The Office of Faculty Development

Introduction to Course Design and Organization

Whether you have an in-person, hybrid or fully online class, getting organized can feel overwhelming. Course Design (for both new and experienced instructors) is covered in depth on the Office of Faculty Development Course Design(opens in new window) page, and this teaching guide will walk you through an introduction to organization utilizing Canvas as a tool to organize your course materials and learning modules. Faculty use Canvas to deliver content modules, assignments, grades, activities, discussion boards, groups, tests/quizzes, and many other things students use to navigate through their course work. This teaching guide links to many useful Chico State resources on Course Design, and offers top tips for keeping things organized and consistent for your learners!


    Examine selected research on course design and organization. 

    Organizing content in Canvas. Stanford University. in new window)

    Jaggars, S. S., & Xu, D. (2016). How do online course design features influence student performance? Computers and Education95, 270–284. in new window)

    Villarroel, V., Bloxham, S., Bruna, D., Bruna, C., & Herrera-Seda, C. (2018). Authentic assessment: creating a blueprint for course design. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education43(5), 840–854. in new window)

    Martin, F., Ritzhaupt, A., Kumar, S., & Budhrani, K. (2019). Award-winning faculty online teaching practices: Course design, assessment and evaluation, and facilitation. The Internet and Higher Education42, 34–43. in new window)

    Baldwin, S. J., & Ching, Y.-H. (2019). An online course design checklist: development and users’ perceptions. Journal of Computing in Higher Education31(1), 156–172. in new window)


    Ready to apply Canvas organization to your teaching? Here are some top tips:

    Tip #1: Less is More

    Have you experienced this before? You go to an unfamiliar website, and feel overwhelmed with all of the choices of things to click on. Where do you start? Our students feel the same way about our campus online space. Even an experienced Canvas user can feel overwhelmed by choice. Rather than utilizing ALL of the tools that Canvas has to offer, try only using what is important, and hiding the rest. This goes for your homepage, the left side menu bar(opens in new window), and your modules. More to click on could mean more opportunities for confusion. Keep it simple!

    Tip #2: Start with the Home Page(opens in new window)

    Your Home Page can be a useful part of how your students navigate your course. A clean, well organized landing page makes a big difference for students trying to find what they need. Using the template offered by Chico State is a great place to start! 

    Tip #3: Try not to Bury important content

    This one can be a little tricky when paired with Tip #1 and #2. We want to make sure our landing pages are clean and easy to navigate, and at the same time, we need to add class content. If students have to click more than a few times to find something important, they might struggle to find it and it can cause confusion. Try adding really important course content to the homepage or announcements and make it obvious where to go for help. 

    Tip #4: Consistency is Key

    Teachers who are praised for their organization do this simple thing: they keep things consistent throughout each module/week. Once students learn the flow of the course, they know how to navigate it and understand the expectations. If you organize your modules with the content order of: lecture video, lecture slides, activity and assignments, keep that same structure from week to week. Once you show students how it works, they understand and expect repetition. Bonus: it makes things easier for you too!