How to: Get Started with Canvas – 5 First Steps


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What is Canvas?

Canvas is a cloud-based Learning Management System (LMS). Developed by the US-based company Instructure in 2008, it is now used by more than 2000 schools and institutions.


  • Preview student submissions and provide feedback in the same frame

  • Incorporate multiple content and activity types into a single simple learning pathway

  • Integrate external tools for use within the Canvas space

  • Students can create and share audio, video, and more within assignments, discussions, and collaborative workspaces.

  • Canvas Analytics help you turn rich learner data into meaningful insights to improve teaching and learning.

For a full list of features, see the Canvas website.

Blackboard and Canvas are build on different premises. Here’s a quick summary of what that looks like from a university that moved from Blackboard to Canvas:


In the broadest terms, Canvas is designed to deliver a simple, transparent, and consistent online learning experience for students. Blackboard emphasizes instructor control and customization. This contrast is reflected in the facts that Canvas (a) allows students to access areas by default that Blackboard hides by default or calls for more clicks to find, (b) standardizes navigation menus across the courses, (c) organizes content in a more extended, less hierarchical style for quicker access, and (d) allows access to the same course content differently in several tools so students can choose the view they prefer.

(Emory University, 2017)

It is similar to a Blackboard in that:

  • It allows you to construct, conduct and assess a course incorporating multiple activities and learning content types
  • It enables course-based file storage and access
  • Enables, collects and manages student assessment for a course.

However it differs in:

  • The two systems handle course navigation quite differently
  • The Canvas concept of an ‘Assignment’ is much broader than Blackboard and incorporates multiple assessment types such as wikis, and quizzes as well as written and multimedia submissions
  • Canvas builds in more contact, engagement and collaboration opportunities throughout the learning pathway.

There are many ways to get started with Canvas. Below we’ve outlined 5 first steps you can take to get you on your way. We highly recommend taking a little time before diving in to understand the different structural elements of Canvas so you can make the most of the functionality. Check out the introduction we’ve added to the blog as a starting point.

  • Visit and use your RMIT login credentials
  • Select your course from Courses in the Global navigation

  • From the global Navigation menu, Select Commons
  • Type RMIT into search bar
  • Click on the title of your desired template
  • From Import into Canvas, search for your course and select
  • Click Import into course
  • Return to your course
  • To check on the import progress
    • Click Settings
    • Click import content into this course
    • Check progress on import and any error messages.

For content types you can’t import directly.

  • Log in to Blackboard and download the required files as a zip file
  • Unzip to your computer or Google Drive
  • Review and remove unwanted files
  • Rezip files and upload to Canvas Files

Once you’ve completed these steps you can move onto thinking about how you want to structure your content and build your learning activities. More on this shortly.

  • Once you’ve decided what content you can import, log in to Blackboard or other system and export the relevant content.
  • Return to Canvas
  • Go to Settings
  • Click Import Content into this Course
  • Select the appropriate content type. For RMIT’s Blackboard it will be Blackboard 6,7,8,9 export .zip file
  • Select the file
  • Select All or Specific content as you wish
  • Click Import

“So what needs to be done once I’ve imported my content?” See our Import notes for advice.

Once you have imported and/or uploaded your existing content, you can go ahead and build any extra elements that you need, and arrange everything into a structure or flow that will work best for your students and content. More about that shortly.

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