you like. A step-by-step walkthrough of this process is detailed below.
  • The format of the pages promotes the use of good andragogical technique, such as priming the student with information, chunking content for smooth progression, and providing citations of sources you’ve used to write the content.
  • Leave the Sample Module unpublished. It will come this way by default when you receive your course shell, so just refrain from publishing it or any pages in it. The template content will only confuse students.

Where Should I Start?

  • If you’re importing an existing course, go ahead and do that first. Since every course has the Blueprint content in it, it’s possible to create duplicates of the pages, which could easily become disorganized. We strongly recommend following our Copy a Course Into the New Semester tutorial to avoid this. 
  • If you’re building a course from scratch, start in the Course Information Module. The Course Overview and Alignment Map can be a great place to start determining the objectives and organization of your course.
  • If you’re adding new content to an existing course, use the Sample Module as a guide for a structure you can emulate. The Module Overviews and Reviews are frequently neglected but can be very valuable, both for you in planning a module and for your students in priming and recalling information. Students absorb information more readily when they already have an idea of what to expect and retain information more completely when they recall it and relate it to future learning.
  • To really get the most out of the modules you build, see our Advanced Module Building spotlight.

Let’s walk through it together

Editing the Course Information Module

The Course Information Module is a great resource for your students to reference at the beginning of the semester and as they progress through it. It contains a lot of content you might traditionally find in a course syllabus but presents it in a more accessible way. Chunking all the information the student needs to know makes it easier for them to quickly access it later. For example, the Course Grading Policy is something that students are likely to reference at several points in the semester; having it as its own page in the modules makes that reference easier than combing through a long and cumbersome syllabus.

Instructional Design Focus

  • Priming – Students learn better when they know what to expect before they begin. At the start of the course and each module, let them know what they’ll be learning, why they’ll be learning it, and what kinds of content, activities, and assessments they’ll use to learn it. The Module Overview template in the Sample Module is great for this, as well as the Course Overview in the Course Information Module.
  • Chunking – Information dumping isn’t helpful for anyone. When students feel overwhelmed, they have more difficulty engaging with the content and retaining what they learn. Chunk readings, videos, and activities into manageable segments, giving students natural points to pause, rest, and reflect on what they’ve learned. Use the Reading and Video templates in the Sample Module to divvy up content and include Next Steps so students can consider whether to keep going through the module or take a break.
  • Alignment – There are few worse experiences when learning something new than the feeling that it isn’t relevant or useful to you. All of the content in your course should support the course learning objectives, which should support the program’s learning objectives. Use the Course Alignment Map to break down for students how all of the course content supports those objectives and provides them with worthwhile, relevant information. You can also use the Module Review templates in the Sample Module to reflect on what students have just learned, how it supports what they learned before, and how it will be meaningful going forward.

Duplicate and Edit Sample Module Content

  1. Click Modules in the left-hand course navigation menu.
  2. Scroll down to the Sample Module.
  3. Click the More Options (3 dots) icon to the right of the template Page you want to use.
  4. Click Duplicate.
    • The copy will appear directly under the Page you selected.
  5. Click the name of the Copy.
  6. Click Edit in the top right-hand corner.
  7. Enter a New Name for the Page.
  8. Replace the Template Text with your own content.
    • Template text that should be deleted or replaced is marked with [text]. Some of the text, like the headers, should remain.
  9. Click Save in the bottom right-hand corner when you are done editing.
  10. Click Modules in the left-hand course navigation menu.
  11. Scroll down to the Sample Module.
  12. Click the More Options (3 Dots) icon to the right of the new Page you created.
    • If you prefer, you can click and drag on the Grid icon to the left of the page to move it to another module. Skip this step and the following steps if you do so.
  13. Click Move To.
    • This will open a panel on the right-hand side of the screen.
  14. Select the Module you would like to move the Page to from the drop-down menu under Modules.
  15. Select the Position within the module from the drop-down menu.
    • If you select “Before” or “After”, you will need to select an item in that Module from a third drop-down menu.
  16. Click Move in the bottom right-hand corner.