7 Things You Should Know About Canvas Commons

This topic does not appear in the EDUCAUSE series, but we think the format is useful so have applied it here… see more from the 7 Things You Should Know about series for other Ed Tech related themes and tools at EDUCAUSE.


Jamie Andarson is teaching an online introductory course next term using Canvas. They have prepared most of their syllabus, selected articles and other readings, and have most of the assignments outlined but not detailed. They are still looking to fill some gaps in their course, so they reach out to their education specialist to go over their course plan. Ezra Eban, the educationalist, suggests they search Canvas Commons to see if there are any Open Educational Resources – freely accessible, openly licensed text, media, and other digital assets that are useful for teaching – that would work for the course.

Jamie and Ezra find some rich content that fits nicely with the third week’s theme, an assignment that is actually very close to the one Jamie had in mind, but unfortunately no quizzes that would work for this course. Using the import from Commons feature, they copy the content into their course and place it within the week three module. Next, they imported the assignment and began editing it. They added details that were specific to the University of Saskatchewan, and also added a rubric for grading and feedback purposes. Finally, together they created some quizzes intended for practice for students prior to the midterms and final exam.

Ezra mentioned to Jamie that with Canvas Commons you can also submit your course materials for others to use. They consider the license on the original assignment, choose a new Creative Commons license for the updated assignment and share it back to Canvas Commons. They also look through the quizzes and decide on another Creative Commons license, and share it to Commons for the rest of their department to use.

What is it?

Commons is a learning object repository that enables educators to find, import, and share resources. A digital library full of educational content, Commons allows Canvas users to share learning resources with other users as well as import learning resources into a Canvas course. The resources available include: courses, modules, assignments, quizzes, discussions, pages, documents, video, audio, images, templates, and open textbooks. Content is also searchable based on the intended level of the learner, from K12 through post-secondary.

Who’s Doing It?

Any instructor who has access to Canvas has access to Commons. Instructors who are interested in Open Educational Resources (OER) use Commons to find, use, remix, and share OER. In addition to materials used specifically for classes, units at the University of Saskatchewan such as the Distance Education Unit, Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning, and Academic Technologies, use Canvas Commons to share general resources such as the USASK Default Course Template. Departments that have course materials to share across sections might also consider Commons as a way to share those materials.

How Does it Work?

Canvas Commons is a repository of content, so just about anything that is a content item in Canvas can be shared to commons (see list above). Upon doing so, the author chooses who they would like to share their content with (only me, all USASK, or selected consortium). The author can list their material as fully copyrighted or add any of the 6 Creative Commons licenses to the work, or even list it as Public Domain. Sharing to Commons creates a copy of the content for others to create their own copies, leaving the original and the Commons versions intact.

Why is it Significant?

Currently, Canvas is now the market leader in North America in terms of institution count at 31%. This means that as more and more instructors and course authors consider Canvas, the more materials that will become available there. Working within Canvas at a local context also makes it simple to share and find resources that work as designed in Canvas. Any programs, departments, or institutions that have common course components can easily share those resources across courses.

What are the Downsides?

Firstly, Canvas Commons is only available to Canvas users, so if an author would like to access materials in Commons they can’t do that without Canvas. In addition to that, if an author wants to share their content widely (beyond Canvas) they are unable to do so with Commons. One common experience with finding any educational content (OER or not) is that it can be very time consuming and does not always produce results. Commons is no different that way. Finally, even if an instructor finds something they would like to use, rarely does it fit exactly with their course, so there is always some extra work to do.

Where is it Going?

Currently, Commons resources are shareable with “only me” for times when instructors want a centralized place to store content used often across multiple courses. They can also be shared across the University of Saskatchewan, appearing only in search results of our local campus community. Finally, they can be shared openly to anyone who has a Canvas account. An exciting upcoming feature will be sharing content across a consortium. A consortium could be a cluster of universities that would like to share content across institutions, but not to the whole Canvas user community.

What are the Implications for Teaching and Learning?

Finding content to use, and sharing content is an excellent starting place for using Commons, but Commons also presents an opportunity to support OER-enabled pedagogy, a “set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical when you have permission to engage in the 5R activities.” (Wiley, D. 2017). Students can create and co-create resources or course content in Canvas. For example, instructors can allow students to edit course pages, and students can always create pages in groups. Openly accessible and licensed content further enables these types of activities. For example, students could create resources designed to improve the materials for future students not only in this course, but in courses around the world.

Check Out Canvas Commons

Log into Canvas and click Commons on the bottom of the global navigation menu.

“Is licensing really the most important question for OER?” by opensourceway is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0