Canvas Course Design

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Canvas Course Design

Courses are the main anchor points for teachers and students in Canvas. Every course in any UM curriculum has a corresponding course set up in Canvas. Courses created in SAP can also be created in Canvas. Students will be enrolled automatically in the course.


But before deciding about structuring your Canvas course and deciding which functionalities to use, you might need some time to consider what you want your students to do. You do so, based on the intended learning outcomes (ILOs) of your course and fitting teaching and learning activities (TLAs) to reach these ILOs. You also think of aligned assessment modes. You probably recognised it already, but here we refer to constructive aligning your course.

For more information on how to make use of Canvas within your education, we refer to this guide. If you know already what you want to do with Canvas, but need some guidance, we refer you to the guides and manuals page.

After you are done designing your course, you go back to Canvas and structure your course, aligned to the decisions you made. You can of course also dive in the UM Online Education Website.

UM Course Template

Each new course will contain the UM template with a predefined course lay-out and structure. This year you have to build your course from scratch, next time you can copy your course. You can of course make use of a mixed training offer and (available for period 1 and 2 courses) make use of a transition service to support you.

Maastricht University has agreed to a uniform template for all UM bachelor and master courses. This is a pre‐set course environment of the items in the course menu. Such a uniform template ensures a clear course structure, making it easier for students and staff to know where to find crucial course elements. Each course coordinator or other person involved in canvas course design is asked to follow the guidelines for using and filling the course template.

Find out what the UM course template looks like or watch the videos in which:


Modules in Canvas

A Canvas course is built around modules or building blocks of the actual course. In these modules, students find their tasks and assignments, or prepare, review and discuss material for their tutorials and lectures. It is entirely up to the course coordinators and planning groups to build the course modules to match their needs. The didactic team involved in the Canvas implementation, recommend that course modules are built in a chronological order: by week, by tasks, by problem case, etc. This will guide students through their course materials and activities as they occur during the actual course. The digital learning environment then becomes a true extension of the physical learning environment.

During the current situation of online education, the advantages of such a structure proved very useful.

Watch this video to learn more about using Modules as a teacher:

Sections and groups

Next to modules, every Canvas course consists of sections for tutorial groups. On several levels in your course, you can create groups in which students can collaborate, co-create and perform peer feedback.

Sections are defined for tutorial groups and will be named ‘Tutorial Section 01’ and so on. They are created automatically. Sections are a means to communicate with a tutor group by posting announcements for that specific section. It is also possible to offer an assignment only to a particular section. Furthermore, tutors who are not course coordinators, will only see the students in their own sections when using options like People, Grades, Attendance tracking or when they want to create groups.

In a short video we explain everything about these sections.

The group functionality can facilitate group work.  Apart from sections, groups are created automatically for the tutorial groups. They are named Course Code-Tutorial Group x, and so on (e.g. ABC2202 Tutorial Group 03).

The tutorial groups provide students with an environment for collaboration within their tutorial group. They have their own homepage, discussion board, and can make their own pages and exchange files.

Apart from these Canvas groups for the tutorial groups, teachers and tutors can create other groups within the course.

Working with Canvas tools

Tools for communication regarding matters such as assignments can be used for specific sets of students: at course level, tutorial group level (Sections) and ad-hoc group level (Groups).

What we explicitly want to share on this page is how to have students practice and submit exercises online. We focus on assignments, quizzes and discussions.

Having students working on practice materials or exercises in Canvas can be done in several ways, depending on how you incorporate them in the course. Canvas has two functionalities for this, called ‘Assignments’ and ‘Quizzes’. At UM, working on Canvas assignments or quizzes are only meant to use for formative assessment. Summative assessment should be done by using TestVision.

    • to stimulate student-student interaction
    • to stimulate student-teacher interaction
    • as a learning activity
    • to provide help

Discussions video:

Sharing and reusing learning resources

You can reuse course material by copying content from one course to another. See the manual.

The University Library uses Keylinks Learning Resources to create uniform lists of course-related materials for your students.

For more information see the Keylinks portal of the Library.  Keylinks Learning Resources is integrated in Canvas, see Addional Tools.

For more information on sharing resources, please visit

Testing in Canvas and TestVision

Digital exam tools can improve the content of an exam, by offering more options for collaboration and question formats. The elimination of the paper workflow saves time and makes grading open-ended questions much easier. The whole process is contained within a secure environment, that you can access from anywhere in the world. You can collaboratively develop questions in the item-bank, and students can give and receive feedback within the software.

Canvas offers functionality to offer quizzes to test and (self) assess. Maastricht University also offers TestVision for digital assessment (both on-site, e.g. in MECC Maastricht, and off site).

Watch the recordings of dedicated webinars (2020/2021):

  • Creating quizzes in Canvas
  • Online assessment; limitations and opportunities (overview of options TestVision and Canvas have to offer): will be added soon
  • A closer look at TestVision: will be added soon

For first-time users, the Introduction to TestVision workshop is a must (scheduled on a regular basis). This will get you started on creating questions and setting up your first exam. If it has been a while, this also a great way to refresh your knowledge of TestVision! More experienced users who have specific or advanced questions are welcome to Zoom by during our Ask-Me-Anything (vragenuurtje). Please register to get the zoom link.

And as always, the TestVision training for Teachers in Canvas is available 24/7 with video tutorials and step-by-step manuals.

For more information on digital assessment, please visit the Maastricht University Digital Exams Portal


Information on creating accessible course material

When creating course material, you will probably think of making it accessible for a broad audience. You will consider the language, your audience and level you are developing for. But are you aware of how to make your material as digital accessible as possible?

Creating material (coursebooks, powepoint-presentations, videos, PDFs, etc) is something we do on a daily basis. To enhance accessibility of documents – not only for vision impaired students, but actually for everyone – you can make use of  guidelines for creating accessible course material.

Blueprint courses

What are blueprints

A blueprint (BP) is a course in Canvas without students, that serves as a master copy for other courses. All settings and content in the blueprint can be synchronised with the courses that are connected to the BP, the so-called associated courses (ACs). A blueprint can be used to generate the same content in several courses at the same time. The students are enrolled in the associated courses and will have access to the material there. Supervision of the students will also take place in the individual ACs.

Why do we make use of blueprints

Blueprints are used in cases where two or more courses are simultaneously taught with the same content but for different groups of student.

The actual courses are the associated courses, the blueprint serves as a single source to be copied to the ACs. Use of the BP ensures that only one course has to be prepared and maintained. Changes and additions to the course ca be made in the BP.

See also the Blueprint manual for teachers.

If you want to make use of a BP, please contact your Canvas Faculty Support.


Author:  UM Library



This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License.


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