Designing Great Canvas Courses at University of Nebraska College of Business

Concurrent Session 5

Brief Abstract

The College of Business at University of Nebraska wanted to improve the consistency and usability of their online MBA courses as they migrated from Blackboard to Canvas. To help, they turned to Design Tools for Canvas by Cidi Labs, which provides helpful design and templating tools to make their courses shine.


Dr. Tawnya Means is the Assistant Dean for Educational Innovation and Chief Learning Officer in the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Prior to this role, Tawnya served as the Assistant Dean and Director of the Teaching and Learning Center for the College of Business at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Director of the Teaching and Learning Center at the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida, leading teaching and learning support and providing faculty development programs and resources for instructional innovation and adoption of pedagogical best practices. With 20 years of experience in higher education, course design, and educational consulting, Tawnya has also taught courses in entrepreneurship, strategy, technology, and leadership in remote teams. Dr. Means received her B.S. in Education, M.S. in Educational Technology, and Ph.D. in Information Science and Learning Technologies with an emphasis on learning systems design, all from the University of Missouri. She completed the AACSB Post-doctoral bridge program in Management and Entrepreneurship at the University of Florida. Her research interests are in online and blended learning, active learning, learning space design, technology for teaching, access to digital learning resources, and faculty preparation to teach. She has long been a leader in campus initiatives and committees and actively presents at conferences and other institutions and organizations on technology-enhanced learning.
Kenneth Larsen is a programmer analyst at Utah State University. Kenneth is the creator of DesignPLUS. He holds a Master’s Degree from Utah State in Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences and works with faculty directly through the school’s Center for Innovative Design and Instruction.

Extended Abstract

The College of Business at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln offers an online MBA program with a current enrollment of 480 students spread around the world. Designed for flexibility using accelerated short courses with no on-campus residency requirement, students have just 8 weeks to complete each course. Since these busy students have many competing obligations, it is essential that their courses have clear instructions and simple and clean designs, so that they can focus their efforts on learning the material rather than on how to navigate their courses. It is also important that students experience consistency between course sites, allowing them to quickly get started with their new courses each term.

In the summer of 2017, the College also initiated a strategic rebranding, which led to a complete redesign of all the program’s course sites. To further complicate things, an ongoing migration from Blackboard to Canvas had most instructors learning a new LMS, supported only by a few instructional designers embedded in the college from a central unit. As instructors set up and organized their new course sites in Canvas, the initial courses were quite basic and not aesthetically pleasing or welcoming to students.

To improve their courses, The College of Business found Design Tools for Canvas, which is an instructional design toolset created by Utah State University and now available as a SaaS solution through Cidi Labs, a Canvas partner.

By using Design Tools instructors and instructional designers had easy-to-use tools to quickly scaffold, template, design and create their new Canvas courses. They relied on innovative features including:

  • custom page templates and themes
  • consistent navigation and standard page designs
  • reusable content blocks with pre-defined and easily editable text
  • course module building tools to quickly scaffold courses
  • accessibility checking tools to ensure accessible content is created
  • syllabus tools for ensuring consistent syllabus content
  • and many more

Rolling out Design Tools allowed the program to rapidly meet newly adopted course design standards in less than one full semester. Immediate student response has been very positive.

Come see a demo and learn about the Design Tools features that were critical to our success. We will show examples of current online MBA course sites, as well as share plans for future development.