Preparing Your Canvas Course

Before you get started building your Canvas course, review the list below so you know what to expect. This will help ensure you are fully prepared to begin to build your course. 

CELT recommends that all instructors begin by consulting the academic and instruction updates from the SVPP website before beginning. 

Before You Begin

Below is a list for instructors to consider before, during, and after building your Canvas course:

Building Your Canvas Course

The five-step process below walks you through developing a simple course in Canvas. 

Consider the five important actions as you create your course, through publishing course content. 

If you’re looking for more information about Canvas settings or navigation, review the Instructor Guides available to CELT or email celt-help@iastate.edu with your questions.

  1. Log into Canvas by clicking on the “Sign Ons” link on the upper right-hand corner (above the search box) of Iowa State University’s home page.
  2. Navigate to the ? Help (left side of your screen).
  3. Locate and click on the Global Course Administration link
  4. Click on the Select Prepare to Teach link

Select the appropriate term from the dropdown menu, then follow the steps outlined below:

  1. Locate your Unlinked Registrar Sections and grab the section you wish to use.
    • Note: If the section you are teaching is not listed, you will need to be added as the Instructor of Record. Locate your staff member via the Registrar’s Departmental Contact page. If the department is not listed, contact the Office of the Registrar at 515-294-1840 or email registrar@iastate.edu.
  2. Drag it over the top box labeled Drag Sections Here to Create a New Canvas Course. When the border turns blue, release your mouse button to create the Canvas course. In the pop-up window, choose whether to create a blank course or include the ISU Template.
  3. Your newly created Canvas course will appear alphabetically in the list below. Your Registrar section is now connected to Canvas. Drag additional sections to the same course to combine them into one Canvas course. Sections will display as having “0 Students” until data is automatically received from AccessPlus, approximately 2 weeks before the start of the semester. Once student data is received, students will automatically gain access when both of the following conditions have been met:
    1. the course is published (see Publish Course below)
    2. the term start date has passed, typically 1 week before the start of classes unless you specify otherwise (see Specify Course Settings below)
  4. Click on the course name to navigate to your course.

Notes:

Steps to create a course in Canvas at Iowa State University

  1. Import content from your previously taught course:
    1. From the Home page of your Canvas course, choose Import Course Content on the right sidebar.
    2. Choose Content Type Copy a Canvas Course.
    3. Select All Content or Specific Content, depending on your needs.

Note: If you are unable to locate a previous course, it is likely concluded. See Course Conclusion in Canvas for more information.

Or, create new content from scratch:

Note: Be sure to include appropriate syllabus statements.

  1. Rename your course to add/remove section identifiers to the course’s actual name (see the change name/course code guide).
    1. Under Name, change the course name to reflect what you want students to see on the course tile found on their Dashboard. See example course tile below:Example course tile at Iowa State University
    2. Scroll to the bottom of the page and choose Update Course Details.
  2. Set your students’ access dates and permissionsNote: There are two options for access dates. You can choose to set via Term or Course.
    • To set via Course
      • Under the “Participation” entry, select “Course.”
      • Enter alternate Start and End dates if students need access earlier than one week before the semester begins or longer than two weeks after classes end.
      • Restrict students from seeing the course outside these dates. You can choose to restrict students before and/or after these dates.
      • Scroll to the bottom of the page and choose Update Course Details.

    • To set via Term
      • Under the “Participation” entry, select “Term.” 
      • The Start and End dates will no longer be editable. They are set dates for the entire term. 
      • Restrict students from seeing the course outside these dates. You can choose to restrict students before and/or after these dates.
      • Scroll to the bottom of the page and choose Update Course Details.
  3. Simplify Course Navigation (see manage custom navigation links page).
    1. Under the Navigation tab, drag and drop items to show or hide them from your left navigation menu.
      1. All courses are strongly encouraged to use the Syllabus Statements feature to integrate the required and recommended syllabus statements. More information about this feature can be found on the Syllabus Statements feature page.
    2. Scroll to the bottom of the page and choose Save.
  4. Navigate back to your Home page to use the Student View to check the visibility of individual items and Modules as a whole (use student view in a browser or student view in the Canvas Teacher app). Additionally, Student View adds a test student to Grades. After participating in Student View, enter your Gradebook as a teacher to view any Test Student entries.

