Adding media (videos, photos, etc) to assignments, discussions, and pages in your Canvas course greatly increases student engagement! It also expands the types of activities you can ask your students to do in Canvas. For example, you could create a reflection assignment that includes a TED Talk video students need to watch without having them leave the page to follow an outside link, or offer a screenshot of code with a quiz question, or provide two images for them to compare in a discussion.

This article provides basic instructions on adding media for decorative and instructional purposes. The instructions apply to any component of Canvas that uses the Rich Content Editor (Discussions, Assignments, Quizzes, and Pages). The Rich Content Editor looks like this, and we will refer to it repeatedly.

Screenshot of the Canvas Rich Content Editor interface
Rich Content Editor as seen in Discussions, Quizzes, Assignments, and Pages on Canvas.

Embedding Images

Displaying images is a good first step as you learn to embed media in Canvas. The image insertion tools allow you to add still images and animated gifs. You can find the image insertion tools by clicking the image icon in the Rich Content Editor, which opens a menu of three options: upload an image, add an image saved in the course files, and add an image saved in your user files. Unless you have already uploaded a batch of images or imported them from a previous course (“Course Images”), you will probably be using the “Upload Image” option.

Screenshot of the Rich Content Editor with the image menu open
RCE with image menu open

Note: The option to search for and embed images directly from Unsplash (and before that, Flickr) is no longer available as of December 2022.

Uploading and Inserting an Image File

Perhaps, however, you have specific images saved on your computer that you want your students to work from. You will need to upload this image to Canvas. Again, choose the “Upload Image” option by clicking on the image icon in the Rich Content Editor.

Follow the instructions to upload an image from your computer.

Screenshot of the image upload tool showing the options for uploading an image from the computer.

Make sure to add alt-text briefly describing the image to support accessibility! Alt-text is image description that will be displayed if the image doesn’t load, and will be read aloud by screen-reading software commonly used by people with visual disabilities. Very briefly, describe the content of the image, focusing on relevant information. (That is, if you were teaching botany, you would not say “image of a daisy.” Instead, you’d say “close-up of an open flower with a bright yellow center and many narrow, pointed, un-layered white petals.”) If the image is purely decorative, just check the “decorative image” box.

You can also adjust the image size. It is best not to increase the size, as that will decrease the quality; however, it is frequently helpful to decrease the size of a very large image.

Click submit. Your image should appear in the Rich Content Editor.

Embedding Videos from Web Sources

As with images, Canvas offers multiple ways to embed video, including one that allows you to search YouTube from within Canvas or embed a Panopto video, and one that allows you to embed a video using a link you’ve found by searching a video site directly. In the late 2020 Rich Content Editor update, the YouTube plugin was greatly improved, but some of the options for embedding a video using a link were removed.

Searching for a YouTube Video within Canvas

In the old Rich Content Editor, you could search for YouTube videos by clicking on a YouTube icon in the toolbar. Because the toolbars have changed, you now need to click on the plugin icon (which looks like a power plug) and then select the YouTube tool, which may appear as a drop-down option or in a pop-up list of plugins.

Screenshot of the Rich Content Editor with the plugin menu selected and the YouTube plugin option showing.

Clicking the YouTube option produces a search tool, which you can use to find videos and directly embed them. If you know exactly what video you want to embed, it helps to search the full title, or part of the title and the channel name. Clicking on the video thumbnail allows you to preview it. Then you can simply click the Embed button. You’ll be able to select aspects like the embedded video size.

If you already have a link to the YouTube video you wish to embed, follow our YouTube embed instructions.

Embedding Media for which You Have the Link

Click for details on embedding with a link from specific media sources including YouTube, Google Drive, Prezi, and TED. The following instructions are general.

In the last Rich Content Editor update, Canvas removed the previous media embed tool, including the option to embed a video from a URL. This option differed from simply pasting the URL into the content (which you can still do, and it will still produce a mini-thumbnail for certain sources like YouTube) because it instructed Canvas to size and render the embedded video in a more visually pleasing way.

Now you can achieve the same effect by using an iframe. An iframe is a piece of HTML code that provides the video URL, dimensions, and other player information. You can often retrieve the iframe–frequently known as an “embed code”–from the video source.

To embed the code, you’ll need to select the embed option in the Rich Content Editor, which looks like a cloud with less-than and greater-than signs underneath it. Depending on the width of your screen, you will probably need to click the three vertical dots at the far right end of the toolbar to show additional icons. The embed option will open a box where you can paste the embed code.

Screenshot of the embed code box in the Rich Content Editor

This seems more complicated than the previous media embed tool, but produces the best results. If you cannot get an embed code, simply paste the video URL in the regular content editor window. This produces a small video preview that does not look as professional, but it is effective. The video preview will not appear while you are editing, but you will see it after saving the content. (Note that the video preview only appears for certain hosting services like Vimeo and YouTube.)

Recording Videos in Canvas

You can record video directly into your Canvas course, which is a great way to respond to students and demonstrate that you are engaged with what they’re doing. To learn more, watch this third-party video on recording video in the new Rich Content Editor.

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