September – 2019 – St. Thomas E-Learning And Research
Monthly Archives

September 2019

Student Systems of Support

Student Success Sites: Home Page as a Foundation

In this article, I introduce Strategy 2: How to create a clear home page and easy site navigation so students start and stick with it. This is the third in a series of Eight Strategies blog series for staff/faculty who create electronic orientation and learning resources for students.

There are several categories of Student Success Sites currently used at our university:

  • Onboarding sites to provide orientation at the beginning of a program or prior to a certain course;
  • Program community sites to provide connection to the people and information in a program once stakeholders have had an initial orientation; and
  • Knowledge, skills or competencies sites to teach a certain concept or subject area that is either program-specific or something that cuts across various program areas.

Home Page as a Strong Foundation

Using a physical home as a metaphor for the design of a home page may help to further leverage important elements at the beginning of a site.

When arriving home, it helps when we feel welcome, know what to expect, where to find things, and who is there to help! We want students to log in and immediately feel welcome since this will help them see this is a resource for them.

Students are more likely to start exploring the resource if their first visit to the home page helps them easily understand the reason to use the resource.

Furthermore,  students are more likely to stick with the resource and drill down beyond the home page if the site has clear navigation tips. A home base may also serve as a re-entry point or a familiar place to return back to; after all, there is no place like home.

Consider these examples to gain inspiration for crafting your own meaningful home page.  

Strategy 2 Home Base Examples:  

  • The Registration Readiness site, created by St. Thomas Academic Advising team members Susan Anderson, Drew Puroway, and colleagues, introduce new students to key first-year content electronically in a Canvas site before they come on campus for orientation and registration. At the top of the home page, there is a welcome message and clear communication about the purpose of the site and steps to get started.  

This Registration Readiness mini-course will prepare you to register for Fall semester classes when you attend Orientation and Registration (O&R) this summer.

    • Start by watching this welcome video on this home page;
    • Next, scroll down this home page and read all of this information;
    • Then, select the “Start Here” button at the bottom of this page to begin this mini-course.”

  • The Tommie Tech for Graduate Students site introduces new students to St. Thomas technology and includes recommended steps for getting the most out of the site. A welcome message from Dr. Ed Clark, Chief Information Officer at the University of St. Thomas, explains why this resource exists and how it may benefit them.

    The home page also includes a short video from a graduate student and additional navigational tips including pointing out a feature where pages will check off to help them keep track of which pages have been explored already. We know student time is important and want to point out helpful, time-saving features.
  • The Orientation to Online Learning site home page includes a 50-second captivating video of a student guide explaining why the site is important to their success in upcoming online classes. During the first two minutes on the site’s home page, students want to know the what, why, and how regarding the site. The home page also includes contact information for the site moderators (if you get stuck in the orientation site), and a clear Start Here and Navigation Tips section.

Wrap Up

The home page can serve as a foundation that students start with and may come back to multiple times. What you put on your home page will depend on your context and preferences for content organization. I hope that these examples further feed your own journey, and would welcome hearing from you about your examples!

This post was written by Jo Montie, Online Learning Systems Facilitator with the St. Thomas E-Learning and Research (STELAR) Center at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. To learn more about this topic, please visit our website at or email Jo at 

Best Practices, Tips, and Tricks, Technology Tools

8 Tips for Launching Your Canvas Course

Each semester, consider these 8 tips for launching your Canvas course.   

  1. Hide unused buttons.  Eliminate confusion and streamline the student experience by hiding any unused left-navigation buttons. You can also reorder the items in the left navigation to suit your needs. 
  1. Post your Syllabus in Syllabus. In the Fall 2018 semester, more than 80% of St. Thomas students clicked on Syllabus in Canvas, expecting to find their course Syllabus. Make finding your Syllabus easy for students by posting your syllabus in Syllabus (found in the left navigation). You can upload a Word document or PDF or copy/paste the text directly into the page’s rich content editor. 
  1. Organize your course chronologically in Modules. Organizing your course chronologically in Modules creates a natural progression through course materials and activities each week and eases navigation. It also helps students manage their workload because the modules can be one-stop shop for everything they need—an overview page to provide context, a list of assigned readings, videos, or links, and assignments. 
  1. Stream course videos through Panopto. Uploading or recording new videos in Panopto (St. Thomas’ video streaming and management system) gives you the ability to embed/link that video directly in Canvas, so students won’t need to download the video to view it, and you won’t need to worry about running out of space with large video files. 
  1. Send course updates via Announcements. The best way to send a message to the whole class is to post an Announcement. Doing so triggers an email, a Canvas app push notification, and a text notification (depending on how students set up their notifications) all of which tell students a new announcement exists. All announcements are also saved in the Announcements tool for future reference. 
  1. Turn files into Pages. Using Canvas Pages instead of files makes your content easily accessible on any device or operating system. Instead of presenting a series of files (handouts, documents, and PDFs) to students, you can use Canvas Pages to present the same information. The power of Pages is that you can present short instructions, long articles, hyperlink to websites, as well as link to multiple documents, all on a single page. You can also increase the visual appeal of your content with page headings, images, color, and much more. 
  1. Publish, publish, publish.  Courses, by default, are not available to students until you publish them. For students to see your course content, you must publish the course, the modules, and the items. Use Student View to make sure that the content you choose to share with students is available. (The Syllabus is automatically available as soon as the course is published.) 
  1. Check your dates. Check your start and end dates in Settings to make sure your course is scheduled to open and close when you want. Students will see the course in a “read-only” version until the start date passes. They will not receive notifications and they will not be able to participate in discussions or submit assignments. Also make sure the dates in your Syllabus match the dates built into your modules, assignment descriptions, Canvas calendar, and announcements.  

This post includes contributions from Katherine M. Nelson, St. Thomas Innovation & Technology Services Communications and Training Manager, and was slightly modified from a Dec 4, 2018, blog (Point Tune-Up) first contributed by STELAR Instructional Designer Darcy Turner. To learn more about the St. Thomas E-Learning and Research (STELAR) Center at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn, visit STELAR’s website or email us at