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Community Member

Why on on earth is Canvas unable to import equations from MS word Equation editor???

As a student it came as a shock that i could not "type up a discussion post containing mathematical equations in MS word, and then paste my work into a Canvas discussion!

The canvas system seems an ill fit for technical and science education where we are dealing with mathematical equations all the time. 

I an countless other student users are very frustrated at this oversight.

It seems now, the only way around the problem is to purchase a subscription to something like Mathtype / or similar programs. 

I know that life was not meant to be easy, BUT it should not be this hard either!

Can "Canvas" PLEASE fix this HUGE issue and make the interface compatible with widely used Equation Editors such as MS Word etc..

2 Replies


To answer the first level of the why question, Canvas does not support copy/pasting of objects or images into the Rich Content Editor, which is what you use when you create a discussion. This includes equations, which is how they would have to come through because the equation format used by Microsoft Word is not the same as the format used by Canvas.

Toyota developed a method called the five whys. It is designed to get at the root cause. The first level is that Canvas doesn't support copy/pasting of objects at all. But why is that? People would obviously love to have it. While I won't get to the very root cause, I'll explain some of the complexity involved in the process and provide the way to work around it.

The clipboard on Windows is actually a bit more complicated. I'm over simplifying, but it stores a copy of the object so that it can be duplicated by something that recognizes the object (like pasting into an Office product) and it has a simpler version, usually text-only, for pasting into a program that can't duplicate it exactly.

For example, if I type the quadratic formula, I can paste it into PowerPoint and it comes through correctly. But if I try to paste it into notepad, I get x=(-b±√(b^2-4ac))/2a. It works in wordpad because wordpad understands the format used.

On the other hand, Canvas, like notepad, does not understand the format. If you go into the HTML editor and paste it, you will get the plain version. However, the rich content editor that most people use strips out invalid characters, says "I don't recognize this format" and doesn't give you anything other than a space. In order for it to work, TinyMCE (the editor that Canvas uses) would need some kind of translator that would convert it into a usable format. This is unlikely to get developed by Canvas because, despite it being a huge problem for you, isn't even on the radar of most people who use Canvas. Those of us who teach math and sciences feel the pain -- we're often in that neglected group that don't have the masses to make something worth developing. Instead, Canvas provides a platform where third parties can add tools to supply the stuff that Canvas shouldn't be doing.

There is a feature request out there to allow copy/paste of images that you can vote for and lend your use case:" modifiedtitle="true" title="Pas.... However, that's probably not going to work. Word doesn't copy the equation as a normal image (PNG, GIF, JPEG), so even if Canvas allows copy/paste of images, it's probably won't support equations.

Here's an explanation by Bob Matthews, formerly of Design Science, now of Wiris -- the people who make MathType. Copy equations from Word - Microsoft Community . I haven't used the Wiris version of MathType, but the old version would not copy/paste into Canvas directly as they use different formats.

What you can do is copy the LaTeX from the equation editor, open the equation editor in Canvas, switch to Advanced View, and paste it in. This needs done for each equation, though

If your document is full of mathematics, you may be able to save it to a PDF and attach that. I've also seen students embed their Google Docs or Word Documents in a discussion, although this is often problematic for people, especially as more browsers block third party cookies.

Math teachers would love to have the ability to enter LaTeX directly as well (without having to open the equation editor). For those of us who know and use it regularly, it would really speed things up.

Community Coach
Community Coach

Hello there,

I've been reviewing older questions here in the Canvas Community, and I stumbled upon your question.  I wanted to check in with you because I noticed that we have not heard back from you since you first posted your question on March 12, 2019.  It looks like‌ was able to provide you with some feedback a day later.  Have you had an opportunity to review the feedback that James left you on March 13th?  If so, did his response help to answer your question?  Do you have any remaining questions that members of the Community might be able to help answer as it relates to your original question?  If you feel that James has helped to answer your question, please feel free to click the "Mark Correct" button next to his reply.  However, if you are still looking for some help with this question, please let Community members know by posting a message below so that someone might be able to reply to you.  For the time being, I am going to mark your question as "Assumed Answered" because we've not heard back from you and because there hasn't been any new activity in this topic for over six months.  However, that will not prevent you or others from posting additional questions and/or comments below that are related to this topic.  I hope that's alright with you, Bruce.  Looking forward to hearing back from you soon.