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Canvas - What to Expect When Converting from D2L to Canvas (UW-Madison)

This document compares and contrasts the navigation features of D2L and Canvas. In addition, it covers what the user can expect when converting Navigation.


D2L and Canvas have noticeably different features. But, there are also fundamental similarities that are the building blocks of learning management systems.  The document below compares the terminology each system uses, how each system's functions, and what you can expect when converting your D2L course to Canvas. Use the anchor links below to jump to specific topics:

On This Page:

    1. Converting Homepages
    2. Converting Navigation Scheme
    3. Converting Module
    4. Converting Files
    5. Converting Classlists
    6. Converting Calendar
    7. Converting Discussions
    8. Converting Droboxes
    9. Converting Quizzes

This document can also be viewed at our University of Wisconsin Canvas Knowledge Base at:

For a General Tips and considerations for converting please see:

For other issues not covered here regarding transiting to Canvas please see: 

   Features Comparisons

Converting Homepages

Canvas Dashboard and Global Navigation

When you initially login to Canvas, you are directed to a landing page known as the Canvas Dashboard.  This view shows all of the Canvas Courses you teach or are registered in, represented as a colored box. The color of the box correlates to the colors on the Global Calendar. On the left hand side of the Dashboard in the Global Navigation Bar.  This bar contains tools such as Account management, Global Calendar for all courses and a link to the Canvas Community Help.  The Global Navigation Bar is displayed at all times within Canvas.  On the righthand side of the Dashboard is an automatically populated To Do list.  To learn more about the Canvas Dashboard and Global Navigation please see:  How do I use the Dashboard (New UI)?

D2L My Home

D2L does have a limited Dashboard view called "My Home" which is access on the mini in the upper lefthand corner.  It contains the list of courses you are enrolled in access to personal settings, a Calendar for the "My Home" page, and a place to add tasks.  

Canvas Course Homepage

The Course Homepage in Canvas is the first view the students see.  It will always feature the side bar, with links like the Dashboard and Account.  It will also always feature the Course Navigation Menu.  Instructors can choose one of five content layouts to display in the content area of the homepage.  These five layouts are:
  • Course Activity Stream
  • A course page that is designated as the homepage
  • The Course Modules
  • The Assignment List
  • The Syllabus
For more information see: What layouts options are available in the Course Homepage?  A Canvas page can also be set as the course homepage.

D2L Course Home

D2L's traditional homepage is a collection of tools/widgets that the instructor chooses to display.  Often theses are the News Widget, Content Browser Widget and the Calendar Widget.  These widgets are framed by a header known as the Navbar, which includes links to various content and activities in the D2L course. 

What to Expect when Converting from D2L to Canvas:

The home pages in D2L and Canvas are not analogous so widgets do not convert from D2L to Canvas. 

    • News postings, most often displayed in the News Widget in D2L converts to Announcements in Canvas
    • Calendar events directly converts to events on the Canvas Calendar
    • The D2L Content Browser will not covert, however instructors may choose to display the Canvas Course Modules as the Canvas Course Homepage

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Converting Navigation Schemes

Canvas Course Navigation

Canvas has a menu of navigation links referred to as Course Navigation Menu.  The Course Navigation Menu is a series of links that runs down the left side of the course.  The menu is always available, but can be hidden.  When a course is created the menu has a default set of links.  However, depending on the course structure, links can be hidden and reordered.  Custom links cannot be created.  To learn more see:  How do I use the Course Navigation Menu.  

D2L Navbar

D2L displays navigation links in the Navbar, or the course header.  There is a default set of links when a course is created, however instructors can choose what links to display, how links are grouped together, and create custom links.  

What to Expect When Converting from D2L to Canvas

Navbar links in D2L will not convert to links on the Canvas Course Navigation Menu.  In addition, Canvas does not allow for custom links to be added to the Course Navigation Menu.  Please consider a different path of access to material linked to a custom link for your Canvas Course.  

