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Integrating OER in Canvas

A crucial piece of utilizing open educational resources (OER) is deciding how to integrate them into your Canvas course. While CELT has many excellent resources to help you structure your Canvas course effectively, this page will focus on how to share and utilize OER in Canvas. 

1. Provide a syllabus statement or explanation about the content

If you’ve adopted OER for your course, it's important to communicate with your students how to get access to the materials as early as possible. Below are some sample statements you may include in your syllabus to describe your OER for students. You are free to reuse and revise these statements as you see fit:

"The textbook for this class is an open educational resource (OER), meaning it is available for free online. You can access the online version of the text from the book’s landing page [link text] or from within Canvas. You may visit the book’s landing page to download the text for free in the format that works best for you (including PDF and EPUB). The OER is openly licensed and DRM-free, so you may also print individual chapters or the entire text without restrictions. If you prefer, you may opt to purchase a print version for [quoted price] from University Printing Services."

For a shorter statement, you might say:

"In this class, we will be using the free online resource, [Resource title] by [author(s)]. Links to all readings, videos, quizzes, and other activities are provided in our class' Modules in Canvas: [link to Modules]"

Finally, if you received funding through a Miller Open Education Mini-Grant for your OER, you might want to provide additional information about your resource: 

"Our course materials were created and assembled by [Insert Faculty Name(s)] and funded by the Miller Open Education Mini-Grant Program. Iowa State University is committed to student access to education. You will not have any additional costs for textbooks. Extra care and effort were involved to assure you have access to high-quality, affordable course materials. I am interested in your experience using these materials and welcome your feedback in an anonymous survey at the end of the course and at any time during the course of this class."

2. Assign a "get to know our course" game

It can be overwhelming for students to come into a class using online or interactive materials for the first time. To help acclimate your students to your chosen OER, consider a low-stakes assignment that acquaints students with your materials. This might be a simple syllabus quiz, or a more involved activity, like asking students to leave a comment on a resource by using Hypothesis (if you will be using the tool in class later) or asking students to share their favorite method for navigating your course's Pressbook. If you're using an online homework software like MyOpenMath for your course, it's especially important that you walk students through how to log in and access their course assessments online. 

3. Give students multiple options for interfacing with content

The exciting thing about OER is that they come in a wide array of formats and sizes, so you can mix and match the best resources for your needs. However, "your needs" and students' needs aren't always the same. Below are a few tips for how you can present content differently, based on different OER you might be using in the classroom:

  • If you're using an online OER textbook or handbook, get a quote from University Printing before the semester starts so you can tell students how much it might cost to get a print copy of your book in looseleaf or spiral-bound formats.
  • If you're sharing lecture videos with your course, attach a copy of your lecture slides to supplement the content. This will help students follow along as they watch your lecture, and provide another space for them to take notes.
  • If you're using videos or audio podcasts as examples in your class, download the transcripts for the content to share separately. Some students prefer to quickly browse through content by reading it, and then follow up by watching the full video, Giving them this flexibility will improve their learning, and give you more material to share or work with in the future!
  • For content available in Pressbooks, use the Pressbooks LTI in Canvas to import your open textbooks' Common Cartridge export and seamlessly integrate your book's chapters into your Canvas Modules. 

These tips and more were informed by the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Guidelines from CAST.

How to Find and Share OER in Canvas

Import OER from Canvas Commons

A digital library full of educational content, the Commons allows Canvas users to share learning resources with other users as well as import learning resources into a Canvas course.
Canvas commons

Finding open educational resources in Canvas Commons is as easy as 1-2-3:

  1. Log into your Canvas account and click the Commons tab in your sidebar menu.
  2. Search for "OER" and your discipline (i.e., "OER Chemistry").
  3. Review the course shells or course content available. If you find materials that are at a different level from what you were expecting, use the Filter tab to filter to Undergraduate or Graduate level course materials. 
  4. Once you have identified a course shell or other course content you would like to try out, choose your course name from the right dropdown menu and hit the Import into Course button. 

Share your OER in Canvas Commons

If you have an online or hybrid course in Canvas, and would like to share the entire course or individual course items, Canvas Commons is a great place to store/host them. 

  • Sharing on your terms: You determine how and to what extent other users can reuse your original course content.
  • Safe: Your course content is safe in your own course shell. By hosting it in the Commons, you are simply allowing users to import your shared content into their courses.
  • Handy backup: When sharing a course into the Commons, a copy is created and stored in the Commons. It can work like a personal repository.
  • Quick and easy: Sharing to the Commons typically takes less than a minute.

How To Share

  1. Canvas screenshotLog into your Canvas account and click the Courses tab in your sidebar menu.
  2. Go to the course shell that contains the content you would like to share. To share an entire course, click on the Settings option and choose the “Share to Commons” button on the right menu.
  3. To share a single item, click the "three dots" settings icon next to the item or module you plan to share and choose Share to Commons from the dropdown menu.
  4. You will be taken to a page where you can add a basic description of your item. A couple of things to think about:
    • Be sure to add proper identifiers in the Tags. For example, if your course was developed for ISU's Mathematics department, add “ISU MATH” in the Tags.
    • We recommend that you also add "OER" in the tags. By doing so, instructors will be able to locate your materials when doing a simple "OER" search in Canvas. 
  5. After setting up the basic information, scroll down to find content licensing and sharing options. If you wish to share your materials openly, we recommend you choose one of the six Creative Commons licenses available. To learn the difference between these licenses, see our Copyright Support page. 
  6. For sharing options, we recommend that you select the “Share with public” option. This allows anyone with a Canvas account to import your materials for use in their own courses.

Additional Support for Canvas at ISU

MyCanvas Teacher is a Canvas Support site for instructors at ISU, created by the Center for Excellence in Learning & Teaching (CELT). Use this site for informational guides, checklists to get you through the semester, and help locating support through CELT's instructional design staff. 


Much of this page's content was adapted from "How to share your course materials in Canvas Commons," licensed CC BY 4.0 and managed by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.