Canvas and CTools — Converting and Comparison

Converting from CTools to Canvas

There are three ways to get content from CTools into Canvas. A combination of these three options may best fit your needs:

1. Start fresh in Canvas

Recommended if:

  • You usually start from scratch in CTools.
  • You are teaching a new class or substantially reworking an old class.
  • You have all the materials you need for your class on your hard drive or network.

2. Copy what you need from CTools (Instructions for Mac users, PC users)

Recommended if:

  • All you need in Canvas is copies of files from your CTools Resources.
  • You don’t want to wait the 3-5 days it would take the ITS Service Center to do this for you.
  • You’re comfortable doing some configuration in CTools and compressing files.
  • You prefer to do it yourself.

3. Request Convert2Canvas service with this Conversion Request Form 

Recommended if:

  • You can wait 3-5 days for your materials.
  • You need more than just files copied to Canvas.
  • You’d prefer to do some editing of content in Canvas rather than recreate materials.
  • You have some of the following components to move:
    • CTools Resources → Canvas Files
    • CTools Forums → Canvas Discussions
    • CTools Assignments → Canvas Assignments
    • CTools Lesson Builder → Canvas Modules
    • CTools Modules → Canvas Modules
    • CTools Test Center → Canvas Quizzes

Please contact the ITS Service Center if you have questions.

Before selecting an option or combination of options

Read the information below about the Convert2Canvas service.  It may help you determine which option(s) best meet your needs.

  • The Convert2Canvas service is for upcoming courses that you will conduct in Canvas. It is not intended as an archive process. Existing course materials in CTools will continue to be available for your reference through July 2019.
  • We can convert materials from many CTools tools but in general, less manual cleanup is required if we only convert CTools resources (to Canvas files) as opposed to converting content from multiple tools (like Test Center, Forums, etc.).  If you have little material in tools other than Resources, you may want to request conversion of Resources only.
  • After your materials are converted to Canvas, you will need to review and in some cases edit the content in your new Canvas course before you publish it.  While the list of possible issues is long (see the section, "After your site has been converted," below), most courses will only be affected by one or two. 
  • Note that CTools Announcements cannot be converted to Canvas.

After your site has been converted

1. Review permissions and file visibility in the Files feature and in other Canvas features

Your Canvas files will not be hidden or have access dates, even if you had set those options in CTools Resources. If you don’t need the files, simply delete them; otherwise set access dates or hide individual files in Canvas.

Similarly, you should review settings on items converted to Canvas Modules and Discussions.

2. Check weblinks

Resources that are web links (URLs) in CTools will be transferred to Canvas as html files. Clicking on an html file will open a preview page with the web link.

Learn about more options for using URL/weblinks in Canvas.

3. View a list of changes you may encounter after moving materials to Canvas

In most cases these details will either have a minor impact on you and your students or will affect only a very few courses.

Canvas and CTools Similarities and Differences 

4 Important differences between Canvas and CTools

Students can resubmit assignments until the Available Until date

Unlike CTools, for students writing and submitting assignments in Canvas there is no draft mode. However, they can edit and resubmit their work multiple times up to the Available Until date, even past the Due Date and after the instructor grades it.

  • You may want to tell your students that you will not grade resubmissions after the due date. 
  • Note that all assignment submissions and resubmissions are stored in the history.

Read more about submitting assignments.

Groups work differently in Canvas

In Canvas there are several types of groups and multiple ways to create them.

  • Groups can be set up manually by instructors or be created with randomly-selected members.
  • A group is like a subsite of the main course site. Group sites have a URL and their own subset of tools.
  • You can make "Assignment Groups" in which you can categorize activities for weighted grading. (There are also "Group Assignments", which are assignments for group to complete that can be graded with a single grade for the group as a whole, or by individual within the group.)
  • Learn more about Canvas groups.

