I urge you to create a custom front page as the home page for each and every course you teach online.
Students start your course with anticipation as well as some anxiety. Their first visit to your Canvas course sets the initial tone for the entire term. An inviting, visually-appealing experience that clearly conveys to students where they are and where to go next will certainly start their term on a positive note.
When students first visit your Canvas course, the first thing they will see is the course home page. The home page is your first chance to capture new students’ attention and interest in the journey upon which they are about to embark. The course home page is also the first thing students see each subsequent time they visit your course or choose the course’s Home navigation link. It’s therefore helpful for the page to have useful information for both new and returning visitors.
By default, the home page for any new course is the Course Activity Stream, which shows the most recent messages posted in the course. Although the Course Activity Stream may be of some use for students in the middle of the course term, it offers no value to new students. In addition, the Course Activity Stream provides new students with no direction where to go. The navigation links provide some clues, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a button somewhere that says “start here?”
Fortunately, you can replace that useless course activity page with something more helpful. The course home page tool panel includes a button for changing the home page students see when they visit your course.
There are five options:
- Course Activity Stream
- Pages Front Page
- Course Modules
- Assignments List
The Pages Front Page option is the one that allows you to create a custom home page. With it, you can create just the experience you want your students to start the course with, as well as each time they revisit the class. It also allows you to put links to just the content the students need, whether it’s their first visit or their twentieth visit, in one place.
See my post on creating a custom course home page for instructions on creating an engaging and informative front page.
Choosing the Syllabus option for the home page would be useful for face-to-face courses in which the instructor can provide a live welcome and orientation, as well as provide direction on upcoming activities. The syllabus can then include links to all of the content stored in the online part of the course: files, activities, web links, etc. I have an entire post on how to create an effective Canvas syllabus for a face-to-face course.
The course syllabus is not such a good choice as a home page in an online course. Although it forces students to read the syllabus, it gives them an uninspired start to the course with no direction once they’ve finished reading. Using the Assignments List option is similarly problematic. It may be useful for returning students who just want to know the expectations and due date of the next assignment, but it provides no other readily available information for either new or continuing students.
Many instructors who build their course content in modules choose the Course Modules option as their home page. Modules are certainly an easy way for you to organize the structure of your content, but using the modules list as your home page creates a rigid, impersonal image of your course content, which provides a poor first impression of your course. See my post on moving away from Course Modules for details.