From April 20th, 2018 until May 11th, 2018, Emerson’s Instructional Technology Group conducted a survey via Canvas announcement allowing faculty to indicate what tool they prefer as the default home page for blank course sites. We also asked faculty to take a moment to elaborate on their choices.

Based on the feedback we’ve received, the default homepage for courses starting in Fall 2018 will be the “Syllabus” tool. Newly created courses in Canvas will also come equipped with additional enhancements: the Syllabus page will include the Accommodation, Diversity, and Plagiarism syllabus statements and an additional “Help Using Canvas” page will be included in the “Pages” section.

Before we break down the survey results, we’d like to take a moment to clarify that this change in no way prevents faculty from selecting a different homepage for their courses. Information on changing your homepage is provided below. As always, Emerson College community members can contact ITG for help setting up their courses using the Help Desk’s ticketing system or by calling x8090. (Note: If you are a Canvas user outside of the Emerson community, please contact the IT department of your home institution for help.)

Survey results

Overall, we received 36 responses to the survey, with 27 faculty members providing clarification on why they made the choice they did.

Of those votes, 17 were in favor of the “Syllabus” tool as the default, while 12 votes were in favor of “Modules”, and 7 votes for the previous default, Activity Stream.


Pie chart of homepage survey results with Syllabus receiving 47.2%, Modules receiving 33.3%, and Activity Stream receiving 19.4% of votes.

The responses to the question “How does this support your teaching?” were also very insightful. A few favorites are highlighted below.

In support of Syllabus:

  • “I am constantly reminding students about upcoming due dates and so my goal for the home page would be something that would remind them of what is upcoming.”
  • “The students are more likely to refer to the syllabus and keep up with the course.”
  • “It’s the most referenced page for the course, i.e., if students don’t go there directly for answers, I send them there.”
  • “This puts the syllabus front and center: something the students need to look at throughout the course.”
  • “It encourage students to be aware of upcoming readings, assignments, and where we are in the arc of the course. It helps students to consider their learning more holistically, including what went before and what went after.”

In support of Modules:

  • “I can create and sequence modules the way I want and direct students to a home page with all available resources.”

In support of Activity Stream:

  • “I heavily rely on Canvas Announcements to post homework and other important course reminders almost daily for my students.”

Why did ITG conduct this survey / make this change?

In the July 15, 2017 Production release from Canvas / Instructure, the default home page for newly created courses was changed from the “Recent Activity Stream” to “Modules”.

Most of Emerson’s Fall 2017 courses had already been created with the Recent Activity Stream default, so this change didn’t impact the community until the Spring 2018 semester. ITG saw an increase in questions about publishing courses due to the fact that it was no longer the same one-step process it had been.

With the Recent Activity Stream, instructors could click the Publish button on the homepage once and be done. With Modules, however, instructors are required to have at least one published module or to select a different home before publishing. Pressing the Publish button without meeting those criteria opens an additional popup prompting the instructor to change the homepage. This is not always obvious if an instructor is used to pressing the button and navigating away and results in courses left unpublished even after pressing “Publish”.

While there’s no official way for local Canvas admins (aka, ITG) to change the default, we determined it is possible to override this setting using the Canvas API. Thus, we decided to survey our faculty to determine what would be the most useful option for our community.

I use X as my homepage, but that wasn’t an option in the survey. Why?

The survey only included three options: Syllabus, Activity Stream, and Modules. Instructors in Canvas have a total of five options for the homepage: Activity Stream, Pages Front Page, Modules, Assignments List, and Syllabus.

We didn’t include “Pages Front Page” as an option despite the fact that that is what we require of our online courses due to the fact that it requires extra setup, similar to Modules. We anticipated that this would cause similar issues with publishing courses that we saw with the Modules homepage.

We also chose not to include “Assignments List” as an option since a summary of course assignments is already included automatically at the bottom of the Syllabus page.

How to change your homepage

Instructors who choose to reuse content from a previous semester will set the homepage of their new course site to match that of the previous semester’s course. This will overwrite the default choice being discussed in this post. For help importing content, see this guide from the Canvas Community site or contact ITG.

To manually change the homepage of a Canvas course site:

  1. Navigate to the course site either from the Dashboard or “View All Courses” menu.
  2. Locate and click the “Choose Home Page” button on the right-hand side menu (on smaller screens, this may appear at the bottom of the page).
    Some of the buttons available in the righthand sidebar of a Canvas course's home page with "Choose Home Page" circled.

  3. In the “Choose Home Page” popup that opens, click the radio button to the left of desired selection and click “Save”.
    The "Choose Home Page" popup window with the radio buttons to the left of each option circled for emphasis.

    • Note: A page must first be published and set as the Front Page via the “Pages” tool before that option is available for use.

For more information and screenshots, see the “How do I change the Course Home Page?” guide on the Canvas Community Site.

Thank you for your responses! Please let ITG know if you have any questions, further feedback, or would like to schedule a one-on-one session to learn more about these tools and how they might support your teaching goals!

Canvas Default Home Survey Results
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