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Converting Modules

Canvas Modules

Instructors may use Canvas Modules to structure their course and organize content and activities.  Think of the course as a filing system, where the course shell is the file cabinet.  Inside the filing cabinet are manila folders.  Modules are the manila folders of a Canvas course. The are ready to keep thematically like materials, readings, activities, and assignments together as a unit. 

D2L Modules

D2L also uses a Modules as the most common method to organize the course.  These are created in the Table of Contents or the Course Builder Tool.  The Modules are populated in those tools as well. 

What to Expect when Converting from D2L to Canvas:

D2L Modules as well as the D2L files within those modules convert from D2L to Canvas intact for the most part, however instructors should always check as they are two different systems with two different structures.  Release conditions at the module or assignment level will not covert.  Due dates will convert for the most part.

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Converting Files 

File Types

There are different categories of files you may have in your D2L course that you want to covert to your canvas course.  The first type are the files you may have uploaded to the course.  These could include Word, PDF, Power Point, Bootstrap, or Interactive Packages (CSCR, Captivate, Articulate) files that are rendered (displayed) in D2L. Some files convert in whole to Canvas while CSS packages and Interactive Packages do not.  See the end of this section more a more detailed list. 

The second category of files used in your D2L course are the files, or pages, you authored in the system.  Even if you created the pages using the Rich Text Editor (which is like a word processor) the program was writing HTML code in the background.  So, we often refer to these as HTML files. These HTML files are often the places we embed image, audio, or video files. 

Canvas Pages

HTML files in Canvas are referred to as Pages.  If you consider your course a version of a Website (which it actually is) then Pages are Webpages (which they actually are) linked held together in the course.  Because of that, the pages doe not have to live in a module, but could be linked together through a series of navigational links, much like a traditional webpage.

Pages in Canvas are editable in the HTML view and the Rich Text Editor view, much like D2L.  Links and files embeds are handled by clicking on an uploaded piece of content from the options along the right hand menu in the editing view.  Please see What are Pages  and Edit a Page for more details. 

D2L Files

D2L HTML files are called "Files."  They are added to the Table of Contents in a Module by clicking on "Create New File."  This brings you to the Rich Text Editor view where you can author your material.  Major differences between the D2L Rich Text Editor and the Canvas Editor are seen in how images and other media are embedded.  D2L uses the "Insert Stuff" button (who's icon look like Play, Pause, Rewind) and Quick Links.  Canvas also has these functions, but are done a bit differently.  Please refer to the the documents linked above for a more complete description. 

What to expect when converting from D2L to Canvas

Both Canvas pages and D2L files are written in HTML, which means the conversion is 1:1 for the most part.  In testing, the page formatting (included headings, indents, colors, etc) converted cleanly.  Links to outside materials carried over and embedded materials carried over.  Other content that does not carry over:

  • Quick links to quizzes or dropboxes are not converted
  • Kaltura media embedded via Insert Stuff -> My Media does not work when imported into Canvas. Kaltura media embedded using embed code from does work when imported into Canvas. For more information, please see Kaltura at UW-Madison: Known Issues, Workarounds, and Best Practices.
  • SCORMfiles (like Captivate, Articulate) will need to reloaded from their source files
  • CSCR (Case Scenario/Critical Readers) will need to be reloaded
  • Online conference sessions created in Blackboard connect or Blackboard Ultra will need to be recreated
  • Canvas strips CSS.  Only content is retained in those files. 

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Converting Classlists

Canvas People

In Canvas students and instructors registered for a course are listed under "People."  The link for People can be found along the Navigation Menu.  The People page displays registrants as a list with a picture and their preferred name.   From this tool instructors can manage enrollments, see the amount of time a students has logged into a course, as well as a student or user's last login. Instructors can also view student analytics from the People page.  Most functionality for this tool is found under the gear wheel on the far left of the row a registrant is listed on.  For a more detailed look at the "People" tool in Canvas see:  How do I use the People page in Canvas?  In addition, students can update their biography, contact information, and digital "footprint."  See How do I use the People page as a student? for more information. 

