mod·ule (/ˈmäjo͞ol/) – each of a set of standardized parts or independent units that can be used to construct a more complex structure, such as an item of furniture or a building.
If you think about it, your courses are made up of standardized parts and independent units that are put together into a more complex structure, to facilitate the delivery of your content and subject matter to the students.  This post explores how to use Modules in Canvas, at both basic and deep levels, so that you can make sure that all of these different parts fit together in a way that is logical and easy to follow.

Basics of Modules

Canvas provides the means for you to create several different content types:

  • Pages for disseminating information
  • Assignments for graded work
  • Quizzes for live assessment and feedback
  • Discussions for facilitating active conversation and interaction.

The trick is, Canvas keeps each of these content types separate, in its own area in the left-hand course navigation. Students can easily see lists of all Pages, all Assignments, etc., but what about when your content needs to be organized by date, or by topic? You may have a Page that provides key information for an upcoming Quiz.  Or a Discussion that should directly follow an Assignment.

Modules in Canvas were designed for just this purpose.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 4.13.27 PM

Modules let you group and order content logically, to establish the desired flow in your course.

Some things you need to know about Modules before starting:

  • Modules do not contain the items themselves. Or even “copies” of the items. Items listed inside a Module are simply links to the original content. So in the image above, “Week 1 Reading” is a Page, that would also be accessible via the Pages link in the course navigation. Removing it from the Module does not remove the content itself, but only the link to the content.
  • Modules have their own “published” status (the cloud icon in the top line). Since Modules are used as a control structure, their publish settings will override that of the items contained within. So even if an item contained in a Module is published, it will be inaccessible if the Module containing it is unpublished.

Creating a module

Click on the blue [ + Module ] button at the top right to create a module. Name it something that will apply to the content within, such as “Week 1 – Course Introduction.” You can break up your content into modules in any way that you feel is sensible and clear for your students. We’ll talk about some of the other settings later – for now click “Add Module.”

Adding content to a module

Within your new module, click the [ + ] button to add an item. Then, choose the type of content you want to add at the top of the window. You’ll be presented with a list of existing content in your course of that type, along with an option to create a new piece of content of that type.

The "Add Item" dialog window

The “Add Item” dialog window

Reordering Content in a Module

To change the order of content in a module, use the textured “grab areas” at the left hand side of the item to click-and-drag to a different position.

Publishing a Module

Publish your module (when you’re ready) using the small cloud icon at the top of the module. Make sure it’s filled in green, with a checkmark: Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 4.52.16 PM

One important permissions issue to note – when using Modules, the publish status of a Module will override the publish status of individual items. For instance, if I publish a new Assignment, making it visible to all students, but place it inside of a Module that is either unpublished or not yet available (see sections below), the Assignment will not be accessible to students. Modules could be considered the “master control structure” for course content. Make sure you check the status of your Modules, especially if you’re having some strange permission / access issues in your course.

Consider Changing Course Navigation Links

When using Modules, I find that it often results in less confusion if you remove some links from the left-hand course navigation menu. Since the flow of your course will be clearly spelled out in the Modules area, that’s the only doorway you need to provide for the students to access your content. I suggest turning off the links to Pages, Assignments, Quizzes, Files, and (maybe) Discussions when you use Modules.

To do this, go to Settings (lower left) > Navigation tab (top). Click and drag to move / remove navigation items, or click the gear icon and then “Disable.” Don’t forget to click [ Save ] at the bottom when you’re done!


If you want to stop here, then that’s great – you’ve got all that you need to organize your different content into more logical and appropriate groupings. But Modules can be used for so much more… read on if you’re interested!


Defining Completion Criteria

Modules are also useful for showing students where they are in the course. It helps them to keep track of what they’ve done, and what they have yet to do. The first step in this process for the instructor is to define “completion criteria” for each item with in a Module, so that Canvas can let the student know whether or not they’ve done what the instructor wants with that item.

