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When You Import a Course From Canvas Commons It Deletes Your Existing Course! A Rant and a Request

Has anyone had experience with this situation and could give me some advice or background on the problem?

I saw a course on Canvas Commons that I wanted to look at, and my only option was to download/import it. So, I did--and the Commons course completely replaced the existing course I had been working from. What's more: it is not possible to reverse a course import, so I am going to have to recreate my course as best I can from scratch.

There is also no warning in the resource materials (e.g. How do I import and view a Commons resource in Canvas?) telling you that you will lose your existing course if you import a whole course (rather than a smaller import, like a document or module, etc., all of which are simply added to your course).

  1. A warning should be prominently included in the resource materials. 
  2. The proper steps for importing an entire course should be added to the community instructions. For example, I presume this would entail creating a blank course shell in which to place the imported course.
  3. A warning should be included within the Canvas import tool as well! A popup, for example, with a message like, "Confirm that you intend to replace your course with this import" would have been all I needed. (Surely this can be triggered when you click the box to indicate you want to import the whole course?)
  4. Commons participants whose courses cannot be fully previewed without a full download might also consider providing a prominent note of warning. 

I'm new to Canvas, and up until now I'd been impressed and pleased with its superior user interface and design to the Blackboard LMS I was used to. However, this problem seems to be a glaringly bad UX/UI gaffe, much the worse because it could be so easily avoided. At least in Blackboard it took a lot more effort to permanently delete a course!

If the Canvas import tool functionality cannot be changed to allow recovery of the course that's lost this way, Canvas should at least provide warnings--and there are ample places to include them. That said, I don't understand why a copy of the existing course can't be automatically archived to the course files when another course is imported over it. Even this message box I'm typing in right now auto-saves!

Also, why is there no other option for viewing a course from Commons than to import/download it, compromising the user's existing content? Why is it not part of the download/import program that when an entire course is being imported a separate shell or subfolder is automatically created to house it, rather than automatically overlaying the existing course? I would think that automatically wiping out the existing course requires more sophisticated programming than importing the new course as a file. 

I can't be the first person who's accidentally lost an entire course in Canvas, when it is so easy to overwrite one by mistake.

What a bummer. I guess my Canvas honeymoon is over.

Does anyone know of a solution or remedy? Thank you for your time.




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Community Coach
Community Coach

Hello there, @TLeff1er ...

Sorry to read that you are experiencing troubles with Canvas Commons and importing course content.  I'm not sure if I have an explanation of why your content would appear to be written over when you import content from Commons.  But, I wanted to throw out a couple other suggestions for you...

I hope these resources will be of some help to you.  Please let Community members know if you have any other questions about this...thanks!  Take care, stay safe, and be well.

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Hi @Chris_Hofer ,

Thanks again for your quick and thorough responses to my two questions from yesterday, and for including links to the resources you recommended. I really appreciate the time and research you put into helping me with this problem!

In response to your suggestions:

  1. I was aware of the preview feature you mentioned, but the 10-second preview window is inadequate to preview an entire course's content. This short time limit to view the preview is also an ADA compliance concern, incidentally.
    • Frankly (just my two cents, in case this information is helpful), I am not sure why the preview time limit is necessary at all, much less limited to 10 seconds. If Commons content is not copyrighted, what harm is there in allowing an unlimited preview window? Particularly given that the only other option for viewing the Commons content is to download, which introduces the risk of destroying the existing course (as I found out yesterday).
    • If there is a rationale I would be interested in learning about it. If not, and if this is something I should bring to the attention of someone at Canvas, can you advise me where to go?
  2. Thank you for the tip on the possibility that my original course could be preserved in a beta environment. I don't think my school has applied Canvas this way, but it is certainly worth a double-check. What we have is similar; we are keeping primary/source/master/"main" copies of each course as the source of record, from which the course is recreated for use in each new term it is taught. Unfortunately, I was working in that "main" version of the course, not a term copy. Still, there may be another beta environment I don't know about, so I will definitely check.
  3. On the bright side, this isn't a currently running course, and there are no students enrolled in it! Can you imagine if I had so stupidly lost an entire course while it was running, with students in it, partially graded? I guess my situation could have been a lot worse.
  4. I am really excited to hear about the feature idea (Undo Course Imports - Canvas Community ) you mentioned! This tells me that not only have others found themselves in a similar boat, but that the community is already working on a solution. I will absolutely upvote this one. I'll also review my initial post to see if there might be anything in it worth suggesting to the community.