D2L Classlist

The classlist in D2L looks very similar to the People page in Canvas, and has both similar and differing functionality.  D2L displays the registrants as a list with an avatar picture.  Instructors can manage enrollments, email, view analytics, and view when the user last logged into the SYSTEM, rather than a specific class. Most functionality for this tool in found along the top of the registrant list and the small dropdown arrow next to each registrants name. 

What to Expect when Converting from D2L to Canvas:

The classlist in D2L will not convert to the People page in Canvas.  Both D2L and Canvas Courses that are listed in the Online Course Catalog at the  University of Wisconsin-Madison Registrar's office will be automatically populated and updated.  Users with a NetID can be added manually to both Canvas and D2L as well.  However, for Canvas courses with guest users without a Net ID will need to request the users added by messaging  Learning Technology Consultants will no longer be able to add guest users manually.

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Converting Calendar

Canvas Global Calendar

The Canvas Global Calendar look very similar to other calendar applications, like Google Calendar, iCal, and Outlook. In fact, the Canvas Global Calendar can be added to any of these applications so Canvas events are displayed in your preferred online calendar.  In the Global Canvas Calendar due dates and events from any course a user is registered in are automatically populated and color coded.  Theses can be sorted by course. To learn more see:  How do I use the Calendar?

D2L Calendar

The D2L Calendar Tool is more course centric rather than global and has a much different look and feel from Canvas and other common calendaring applications. First and foremost, most users in D2L interact with the calendar through the Calendar Widget on the Homepage.  The Calendar widget provides a general overview.  From there users can go to the Calendar tool, which allows users to sort the course events and due dates by day, week, month, or list.  Users can see other course calendars or sort by category as well.  Users can also add their own tasks to the calendar.  The D2L Calendar can be added to an iCal feed, and iCal events can be added to the D2L Calendar.

What to expect when converting from D2L to Canvas

Events will convert from the D2L Calendar to the Canvas Calendar.  Also, it is important to note that dues dates attached to assignments in D2L will automatically be converted to the Canvas Calendar, which could be a problem when dates do not match semester to semester.  Instructors will be prompted to choose whether to covert dues dates or leave them blank when importing a course from D2L into Canvas.

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Converting Discussions

Discussions in Canvas

The discussion area in Canvas is a place where instructors can assign their students to think and comment about a specific prompt, view other students' responses, and comment on those responses. Discussions are organized by the initial prompt.  Instructors make the first prompt, then students reply to that prompt in a threaded format.  The response do not show up in a list however that displays the topic of the post with reply nested replies indented underneath.  Rather, the entirety of the text of the post with no topic line is displayed.  The top level replies (in other words, the initial response to the original prompt) are slightly indented.  Replies at the second, thirds level and so are each indented one level. Replies can be condensed to show only top level replies to the original prompt or expanded to see all content. The posts can be set to be graded and can be graded from within the discussion board. Please see What are Discussions for Instructors? for a more detail description.

Discussions in D2L

As in Canvas, the discussion area in D2L is a place where instructors can assign their students to think and comment about a specific prompt, view other students' responses, and comment on those responses. The Discussion Board area in D2L is organized by Forums.  Within those forums, Instructors post topics.  Students reply to the topics by creating new threads. The threads are the top level responses.  Other students can reply to those threads by creating a reply.  Instructors can choose how to view a discussion, but most choose to view by threads.  The threads and replies appear in a nested list with only the topic and responder name and submission date displaying.  Actual text is displayed below the list in an adjustable window.  The posts can be graded from within the discussion tool, from Manage Grades, and from the Gradebook.

What to expect when converting from D2L to Canvas

The topics within D2L are converted to new Discussions in Canvas. All other settings associated with the D2L Discussion Board do not transfer.  When using the Canvas discussion please note that the indentation at the second, third level and so on are rather subtle, making keeping track of the thread more challenging than the discussion list in D2L.   

