Explore the UW Canvas Course Template

Last updated: August 15, 2022


UW-IT and UW Learning Technologies developed a basic course template to help instructors quickly create courses that are easy for students to navigate. The template, which organizes course content within modules, is designed to accommodate a range of disciplines and teaching approaches. The design of the template was guided by two priorities: 1) to ease and simplify course creation, 2) to help students find the information they need. Our goal is for the template to empower instructors: to help them confident that they are creating a course that students will find easy to use.

Watch a video overview of the template

Import the Canvas course template

We recommend importing the template into a blank course. This allows you to see the structure of the template as a starting point and think about how your content works with that structure. Importing the content after importing the template also gives you an opportunity to revise and update it. Note: Do not import previously existing modules. They will not integrate successfully with the template.

Import the template from Canvas Commons

The template is available for download from Canvas Commons, a learning object repository that enables educators to find, import, and share resources. Learn more about Canvas Commons and how to import the template into your course. Search for “Canvas Course Template (2020) – UW-IT & Learning Technologies” to find the template in Commons.

Import the template using a Canvas Course Export Package (IMSCC file)

  1. Download the uw-it-canvas-course-template and unzip the file.
  2. In Canvas, navigate to the course where you want to apply the template.
  3. In your Canvas course, in the course navigation (on the left side of the page) click Settings.
  4. On the Settings page, on the right side of the page, click Import Course Content.
  5. In the Content Type dropdown, choose Canvas Course Export Package.
  6. Next to Source, click Choose File and use the file browser to find “canvas-modules-template.imscc” that you downloaded in the first step.
  7. Next to Content, select All content.
  8. Click Import. You will see a progress bar appear at the bottom of the page, letting you know how the import is progressing and when it’s complete.
    Note: Make sure that you are importing an .imscc file and that the file does not have a .zip extension.
  9. To view the template, click the Home tab of your course.

Once the import is complete, take some time to explore the template. Think about how you want to make use of it and how you will structure your content in the modules. Make any changes that are necessary to adapt your content to the module structure, including revising due dates.

Import your existing content from a previous Canvas course

  1. From the Canvas course where you have imported the template, in the left course navigation, click Settings.
  2. On the Settings page, click Import Course Content.
  3. In the Content Type dropdown, choose Copy a Canvas Course.
  4. Next to Search for a Course, enter the name the previous course that contains your content.
  5. Next to Content, select Select Specific Content.
    1. Optional: You can make changes to the dates if you so choose.
  6. Click Import.
  7. At the bottom of the screen, where the progress bar appeared earlier, you will see the name of your course. Click Select Content.
  8. From the window, select all of the content you want to import. Note: Do not import previously existing modules. They will not integrate successfully with the template.
  9. Once you have made your selections, click Select Content. A progress bar will appear, updating you on the progress of the import.

Now the template and your content are imported into the course.

Note: Most of the modules and content in the template you are importing are unpublished to ensure that students won’t find content you want hidden. We recommend leaving the Instructor module unpublished so you can use it as a resource throughout the quarter (it will remain hidden from your students). We encourage you to publish the Course Resources module along with its pages (once you have edited them), because it includes content that’s useful for students. Remember, if you have content in an unpublished module and you use it elsewhere in your course, student won’t be able to access it.

Learn more about publishing modules or the content in modules.


Why modules?

We understand that instructors may prefer tools other than modules for course organization and structure when setting up their courses. However, a modular organization provide several benefits, particularly for students. In addition to simplifying course creation, the template makes it clear to students how to get started and where to find various course components. Students can easily identify necessary materials and due dates. Consistent, readable naming conventions for each module benefit instructors and students. Course navigation is streamlined.

We strongly recommend reviewing the template even if you plan to organize your course in a different way. The suggestions for organization of content modeled in the template may help you regardless of how you set up your Canvas course. See more guidelines for creating easy-to-use courses without the template.

Template testing by UW instructors

Once an initial template was built, it was tested by a small group of UW instructors from a variety of disciplines and course types. Several instructors appreciated the inclusion of module headers that explicitly tell students what action to take (e.g., “to read”), and the guidance for instructors on how to organize each module. Instructors said:

“Course prep will be faster.”

“I am pleased with the rapid progress I have been able to make … setting up the course.”

“This will make it much easier for students to find things, and cut down on the ‘I looked everywhere and didn’t see it’ claim.”

Template research

UW-IT consulted multiple sources during the design process, including:

  • User research with UW students and instructors
  • Existing templates, including those developed by UW departments, committees and individuals
  • Literature review
  • Review of best practices in online course creation

Students have difficulty navigating Canvas courses

All these sources pointed to similar uses, challenges and needs—primarily, helping students find what they need in a Canvas course in order to succeed. When interviewed, students often mentioned their difficulty navigating Canvas courses. Students want to be able to quickly find out what they have to do and how they will be evaluated, including grading information and assignments, as well as due dates and materials. The top five uses reported by students of Canvas are:

  1. Accessing announcements
  2. Checking due dates
  3. Accessing assignment feedback
  4. Taking a quiz
  5. Accessing/reviewing course materials

Canvas courses that are clearly and consistently organized help students to engage with course content and minimize the time instructors need to spend helping students find course materials. The UW-IT basic course template helps instructors to create Canvas sites that meet this goal of clear and consistent navigation.

Learn more about how the Canvas template was developed

Share feedback about the template

UW-IT and Learning Technologies want to hear about your experience using the template. Please take a few moments to respond to a survey, which you can find in the template’s Instructor module, under “Provide Feedback on This Template.” Your responses will help us to continually improve the template. Thank you in advance for your feedback.

Guidelines for Creating Easy-to-Use Courses

The Canvas template organizes course content within modules and is designed to 1) ease and simplify course creation, 2) help students find the information they need. If you prefer not to use modules to organize your Canvas course, read on for guidelines that will help you organize online course content so that students can easily find what they need.

Make Canvas the central hub for all online course resources and materials  

Use Canvas as the:

  • Repository for all course documents.
  • Access point for media portals.
  • Connection point for LTI applications such as Panopto, Zoom, SimCheck, Attendance Tool and so on.
  • Hub for links to external tools or content.

Support student productivity and reduce obstacles for learning; invest time in organizing the course content

Well organized courses:

  • Make clear how to get started and where to find various course components.
  • Make it easy for students to identify necessary materials, due dates, and assessment criteria.
  • State the course grading policy clearly and make it easy to find.
  • Use current instructional materials.
  • Use consistent, readable naming conventions for all materials.
  • Streamline course navigation and show only relevant tools.

Ensure that all content is accessible

  • Ensure that the course provides alternative means of access to course materials in formats that meet the needs of diverse learners.
  • Format content with accessibility in mind:
    • Use headers (to benefit organization and screen readers).
    • Use font color and size consistently.
    • Images have alt text that assistive technologies can read.
    • Underlining for hyperlinks only.

Provide a clear description of support and resources for all required technologies

  • Clearly state minimum technology requirements and instructions for use.
  • Provide contact information for technology support.

Organize the course content so that it facilitates the intended pedagogical approach and learning activities

Course content should: