How do I prevent overwriting content in Canvas courses when I copy content?

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Instructors attempting to copy content (like assignments or quizzes) multiple times from a source course to a destination course in Canvas sometimes overwrite the updated content in the destination course. This action can inadvertently affect student grades and course integrity, as copying content multiple times can overwrite updated assignment parameters (such as points possible).

This also occurs if the instructor exports the course and re-imports it since Canvas still maintains a reference to the original content in the course export.


  • Canvas
  • Copy To, Send To, and Import Existing Content


To avoid overwriting content when copying it between courses, follow these steps:

  1. In the source course, locate the content you wish to duplicate.
  2. Utilize Canvas's native duplication feature by selecting the ⋮ three dots option next to the content item and choosing Duplicate.
  3. Once the content is duplicated, it will appear in your course with the same name followed by "Copy."
  4. Proceed to copy this newly duplicated item to your destination course using the Copy To feature.

For quizzes specifically, refer to the related article: How do I duplicate a quiz in the same Canvas course as an instructor?

This process ensures that a fresh copy of the desired content is transferred without overwriting any existing, updated content in the destination course.

Root Cause

Canvas's intended workflow for content copying assumes that the original content in the source course (for example, a template sandbox course) serves as the canonical copy. This workflow is designed with the expectation that instructors may initially create content in a source course and then replicate it across multiple destination courses (such as student-enrolled course offerings). Should the instructor need to correct a mistake or update the content, they would update the original content in the source course and then copy it again to the destination courses. This workflow is predicated on the original content remaining the authoritative version, which is why the system overwrites updated content in the destination courses if the same content is copied again.

When instructors create content in Canvas, the system assigns a persistent unique identifier to each content item (page, assignment, quiz, etc.). This identifier is crucial for distinguishing each piece of content within the vast ecosystem of Canvas courses. However, this system's design plays a significant role in the issue of content overwriting during course duplication processes.

Upon copying content from one course to another, Canvas maintains an invisible link to the original content using this unique identifier. This means that regardless of any changes made to the content in the destination course, the reference to the original content's unique identifier remains intact. Consequently, if an instructor attempts to copy the same content into the destination course again, Canvas uses this unique identifier to search for existing content to update. When it finds content that references the original unique identifier, it overwrites it. If no such content is found, a new piece of content is created instead. This mechanism is the root cause of inadvertent content overwriting, particularly when the same content is copied multiple times between courses.

To circumvent this problem, duplicating the content within the source course before copying it to another course is advised. This duplication action generates a new unique identifier for the duplicated content, thus breaking the direct link to the original content's identifier. When this newly duplicated content is then copied to a destination course, it is treated as entirely new content, eliminating the risk of overwriting any existing content.

Still need help? Reach out to Canvas support or the Technology & Learning Program for further assistance.

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Article ID: 113757
Mon 3/11/24 12:17 PM
Tue 3/12/24 2:18 PM

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This guide provides instructors with step-by-step instructions on how to duplicate a quiz within the same Canvas course by exporting the quiz and then importing it back into the course.