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Converting Dropboxes

Assignments in Canvas

Canvas does not have an analogous dropbox, per se.  Rather, it has a function called "Assignments." Our colleagues at Ohio State University have summarized the tool: "Student submissions are managed through the Assignments area.  In addition to uploading files, students can submit text (essay), a URL, or an audio/video file.  Other assignment types-quizzes and graded discussions-can also be managed from the Assignments section." (Office of Distance Education and e-Learning,  

In addition, the Gradeook (Speedgrader covered in Module 5) is managed through Assignments in Canvas, rather than a totally separate tool like the D2L Gradebook. To learn more about assignments see: What are Assignments for Instructors

Dropbox in D2L

The Dropbox tool in D2L allows instructors to create an online folder that students can submit work to. Each assignment should have its own folder.  Dropbox folders need to be associated with a grade item in order to pass grades from the Tool to the gradebook.  Word Documents render inside the viewing window, while other file types appear as a link to download and be read outside of the tool.  Rubrics can be associated with folders as well, and rubric grades passed to the gradebook.

What to expect when converting to Canvas. 

Assignments in Canvas is very different from Dropbox in D2L.  The gradebook and all graded and ungraded assignments are managed within Assignments.  Dropboxes in D2L are recreated within Assignments, but only the title of the Dropbox is converted.  No points, Due Dates, or Instructions are converted.  Rubrics do not covert from D2L to Canvas, but new rubrics can be created in Canvas.

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Converting Quizzes

Quizzing in Canvas

There are four types of quizzes in Canvas to choose from: Practice Quiz (ungraded); Graded Quiz; Graded Survey (completion points); Ungraded Survey. Question types include: Multiple Choice; True/False; Fill in the Blank; Fill in Multiple Blanks; Multi Answer; Multi-Drop Down; Matching; Numerical Answer; Formula; Essay; and File Upload.  In addition questions can be grouped into a question groups for that quiz, which allows for question randomization. Question banks are global question repositories that can be used across courses.  There are also a number of settings to choose from including shuffling answers, setting a time limit, allowing multiple attempts, showing responses and correct answers. 

Quizzing in D2L

There are two parts to creating a quiz in D2L, setting up the quiz then populating the quiz with questions. In the quiz setup area, instructors can set up restrictions, set point totals and create a gradebook, and setup submission views which provides a feedback message to students and defines if students will be able to see responses, correct answers, and grades. While Surveys and Quizzes in Canvas are part of the same tool.  Surveys are a different tool in D2L.  Question types in D2L include: True/False; Multiple Choice; Multi-select; Long Answer; Short Answer; Multi-Short Answer; Fill in the Blank; Matching; Ordering; Arithmetic; Significant Figures; and Likert.  Question banks can be created or imported into the Question Library, which can be copied over to other D2L courses if the instructor wishes to use questions in multiple courses. 

What to expect when converting from D2L to Canvas

There are some significant differences in functionality and questions types from D2L to Canvas.  As such, some material convert while some do not.  Here are some important considerations to keep in mind: 

    • D2L quiz description, instructions, and quiz footer do not covert to Canvas
    • Restrictions and submission views to not covert to Canvas.
    • Question point values do convert.  All questions are assigned a 1 point value in Canvas.  If using partial credit in D2L, all answer with ANY credit will be assigned 1 point in Canvas. 
    • The ordering D2L question type does not have an equivalent in Canvas.
    • Other question types have some challenges importing.  
      • Short Answer questions in D2L import as Fill in the Blank in Canvas
      • Multi-short answer questions do not import as Fill in Multiple Blanks.  These questions will need to be reauthored.
      • Arithmetic questions will need to be reauthored as Formula questions in Canvas with and indicate variables with [ ] brackets.
      • This is true for significant figure questions as well. 
      • Randomizing does not convert.

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Keywords:Canvas, conversion, migration, D2L, navigation, navbar, homepage features, captivate, scorm, convert, import, export   Doc ID:64025
Owner:Learn@UW Madison .Group:Learn@UW Madison
Created:2016-06-13 10:40 CDTUpdated:2018-03-14 13:38 CDT
Sites:DoIT Help Desk, DoIT Tech Store, Learn@UW Madison, UW-Madison Canvas
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