Think about the requirements for considering the item complete…

So first, ask yourself “what should the student do with this item?” Depending on the type of content, possible actions could be to view the item, mark it as completed, submit it, contribute to it, or even achieve a certain score on it. For each item with a defined completion criterion, Canvas will do two things:

  1. Tell the student what needs to be done with the item
  2. Show the student whether or not it has been completed

These indicators will help your students clearly progress through your course content.

Student progress is indicated when using completion criteria.

Student progress is indicated when using completion criteria.

Adding completion criteria to a Module

  1. Click the gear box in the title line of an individual Module (not the item) and click Edit.
  2. In the “Requirements” section, click “Add Requirement”
  3. There, you can generate a list of requirements for the Module by selecting an item from the left-hand dropdown menu and then defining what must be done with it in the right-hand dropdown menu. If you would like to add more requirements, simply click “Add Requirement” again.
Adding requirements / completion criteria to a Module (click to enlarge)

Adding requirements / completion criteria to a Module (click to enlarge)

Note: you do not need to set completion criteria for each item, but be aware that Canvas will show the student that the Module as a whole is complete when all of the requirements are met.

A recent addition to Canvas is the “Complete one of…” completion criteria. This feature is available but is undergoing some more changes / testing soon, so for now I will skip it.

Controlling Flow Within a Module

Requiring completion of items in order

In addition to configuring Canvas to clearly indicate what needs to be done within a Module, you have the ability to enforce a sequential flow – so you could require students to read a Page before they could get to the Assignment, and submit the Assignment before taking the quiz.

Note that you’ll need to have completion criteria set up for at least one item in the module. If you have not set this up yet, see the section above on Defining Completion Criteria. After that, all it takes is to check one box! This box is found in the Module settings:

  1. Click the gear box in the title line of an individual Module (not the item) and click Edit.
  2. At the bottom of you criteria list, check the box that reads “Students must move through requirements in this module in sequential order.”

Now, when your students see the module, items are inaccessible (grayed out) until the requirements for the previous item are met:

Requiring sequential progress within a Module

Requiring sequential progress within a Module

Controlling Flow Between Modules

The previous section talked about how to control how students access content within a Module, but you can also control relationships between different Modules as well.

You can choose to either close a Module until a given date (making its content unavailable), or close a Module until a previous Module is complete. You could even get fancy and do both of these things on the same Module, if you wanted.

Restricting access by date

Closing a Module until a given date is a simple fix, and does not require you to set completion criteria beforehand:

  1. Click the gear box in the title line of an individual Module (not the item) and click Edit.
  2. Check the “Lock until” box at the top of the box
  3. Provide a date /time at which to unlock the Module
Locking a Module until a given date

Locking a Module until a given date

Module prerequisites (completion of Modules in order)

To make your course truly sequential, you can unlock a Module only after one or more previous Modules have been completed. To do this, you will need to have defined completion criteria for the Module that you’re using as the prerequisite. If you haven’t done this yet, see the section above on Defining Completion Criteria.

Also note that you’ll see the settings for adding a prerequisite to a Module only after you have 2 or more Modules in your list.

To add prerequisites to a Module:

  1. Click the gear box in the title line of an individual Module (not the item) and click Edit.
  2. Click “Add prerequisite”
  3. Choose the Module that you’d like to be a prerequisite for the current one.
  4. You may repeat this if you want to require the completion of several Modules before students gain access to the current one.
Adding prerequisites to Modules

Adding prerequisites to Modules

Once this is done, the Module will be locked to anyone who has not met the prerequisite requirements. Students will be able to see that the Module exists, but will not have access to it. They will see what the prerequisites are, however, so they know what to do first.

Students can see the Module but not access it until prerequisites are met.

Students can see the Module but not access it until prerequisites are met.

Summary (and bonus tip)

Modules are a very powerful tool in Canvas, one that many instructors gloss over. They are good for organizing your content logically, but also for controlling flow through your course, if you want that level of control.

One last bonus tip: you can also make the Modules page appear as the course home page if you wish – on your course home page, select “Choose Home Page” at the right, and Course Modules should be one of your options. After selecting this option, your Modules list will appear as the first thing students see when they load up the course.

Good luck and happy Module-ing!