Students are automatically notified of their assignment grades

To prevent assignment grade notifications from being sent and to keep the grades from being visible to students in the Gradebook and on the Grades Page, instructors can use the "mute" feature in the assignment. Once the assignment is unmuted, notifications will be sent and the grades will be visible.

Read more about muting assignment grades.

You must publish your modules, quizzes, pages and assignments, as well as your course site

In Canvas, you will publish your course site to make it visible to students, and you must also publish any modules, quizzes, pages and assignments in your course site. To publish these items, click the little gray icon to the right of the item's name to change the status.

Image of Gray and Green Status Icons

Learn more about publishing modules.

Unique features available in Canvas

Course setup checklist

The Course Setup Checklist helps instructors remember all the necessary steps before a course goes live.

Peer review

A peer review assignment enables students to comment and provide feedback to other students in the course.

Learning outcome mapping

Learning outcomes allow the administration and faculty to track mastery in a course.

Online rubrics

Rubrics are a way to set up custom or outcome-based assessment criteria for scoring.

Learning analytics

Analytics evaluate components of a course and student performance. Course Analytics take a three-pronged approach to creating data: justification, intervention and learning.


Instructors can view, annotate, comment on, and grade submissions without downloading and re-uploading files.

Navigation tools

Canvas has tools for both global navigation and for course-specific navigation. 

Using the Global Navigation Menu

Navigating your course

Short videos about some similarities and differences

Note: The current version of Canvas has an updated UI that differs from the one in the videos below.

More differences between Canvas and CTools

Announcements tool

If instructors or TAs would like to receive copies of announcements they send, they can enable the "Conversations Created By Me" option under their profile Notification Settings.

Assignments tool

  • Students who do not submit an assignment by the "Available Until" date can no longer see that assignment
  • Students need to click "Submit Assignment" before they can enter their assignment content  (In CTools, students enter their assignment and then click "Submit.")
  • Students cannot submit both text and a file in an assignment — just one or the other
  • Instructors cannot schedule the release of grades for a future date

Files tool

  • URLs are not stored in the Files tool. However, URL links can be added to most content in Canvas, including Pages, Modules, Announcements, Syllabus, and Assignments.
  • CTools Resources lose their metadata when copied to Canvas Files. These include the modified date, created date, who created the resource, and copyright information.

Groups and sections

  • Not all Canvas features can be used for a single course section. You cannot send an announcement or post a discussion. You can use those features with groups, but groups must be manually created.
  • By default, GSIs can see all sections. Under the People tool, instructors can choose to limit a GSI's access to only his or her section.

Modules tool

  • Canvas Modules and CTools Lesson Builder are very similar, but some functionality is different.
    • Canvas Modules does not have inline comments and inline questions.
  • Canvas Modules that are migrated from Lesson Builder will automatically be published in Canvas.
    • If the Canvas Course is also published, these modules will be visible to students.
    • To unpublish a module, click the little green icon next to it to change the status.


Students can opt out of all email notifications.

  • In CTools, instructors can choose to send email notifications to all students.
  • In Canvas, students choose whether to be emailed, receive a text message, and/or read the notifications in Canvas directly. 


There is no option to add an Explanation, i.e., where the student has to explain his or her work.

Site setup

  • ITS will create your Canvas course for you. Course sites are automatically created for each term and the rosters are linked to them. Instructors then add the content.
  • Tools are automatically part of Canvas course sites.
    • In CTools, part of site setup is selecting and adding the tools.
    • In Canvas, the tools are already in place, but the instructor has the ability to disable tools.
  • Instructors can add additional course participants with a uniqname or previously existing Canvas account by using the People page.  Adding non-UM external users who do not already have a U-M Canvas account can be cone using the Canvas Course Manager tool.

Tool names and other terms

In Canvas In CTools
Discussions Forums
Modules LessonBuilder
Files Resources
Settings Site Info
Quizzes Test Center
Course Course Site
Features Tools
Assignment Groups Gradebook Categories
Redirect Tool Web Content Tool
Last Updated: 
Monday, December 11, 2017