Canvas content pages or PDF’s: Is there a better approach?

You probably have lots of instructional materials loaded into your Canvas courses. You can present information from custom web pages, called content pages. You can also upload files into Canvas (documents, presentations, etc.). Is one approach better than another? While there is no single correct answer for all situations, considering your students needs when determining how to provide course materials can be a good approach.

Content Pages

A content page in Canvas is actually an HTML web page created with the tools available in the Rich Content Editor (RCE). Although you can enter HTML code to create this page, most folks use the visual RCE tools for this process. Providing instruction from a content page has some advantages for your students:

  • Can be accessed from a desktop/laptop computer, or mobile device (via Canvas student app) without the need to download or open other software.
  • Page content is responsive (adapts to reader preferences and display/device limitations).
  • Well-designed content pages work seamlessly with assistive technology

The Canvas RCE has tools for inserting and styling text, adding images and videos, and linking to other course resources or external sites. You can insert tables and math expressions (manually created or via LaTeX). You can also build math expressions using a variety of input methods from the powerful EquatIO tool available from the Apps tool (plug icon) in the RCE. A built in accessibility checker is also available to check for some common errors, such as missing alternative text descriptions for images, missing table headers, and proper heading and list structure.

In many instances a well-structured Canvas content page can offer the best experience for your students, providing them the flexibility to access the content from various devices and without need for additional software.

PDF’s

Documents can be shared in many formats, but the most common (by far) is PDF. Documents usually originate in Word or Google format, or PowerPoint presentation files. Uploading these files to your Canvas course to share with students requires them to have the necessary software to open these formats. Students must also download the files and then open locally on their computer and may need access to a printer if they require a hard copy.

Providing documents in PDF format can eliminate some of the software restrictions. Students can download the free Adobe Reader (or use another PDF viewer available with their operating system) to access the PDF course materials. In most cases, the document will look exactly the same as when you designed it (assuming you have exported it properly). For the syllabus or other important course documents a printable PDF can be an valuable resource.

Document Structure

It’s very important that you use the correct workflow for exporting your documents. This usually means using the “export to PDF” or “save as PDF” options in your text editor to create your document. Never use the “Print to PDF” option! The resulting PDF will be an image based file that will have none of the underlying structural elements that are very important to students who use assistive technology, or for anyone who needs to modify the document for optimal viewing.

This underlying structure is equally important when sharing PDF’s from online journals or scanned from physical textbooks. Unfortunately many journals are still not providing fully accessible documents. Scanned documents are often inherently inaccessible (image-based) and very difficult to use by all learners. In both cases students can face serious digital barriers to access if they are using assistive technology. The Ally accessibility checker included in Canvas will scan all documents in your course and provide an accessibility score and guidance for how to make improvements, if needed.

A Van Pelt and Opie librarian can help you locate accessible course resources from journals and publications and the Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning is available to consult about best options for creating and sharing course materials with your students in Canvas.

Resources

Creating Accessible Documents
Creating Accessible Presentations


Need Help?

Contact the elearning support team in the Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning if you have questions about Canvas, Huskycast, Zoom or other educational technology tools.

elearning@mtu.edu | 487-3000


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