Distance Learning | School of Professional Studies | Northwestern University

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Content Page or Document?

Handouts are a common tool in college courses. While the difficulty of creating one depends on how much is put into it, the distribution process is fairly easy. Just print them out then hand them out. While it may seem that you can do the same in your online course, is that always the best choice? At first it appears like the whole thing only takes a few simple steps: just post the handout and students either read it on their computer or print it out. Yet, sometimes the better choice is to create a content page with the same information. A content page is created within a learning management system (LMS) such as Canvas, and looks like a traditional web page. Content pages can include texts, videos, images, and other helpful media.

When to Use?

So when exactly should you think about using a content page instead of a document? Here are some helpful suggestions that will point you in the right direction.

Accessibility/Universal Design

Every document and page you put into your course should always be accessible to every student enrolled. When looking at your document, you need to think about whether or not it will be compatible with assistive technology, such as screen reader software. For example, a Microsoft Word document or Adobe PDF file that is broken up by headings and easy-to-follow bullet points normally will not have issues with screen readers. However, a spreadsheet containing multiple embedded images text boxes, and no headings would not be as easy for a screen reader to parse. In that case, you should think about converting that file into a content page.

Amount of Information/Download Time

If you have a PowerPoint presentation file with only a few lines of text and a couple of images, the more effective choice would be to have it placed as a content page. The same goes for any documents that may take a while for the students to download or that use up a significant portion of the Canvas course site file storage quota.

Mobile Considerations

Online learning is a way for students to access their course anywhere, anytime. That can mean while commuting to work on a bus, sitting in a waiting room, or waiting in the car to pick up their kids. Many students will view the content on a phone or tablet. Content pages responsively scale and format better than documents on mobile devices and are easier to read.

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