I also understand your position here! We opted to use the HSU course menu block and work with the topic list in collapsed form. This gives you more of a "page by page" look for each topic, and you can expand the course menu to access resources. I tend to not mention that to my students because then they don't go look at the topic! There is a lot more in there than resources!
Original block we installed
Tweaks discussed here (we did add the tweaks, especially the sesskey part that makes it work on 1.6.x).
This works very well, but we have not tried it on 1.7. We still use 1.6.x.
You might also look around at the information on "activity locking". This is similar to the "learning unit". I have not used it personally, but there is quite a bit of conversation on it from time to time.
Teaching with Moodle
Moodle Interface - Cleaning up the Topic / Week blocks - Folders or Learning Units
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