What "Reset Course Content" Really Does… and How to Undo It

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I figured this out myself when I was an account admin at a Canvas institution, and I have since seen it described in comments here on the community too, but I thought it might be good to formally commit this to words and pixels.

Sometimes an instructor chooses "Reset Course Content," not realizing the scope of its changes. They might think they need to reset their site to reuse it for a new term. Then they contact you, tearfully, with an empty shell where once stood their pride and joy.

If they are savvy, they might have tried the /undelete option before contacting you, but found nothing listed there to undelete. This is because, during a reset, Canvas doesn't really delete the course's content. It actually:

  1. deletes the course
  2. creates a new course shell and gives it the old course's name 
  3. cross-lists the rosters from the deleted course to this new course shell

As a Canvas admin, I had two mantras. One was "Canvas really never throws anything away." (The other was "did you check the course start and end dates?" That's probably a topic for another, entirely different blog post, though.) So it's relatively easy to reverse this charge and make your instructor's day.

First you have to figure out the old course's Canvas course ID. You can get this a couple of ways:

  • Examine the instructor's Canvas page views.
    This will be really easy if they just performed the reset. If they did this a few days ago or otherwise engaged in Canvas after performing the reset, you might have a lot to scroll through. Searching for /settings/ can help you filter, since resets are performed from the course's Settings page.
    EDITED TO ADD: Audra notes below that you can also pull this information from the Recently Deleted Courses report.
  • Search for the course name in your test or beta environment.
    If there are too many page views to quickly identify the course, head to your test or beta environment. If the reset was triggered since Saturday, then the weekly or every-three-week sync will not have happened yet. You should be able to find the course either by searching for the course's title on your account's Courses page, or by searching for your instructor on the Users page and looking through the courses they are enrolled in.

Either way, you want the Canvas course ID, i.e. yoursite.instructure.com/courses/{this}, not the SIS ID for the course.

Head to your Canvas environment's Admin Tools page and undelete the course site.

Now the site is back, with its content. You can add the instructor back in their Teacher role and they're good to go after that. And, remember my mantra, "Canvas really never throws anything away?" You can cross-list the student rosters from the new site back to this undeleted site, and the students' submissions and gradebook will reappear too.

I hope this helps another admin down the road! Let me know in the comments if I forgot anything.

Tags (3)
Explorer III

That makes this statement in the Canvas guides incorrect: However, resetting course content permanently removes all content and it cannot be recovered. 

Good to know. Thank you for the blog post. Smiley Happy

Learner II

Just want to add that you can run the recently deleted courses report for your root account or the subaccount the course would've been in to locate the deleted course id without having to search through the instructor's page views.


Audra, thank you for the reminder! You are absolutely correct, and I will update my blog post to reflect that information soon.

Surveyor II

We were able to hide the button from our faculty using JavaScript and we make faculty contact admins for any resets. I could only imagine the trouble we could get into if our teachers could do this on our own! 


Elizabeth, thank you for the affirmation! I hate to contradict the Guides. Technically it is correct in that a teacher role can't recover the content on its own - it requires an admin to undelete the course. (And if the teacher is using Canvas Free For Teacher, there may not even be an admin in the picture.)


That's correct, especially if you created a public course and shared some links on Twitter. Resetting the course content does not delete any Tweets containing these links, but they will become unusable since the course ID will change.

About the Author
I joined the Canvas training team in 2019. Before joining Instructure, I was a Canvas admin for a big research institution in the Midwest. Before that, I was a computer guy for an academic library, a systems integrator who specialized in education, and the computer guy for four elementary schools and an early-childhood center.