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Allow scientific notation (E format) in numerical answers

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Allow scientific notation (E format) in numerical answers

This idea has been developed and deployed to Canvas
Often students work with very large or small numbers, and need to enter numerical values such as "3.27E15" or "9.2E-6".  Canvas should allow this format in answers to numerical questions; it's so widely used in engineering and programming.
Comments from Instructure

For more information, please read through the

   Canvas Release Notes (2019-06-01)

 Canvas Production Release Notes (2015-10-31)


This idea is now open for voting.

Community Member

This is an indispensable feature if Canvas is to be taken seriously by scientists and engineers.

Community Member

I know we had one of our gateway courses in the business school that teaches excel that had struggled to get excel formulas into Canvas Questions and answers on quizzes.  Would up getting things to work using HTML.  I got lucky in that my instructor was tech savy and could do such a thing but most are not.

This feature request seems to have a direct correlation with why our Math and Science departments are the slowest adopters of Canvas as we make the transition from our old LMS which really surprised me initially.  If something like this is a perceived barrier i would love to know that sucker down.


I agree with​ that this is specifically slowing adoption by our science and engg faculty.  This is a pretty serious issue that questions about numbers cannot handle basic number qualifiers.

Community Member

I am astounded that only a very few people have voted for this! Personally, I am starting to use other platforms for my chemistry classes. The Canvas people are simply way off the mark if they do not put in scientific/engineering notation and significant figures. WebCT could do this. Why cannot Canvas do it? Do they not have anyone who can program?

Prof. Milt Johnston

Dept. of Chemistry

University of South Florida

Tampa, FL 33620

"The opposite of a true statement is a false statement but the opposite of a profound truth can be another profound truth." --Niels Bohr

"Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance." --Will Durant

"Facts are the air of scientists. Without them, you can never fly." --Linus Pauling

"In all science, error precedes the truth, and it is better it should go first than last." --Hugh Walpole

"Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative." --Oscar Wilde

"With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." --Steven Weinberg

"There is no adequate defense, except stupidity, against the impact of a new idea." --P. W. Bridgman

"Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one." --Bill Gates

Surveyor​ Deactivated user​ Deactivated user​ I would appreciate your support for this important improvement to Canvas


I don't deal with this directly with what I teach, but I could see where it would be useful for many faculty. Got my vote!

Learner II


Community Member

I wish more people would vote! Without this Canvas is a joke!!!

Sent from my iPad

Milt Johnston

Community Member

Agreed, scientific notation is needed.  It may not be as simple as it sounds since there is another notation called "engineering notation."  What if a student enters something like "9.876E10 km" when the system expects "9.876E13 m"?  Will Canvas be able to accept either answer and recognize their equivalence?  Then there is the matter of denormalized scientific numbers.  For example, what if the student answers with "9876E10 m"?

It would be tempting to just make a rule that mixing engineering notation with scientific notation or using denormalized notation is wrong.  (e.g. Ignore the units so 9.876E10 km be recognized as simply 9.876E10, not equal to 9.876E13, and thus just wrong.  Likewise, 9876E10 might be simply declared the wrong answer on the grounds that this is not a correct format for a number in scientific notation.)  But there are contexts in the literature where these variations are accepted.  For example, kilograms are one of the six basic SI units, thus the "k" in "kg" can appear along with scientific notation.

I encourage the adoption of scientific notation but also recommend that the syntax be carefully designed.  I rather doubt that it can be done without also accommodating the inclusion of measurement units in the answers.  (kilovolts vs. volts vs. millivolts etc.)  Indeed, when I assign homework and the answer has units, I mark down if the student does not include the unit with the number, since the number is ambiguous without the unit.  e.g. "The speed limit in my town is 40."  Just how fast is that?  Do you mean MPH or km/hr?  In scientific and engineering work students can come up with correct answers in various units.  Here are some basic background articles.

Scientific notation - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Engineering notation - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

BIPM - measurement units