Design Your Online Course

Temple instructors did an amazing job quickly pivoting to online instruction during the Spring '20 semester. Now that we all have a moment to catch our breath, we can reflect upon our teaching and build our next online courses with less haste. This page is designed to help you build a new online course using best practices so that the result is sound both technologically and pedagogically.

Backward Course Design

Whether you're creating a course online or for a traditional classroom, the principles of backward course design will help you build a coherent learning experience for your students.

  • Begin at the End: Start by writing 5-10 Learning Goals for the course. What should the students know by the end of the course? What new skills should they possess? How should their worldview be different? Think about the kind of person you want your students to become.
  • Make an Assessment Plan: Now that you have goals for your students, you need a way for them to supply you with evidence that they have reached them. What will they write, create, or do to document their learning? Establish your plan and set the standards to which you’ll be holding your students.
  • Develop Learning Experiences: Once you know what you want your students to achieve and have a way of knowing if they’ve achieved it, you can then design lessons and select materials for the course. Structure all your learning opportunities so that they equip the students with everything they need to succeed at your assessments.

Structure your Online Canvas Course 

Whether you are teaching your online course synchronously or asynchronously, here are some things to consider as you’re designing your Canvas course:

  • Email: consider how students will get ready for your course. For example: you could send an introductory email from Canvas Inbox to welcome students and communicate key information about the Canvas course on the first day of class.
  • Home Page: consider putting instructions on the Home page on how to get started and where to find various course components.
  • Modules: create Modules that are consistent with meaningful titles and logical structure. For example: your modules can be organized by weeks, unit, chapters, or whatever structure that makes sense for your course. This makes it easy for students to navigate the Canvas course and to know how to find materials easily.
  • Building community: this can be done from the early days in the course. Here some ways to create a community and make your course more interactive:
    • Create a welcome video on the Home page.
    • Create an “introduce yourself” discussion to allow students to interact with each other.
    • Ask students to respond to each other’s posts in the discussions, and be part of that discussion.
    • Provide feedback in a timely manner using the SpeedGrader.
  • Provide clear instructions for assessments.
  • Due dates for assignments, quizzes, or discussions should be consistent: this will help students manage their time better. For example, if you have weekly reflective activity, have due by the same day and time every week (e.g. Wednesday at 9:00 pm)
  • Student resources: provide clear information on how students can find help, this could be in a page. This includes information about the Writing Center, the Disability Resource Center, the Learning Center, Help Desk, etc.

Getting Started with a Canvas Course Template

The Office of Digital Education has created two course shell templates to help you start building your online/hybrid course in Canvas. These templates are based on Quality Matters course design standards which promote best practices for designing and structuring online courses.

The Lite Canvas Template is recommended for faculty who have never created a course online before and the Full Canvas Template is for faculty who are experienced in creating online Canvas Content. You can, of course, still structure your course from scratch or redesign what you have. You can use the recommendations above to get you started.

Note: This template is only a guide to give faculty ideas about how to build their online course with some sample language and content to build a course quickly in Canvas – the template has been made to be very flexible and easy to edit for use.

Here are the resources to help you build your course in Canvas:

These templates provide a minimum course shell with just the essentials for creating a Canvas Course.  You can download and save this file to a folder on your computer. IMPORTANT: You do NOT have to open the downloaded file on your computer. Instead, follow this procedure:

  1. Once you've downloaded the .imscc file, go to your Canvas course.
  2. Go to Settings (normally at the bottom of the left hand menu in blue).
  3. Click on Import Course Content, which will be on the right.
  4. From the pulldown menu select Canvas Course Export Package.
  5. Use the Choose File tool to find your..imscc file. (If you don't know where you saved it, check your Downloads folder.)
  6. Select All Content.
  7. Click the Import button to begin the template process. This will take a few moments.

For more detailed step-by-step instructions with illustrations, follow these "How do I import a Canvas Course Export Package?" instructions (link to an external site) to import this file into your Canvas course.

General Education Program: In addition to the resources listed above, there is a Canvas Course Template designed specifically for GenEd courses available here.

Get the Training You Need

As part of the launch of these two new templates, the Office of Digital Education and CAT have teamed up to offer multiple sessions of two special workshops on how to best make use of them.

  • REMOTE Webinar: Learning the Basics: Using the Lite Online Course Template to Enhance the Student Learning Experience
  • REMOTE Webinar: Making the Most out of the Full Online Course Template: An Advanced-Level Webinar

For more comprehensive training on the ins and outs of online teaching, consider signing up for our Teaching Online Short Course for Faculty.

To sign up for these or any other CAT workshops, visit our Upcoming Events page.

For more information on the Quality Matters standards, see this QM rubric.

We’re here to help

CAT is running a series of webinars on various topics related to online teaching. We also have online drop-in help hours Monday through Friday, 8:30am to 5:00pm with no appointment needed, and consultation times available during the week, on weekends, and in the evenings. Faculty members have also volunteered to assist their colleagues. Additionally, note that you have access to 24/7 Zoom and Canvas support.

Sign up for our Teaching Online Short Course and get the information you'll need to create rich learning experiences for your students.

See our training schedule and register for a session or watch one of the webinars in our archive.

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