Setting Up a Canvas Course: The Basics

This page is for SRJC faculty who are setting up a Canvas course for the first time. You'll learn the basics about Canvas course shells, your Course Home Page, course templates available to you, and how to import content from Commons and other systems. Watch this 6-minute video to get started, and then scroll down this page to read more.

What are Canvas course shells?

As an instructor, every course you're assigned to teach in the Schedule of Classes will automatically have a course "shell" added to your Canvas account. The term "shell" is used to describe the Canvas user interface that you use to set up (and for students to access) course content and activities. If you don't see a course shell for a course you're assigned to teach in your Dashboard of Canvas, see our Finding Your Course Shell help document.

Basic components of a course shell are shown in the image below, including:

  1. Course Home Page, which is the first page students see when they open the course,
  2. a Course Navigation menu with links for you and your students to get to specific locations in the course,
  3. Syllabus page where you can post your syllabus, and
  4. Modules index, which allows you to organize your content to help control the flow of your course. Modules can include files, discussions, assignments, quizzes, and other learning materials that you would like to use.

Canvas Course Home Page, course navigation menu shows links to a Syllabus page and Modules index

Aside from Canvas interface tools, SRJC course shells for 2017 are devoid of content until you add some. One exception is the Course Home Page, which has content meant for faculty. You will need to set a new Course Home Page and customize the content for your students.

Why do I need to set a new Course Home Page (a.k.a. Front Page)?

The Course Home Page for a new shell has content on the page that is meant for faculty. The content includes links to Canvas help resources for faculty and instructions for setting up your course. If you do not change the page, students will be confused.

You can customize the Home Page to welcome students to the course and draw their attention to important course information. Options for customizing the Home Page include: 

Quickstart templates are available for the Home Page and other basic course elements. 

What are Quickstart templates?

The Distance Education team at SRJC has created templates that you can import into your course shells to get a quick start on course development. Our Quickstart templates include a sample Home Page, Syllabus, and Modules with some placeholder elements to guide you. You can import an entire course template or pieces of it.

The templates are flexible and can be easily edited in Canvas. They are meant to provide structure and guidance for instructors creating content from scratch in Canvas. To preview the templates and to learn how to import them, see our Guide to Using Your Course Shell. If you decide to use our templates, you will import them from Commons.

What is Commons?

Canvas Commons is a learning object repository that enables educators to find, import, and share resources. A digital library full of educational content, Commons allows Canvas users to share learning resources with other users as well as import learning resources into a Canvas course.

You access Commons by logging into your Canvas account and clicking the blue Commons button in global navigation. You can search for our Quickstart templates by using the search terms "SRJC Quickstart" to see the 10 templates available. For detailed instructions about importing and editing the templates, please see our Guide to Using Your Course Shell.

How do I import other content into my shell?

If you have content in Canvas course shells from a previous semester, in another course management system, or saved as files on your computer, you can import the content into your new Canvas course shells. It is necessary to import content into new shells each semester because students are enrolled in the new shells each semester.

Where do I go from here?

Your next step is to learn to use Canvas! In-person and online Canvas training and tutorials are available to SRJC faculty. For additional Canvas help, see our Faculty Help for Canvas page. 


For immediate help with Canvas, you and your students can call the 24/7 Canvas Support Hotline. Log in to Canvas and click Help for the phone number. It's a great resource, so don't hesitate to use it!


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