What is Canvas?

Iowa Courses Online (ICON)—the system used to share course content, submit assignments, take quizzes, grade, and hold online discussions—will be poised for a host of promising new digital learning opportunities as the UI initiates the shift to a new Learning Management System (LMS) this summer. Canvas is a cloud-based, open source learning management system (LMS) that was piloted by the University of Iowa as part of the University's membership in Unizin. ICON will still be called ICON, but over the next year or so, Canvas may need to be used when calling the ITS Help Desk to indicate which LMS you are currently using or to indicate which training you want to attend.

The new underlying system that will power ICON is Canvas, a cloud-based, open-source LMS used by more than 600 colleges and universities. The UI evaluated Canvas in a series of summer and fall pilots that involved 50 faculty representing every college. Feedback from faculty and students was positive.  Eleven out of fourteen CIC schools are either in production or piloting Canvas. Pilot Whitepaper: http://teach.its.uiowa.edu/initiatives/unizin/canvas-pilots

Why is the University of Iowa moving ICON to using Canvas?

The move is coupled with the university’s membership in the higher education consortium Unizin, which UI joined in 2014. Unizin enables institutions to draw on an evolving set of tools for managing course content, interaction of students and instructors, and learning analytics—using data to improve teaching and learning. 

“We believe learning analytics and flexible access to course content will be increasingly important for our students and faculty in the future,” says UI Executive Vice President and Provost Barry Butler. “We are excited to be able to explore these areas with the other members of Unizin."

Key Benefits for moving to Canvas

  • Tools to save faculty time (SpeedGrader), an easy to learn interface.
  • Canvas is the fastest growing LMS on the market, several other CIC schools are adopting or are seriously considering adopting Canvas. 
  • Iowa has two options for influencing the direction of Canvas platform, contributing to Canvas Ideas and leveraging Unizin’s influence. 
    • Canvas Ideas – A process that all Canvas users can participate in, useful for suggesting specific changes inside the LMS, such as being able to nest content modules or
    • Unizin influence – A process that Iowa’s Unizin board members participate in, and for larger initiatives such as getting Canvas data free of charge or other vended solutions at a reduced cost.
  • Canvas follows the agile development cycle, which means bugs get fixed faster and new features are introduced on a monthly basis. 
  • Canvas includes a responsive design that works well on different screen sizes, and also offers native mobile applications.
  • Canvas includes better reporting (by college, by department) and basic analytics.  With Iowa’s membership in Unizin, future opportunities are on the horizon for developing a more robust analytics platform.
  • Student adds and drops can be synced several times per day from MAUI, instead of once nightly.

What about my old courses?  

Two years of faculty course content will be moved automatically. Courses prior to spring 2014 will be handled on an as-needed basis and instructors can request those to be moved to Canvas by filling out the form below. The instructor of record or ICON Collegiate Admin will be able to make this request. Average usage trends are 40% of instructors go back one year, 10% go back two years, and less than 5% ago back more than two years ago. There are no plans to move any student content into Canvas. Within the next year, a new archive system will be built where all past D2L content (both faculty and student) will be moved.

If you need a course outside of the two-year plan, please fill out this form: https://uiowa.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_1SWyQh3108ur57n. You must be the "instructor of record" or "ICON Collegiate Admin" to make this request.

When a course is moved from D2L to Canvas, not everything transfers perfectly. It will be important for instructors to review their courses in Canvas. Click on this link to get more details: http://its.uiowa.edu/support/article/104687

When can I start teaching with Canvas and when will my content be moved?

ITS Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology staff have met with Associate Deans/Collegiate IT Directors to determine when the best time for each college is to move into Canvas. This will be a college-by-college move and individuals course sites will not be isolated from this process. The exception is for those who participated in the Canvas pilot who may already have content in Canvas. Please visit this page to see when your college will start teaching in Canvas. You will have access to your courses in June 2016, even if you won't be teaching in it until fall. http://its.uiowa.edu/support/article/104680

What are some cool new things I might use in Canvas?

The SpeedGrader is a tool that allows instructors to open an assignment, annotate, grade with rubrics, assign points, and leave both written and oral comments. One click on an arrow takes the instructor to the next student's assignment. One instructor said, “SpeedGrader function, made grading faster and more efficient”. The mobile app is also fully functional and is something faculty and students have asked about for years.

Many students in the pilot said they liked..., “the features in the grades section. Many students want to calculate their potential grade if they do well or not so well on assignments. “ (What-if Analysis) This was the single most positive comment made by students in the assessment of Canvas.

What were the biggest challenges using Canvas?

Quiz types do not match from D2L to Canvas so some users had to recreate some of their quiz questions. Instructors can still do drag and drop, but only in the Files area of Canvas.

Where can I go to get help?

Contact the ITS Help Desk (its-helpdesk@uiowa.edu or 319-384-HELP 4-4357 on campus). They will direct your concerns to someone on the ICON Support Team.

For more information on Unizin and the University of Iowa’s Canvas pilot, please visit http://teach.its.uiowa.edu/initiatives/unizin

Information regarding ICON’s move from D2L to Canvas as well as Iowa specific help documents will be on the ITS website at

Review training opportunities at: http://its.uiowa.edu/training or http://teach.its.uiowa.edu/

Canvas video guides = https://community.canvaslms.com/docs/DOC-3891

Canvas instructor documentation = https://community.canvaslms.com/docs/DOC-4131

Canvas student documentation = https://community.canvaslms.com/docs/DOC-4121

Would you like to offer some feedback? Please provide it here: Feedback Form

Article number: 
Last updated: 
March 23, 2017