Ultimately, your response addresses my primary concerns; whether anyone else out there had experienced anything similar (yes), is there any way to reverse an accidental course import/download (possibly, if my admin has a copy somewhere), is there any initiative to address this significant risk (yes), and am I totally alone in my struggle with this problem (no--and that's thanks to you, @Chris_Hofer ).

I didn't expect that anyone in this forum would be able to magically solve this problem for me. Instead, I was hoping someone could provide a bit of background context, advice, and ideas--maybe even just a little empathy. You've kindly provided all of that, and I appreciate your help.

Have a good weekend and be well!

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Hello again, @TLeff1er ...

Thanks for your reply.  Here are some additional thoughts for you:

  • I'm not sure what you mean by a 10-second preview.  I've never heard of this in Canvas, nor can I reproduce any such behavior in my own Canvas account.  For example, I click on the "Commons" button and then search for "animal science".  The first item that I see in the search results is a course called "Animal Science II" shared by Cora Phipps.  When I click on that course name, I can start previewing any or all of the content (modules, assignments, etc.)  There's nothing I can see on my screen that would indicate that I only have 10 seconds to preview any of the content within that course that is being shared.
  • The "Beta" and "Test" environments can be helpful to retrieve content if something drastic has happened to your course in the "Production" environment.  It's a bit of a timing thing, though, because "test" and "beta" environments are reset/refreshed on a schedule (see the third bullet point).  Here are a few more Guides for you:

Here's hoping this extra bit of info will also be of some help.  Have a good weekend!

Thanks @Chris_Hofer , so right and helpful; Beta or Test is the first place to check for overwritten content. But due to timing, this doesn't always work.  Just today had another teacher overwrite content that was edited after the Beta update on Saturday, so it is not recoverable.

I wish the overwritten content were kept in the course's deleted items area, but that's probably complicated because the ID number would have to change.  Overwriting is a constantly recurring issue.


But one of the problems is that the preview feature in Commons doesn't always work.  For example, right now I can preview documents and videos, but modules, assignments, etc. do not appear at all in the preview viewing pane.  Those are the situations I think when people take a chance and import the item without being able to see it first.  It's unfortunate - there seem to be a lot of instances in the forums where Canvas users state that they cannot see any preview of Commons resources, but others keep replying to them with a link to the Canvas instructions for how to preview resources in Commons.  Of course, those instructions don't do anything to help the situation because it just explains that there is a preview pane to view the resources, and of course the problem is that the preview pane doesn't show anything in it.

I just spent a considerable amount of time adding assignments and quizzes to Commons for my colleagues to view and use if they want to, but the preview pane doesn't show anything at all.  There is information when I click on the Details tab, but the preview pane is completely blank.  I've tried viewing it from different computers and different browsers, but the preview never works.


Hi there, @nick_schmitt ...

I'm circling back to reply to some of the older topics here in the Community.  Unfortunately, I am not experiencing the same issues that you describe in Canvas Commons ... not being able to preview things like Modules and Assignments.  I just accessed Commons from my account, and I was able to successfully preview both Modules and Assignments.  I will note, however, that some of the Assignments I tried to preview did not preview...but that is because those assignments were using an External Tool (most likely a LTI), and so I wouldn't expect those to preview on my screen...especially if an external tool is not integrated in our school's Canvas environment.

All this is to say that if you are still experiencing issues previewing Commons resources in your own Canvas environment, I would really recommend contacting Canvas Support to see what insights they might be able to provide to you so that you can get this resolved a.s.a.p.  How do I contact Canvas Support? - Instructure Community

I hope this will be of some help to you!  Take care...