IT Teaching Resources

How to organize learner-centered course material

Options and tips for organizing class materials and resources, using a learner-centered Canvas compatible approach

Use Case Promising practices

When organizing course materials, instructors should centralize on learner-centered methods or templates compatible with Canvas and its features such as modules, files and folders, Google Drive integration, and pages. In the GSE Lunch-n-Learn: Instructor Panel #1, Victor Lee, an associate professor in the Learning Sciences and Technology Design (LSTD) program, encouraged the use of templates in future courses. Lee stated that “course design [Canvas] templates could be pushed out, that will be easy for everyone to just get used to how things tend to be organized and ultimately, to give a familiar structure for the students.” 

Organizing readings, essays, assignments, and other course materials can be challenging for a 10-week course. However, using pre-designed course templates can simplify the organizational process and provide various benefits to both instructors and students. Instructors can focus more on content and students’ needs rather than on how to build or design their courses from scratch. As for students, they will not have to learn how to navigate each class separately or struggle with familiarizing themselves with the varying organizational structure of their classes. Overall, having a clear system of organization helps clarify reading and assignment expectations, allows students to keep track of general coursework, and provides individuals with a more effective and efficient experience.

This article outlines four ways to organize course materials to help learners thrive:

  1. Organizing with Canvas Modules
  2. Sorting using Canvas Files
  3. Centralizing materials in Google Drive
  4. Linking from a central Google or Canvas page

What would this look like in a classroom?

There are a variety of ways to organize class materials. Outlined below are a few methods, as well as their advantages and disadvantages. Many of these methods can be combined or used in conjunction with another.

1. Organize all materials in Canvas modules

The Modules feature in Canvas can accelerate the process of organizing a course. Modules can be separated by days, weeks, or even topics. The features built into Canvas make it easy to organize assignments, files, links, and more. When organizing by Modules, it is helpful to use different indentation levels and headings to indicate groupings within a module. There are pre-made Canvas shells by GSE-IT available via Canvas Common (must be logged in to your SUNet first to access), and a more in-depth article on module organization available below.

  • Keeps everything in one place
  • Available templates make for easy setup
  • All files must be uploaded manually
  • Materials don’t carry over to other classes

Additional Resources: 

Canvas Course Organization Article
GSE Course Welcome Module Shell
GSE Course Shell for Weeks 1 – 9
GSE Whole Course Module Shell
GSE Instructional Team Resources Module Shell

2. Upload materials to Canvas and organize them in folders under “Files”

Another way to organize materials within Canvas is to use folders built into Canvas Files. Similar to Google Drive, materials can be put into different folders, organized by unit, week, or format type.

  • Can easily link to a specific file from Canvas interface when working on a Canvas module or page
  • All content can be downloaded at once
  • Every file must be uploaded manually
  • Materials don’t carry over to other classes

3. Upload/create materials in Google Drive and share folders with students

This method is best suited for instructors who primarily use Google Drive. All materials can be organized in a shared folder that all students can access, and any new materials moved into the shared folder will automatically be shared with the same users. Docs can be used with Canvas Assignments for worksheet-style materials, set up by selecting “External Tool” then “Google Drive Cloud Assignment” under “Submission Type.” This ensures that every student gets a digital copy of the same document to work on and submit.

  • Materials will be available to students after the conclusion of the class
  • Supports the organization of collaborative documents in folders
  • Limited to Google users
  • Sharing/collaboration settings must be set manually

4. Use a Canvas page or Google Doc to link materials (websites, Google Docs, etc.)

This method can be used as part of a Canvas page or another kind of document to make every class material a hyperlink, although files should be double-checked to have the correct sharing settings. This allows the user to include notes and descriptions alongside every resource.

  • Organize web pages along with file resources
  • Available to students after course conclusion (if not a Canvas page)
  • Hyperlinking every resource/material can be very tedious

Naming Conventions

Keeping a consistent scheme of naming (modules, files, etc.) is an important aspect to consider. While the precise convention is ultimately up to the instructor for individual files, possible markers to use in addition to the individual item name include:

  • Relevant date 
  • Week/day number, module number
  • Unit/module/concept title
  • Course title
  • Item type (e.g. readings, quizzes)

Not all of the above needs to be included in a file. It’s important to factor in how many characters the name involves; keeping the filename reasonably short will make files more reusable and manageable going forward.

Here are some example file names that use some markers:
  • 20201120_EDUC1_ClassSlides.pdf (Class slides for EDUC1, on Nov 20th, 2020)
  • EDUC1_M01_LearningPrinciples.docx (A resource for the first module of EDUC1)
  • Wk1R_NChomsky_LanguageLearning.pdf (Week 1 reading by N. Chomsky, on language learning)
Keeping organized folders will take some pressure off of file names. Common ways to sort folders include:
  • Day/week/module
  • Unit/concept
  • Item type (e.g. readings, quizzes)

Tools to help with course organization:

Managing sharing settings for a Google Drive folder:
  1. Navigate to the folder, and click on the down arrow next to the folder name.

  1. In the box that pops up, choose which people to share the folder with, and click “Done” when finished. Any new documents uploaded or moved into the folder will be shared with the same people.

Managing sharing settings for a Google Doc:
  1. Navigate to and click on the Google Doc to highlight it, then click on the little link icon in the top right.

  1. In the pop-up box, change the link settings to your preference. “Anyone with the link” gives the most access. This is also where you can copy the link to insert it elsewhere. Click “Done” when finished.

Canvas template that can be modified for personal use:

GSE IT has pre-made Canvas Module templates available via Canvas Common.

External resources:

Article on Canvas Module organization
Stanford Libraries guide on best practices for file naming (general)