When should you use Canvas' files, pages and modules for course organization?

There are three common methods for organizing your course: 1) Using Modules, 2) Using Pages and 3)  Using Files.  Each of these methods comes with it's own list of advantages and disadvantages.  Most importantly, it's important to understand that Canvas was designed to give you the opportunity to use all three features at the same time for maximum flexibility.

Using Modules

View of Modules with Module headers and content


The Modules area is similar to folders with each Module containing links to content. Modules can incorporate all types of content into your folders (like Quizzes, Assignments, Links, etc) as well as files (PowerPoint, PDFs, Word).  For courses that utilize content beyond simple file-sharing, Modules provide students with a much more clearly organized view of the course.  Student feedback regarding courses that use Modules has been very positive.  Particularly when the Modules are structured by Week or Unit, Students tell us that Modules make it very quick and easy to find readings, assignments, quizzes and any other content because it's all in one place.


Like the Files area approach, Modules doesn't provide a narrative to accompany the content.  In many instances, Instructors want to provide a back-story or rationale for why a particular reading is assigned or how it might relate to another reading, for example.  In situations where Instructors want to give students a sense of what's taking place and how all of the pieces of content fit together, Canvas provides even more capability via Pages.

Using Pages (Creating Your Own Menu)

View of a menu based page with dates, class meetings and assignments
As you can see in the image above, the Instructor has created a Home Page that serves as a Table of Contents and provides a chronological schedule that shows students what each week's topics and assignments are.  When students click on a specific week, they are taken to a page that tells them what the week's topic is, what to read, what assessments to complete and provides a short explanation or introduction to the material (as seen below):  
View of a page in Canvas with detail on Overview, Learning Objectives


As you can see in the image above, the Instructor has provided a context for what's taking place this week, what the students are expected to learn and given links to the files, assignments and discussions that they will need to complete.  The advantage of Pages is that you are able to provide additional explanation that gives them a better understanding all of the content, activities and assessments that are assigned.  Pages also allow instructors to use images, tables, charts and embed videos.  As you might expect, this level of sophistication is necessary for online and blended courses.


For Face-to-Face courses that don't need a significant Canvas presence, using a Table of Contents and Pages might be overkill.  If your purpose in using Canvas is to post readings and provide a place to turn in assignments, you may prefer to use Modules. Some instructors utilize Menus and Pages with richly detailed descriptions, images, embedded YouTube videos, links to other pages and other features that make their Canvas courses look more like websites or e-Books (a plus for online/blended, maybe not necessary for F2F).

Using the Files Area

View of Files menu in Canvas showing the home course name and the subfolders


The Files area is immediately recognizable to anyone that's familiar with Finder on a Mac or Windows Explorer on a PC.  It's a simple way to post files for students to download and it requires no learning curve from Instructors and Students.  You can create and organize files and folders just like you do on your personal computer, Google Drive or Box.  


The downside to this method is that it provides little to no context for what the files are or how they relate to the course (beyond the folder and file names).  For courses that will incorporate any of the other features of Canvas and have more than a handful of files, it's recommended that you use one of the other methods.

For more information on using Canvas, please visit the Canvas Training Center for faculty or try the Canvas Community for comprehensive resources beyond St. Edward's.