See the Additional Course Settings page for more details.

This provides a back-end look at Canvas course set up. It shows the firs step of the navigation pane in the upper right hand corner, the course name, the course start-end dates mid-page and then highlights the navigation bar at the top of the page

Modular course design advocates for building courses in smaller, discrete units, or instructional packages, known as modules.

A module is a unit, chapter, concept, or segment of instruction. It is a standard unit or instructional section of your course that is a “self-contained” chunk of instruction. A week is a common module length, but it can be shorter or longer depending on the content and your teaching style.

A modular structure of a course helps students be more aware of the structure, they spend less time guessing about what is expected of them and more time focusing on the content and activities.

What to include in a module

Think of a module as an outline or to-do list for your students who must be able to demonstrate achievement at the end of the module. Thus your module may include both instructional information and learning and assessment activities.

A typical module may include:

  • An introduction to the module’s objectives, its rationale/purpose, and context.
  • Activities for students to discover, discuss, and share the concepts and additional information. These can include lecture notes, PowerPoint presentations, readings, and discussions.
  • Opportunities to practice application, analysis, and synthesis of the new skills and information; such opportunities include practice exercises, labs, or case studies.
  • Informal and formal assessment of student performance based on the module’s objectives.
  • The instructor’s feedback on student learning and achievement.

Canvas Guides: How to build a module

Tip: As you add items to your module, use the naming conventions that make it easy to locate them. For example, “Module 1: Definitions of and differences between minerals and rocks”.

Tip: You cannot create a module inside a module. Use text headers if you want to create a visual distinction between readings and assessments.

Canvas Guides: How to manage student learning with modules

Navigate to Home on the left navigation within your course.

The Home Page is the first impression of a course. Use Choose Home Page to select the option that best enables your students to access content and navigate the course.

Setting your homepage in Canvas


The Syllabus is a great way to create an entry point: The upper part of the page can be simple (you can place a link to your Syllabus file there) or more developed (you can upload the course’s logo and create several links that have important course information). 

Canvas Guides: How to choose your homepage

Tip: As you edit the Syllabus description, you can upload and link the electronic copy of your course syllabus. From your selector to the right, select Files and upload an appropriate file.

  1. Log into Canvas by clicking on the “Sign Ons” link on the upper right-hand corner (above the search box) of Iowa State University’s home page.
  2. Navigate to the ? Help (left side of your screen).
  3. Locate and click on the Global Course Administration link
  4. Click on the Select Prepare to Teach link

Then, follow these steps:

  1. Click the toggle to Publish the course.
  2. The left course card will turn green and the toggle will say “YES” when the course is published.

How to publish a course in Canvas at Iowa State University

Reminder: Student enrollment is handled by Registrar data that updates nightly. If a student does not have access to your course but feels they should be in the course, please refer them to the Registrar’s office. Adding a student to the course manually can cause issues with enrollment, payment, and grade processing. 

Additional Iowa State Resources

  • ☑ Immediate Access to course materials is a collaborative program between the ISU Book Store, faculty, and publishers. Students that are enrolled in an Immediate Access course will receive access to all required course materials on the first day of class and at a reduced cost compared to the national average.
  • ☑ For helpful information on academic accommodations for students in Canvas please see the How-to Guide for Student Accommodations in Canvas web guide.
  • ☑ Library Services – Embed library guides, request a course-specific guide, add streaming videos or link course reserves inside your course.
  • ☑ Information Technology has some options for Bubble Sheets. View the Information Technology Knowledge base articles: IT Ordering Bubble Sheets page and the Supported Scoring of Exam Bubble Sheets page.
  • ☑ Faculty using the quiz and exam features built into Canvas may wish to utilize the Online Testing Center as a secure location for students to take these assessments.
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