Canvas Course Content Retention


To protect the Western community with additional data security, Canvas courses will be maintained for a six-year period.  Courses older than six years will be archived and inaccessible to faculty and students. 

If needed, instructors always have the option to export their courses or course content to other resources. See below for official options.

Courses will not be destroyed or deleted. They will be made inaccessible and stored in a secure location. Although it may take up to a week to process, requests to have courses retrieved may still be made after a course has been archived.

For extenuating circumstances, instructors may request that a course not be immediately archived. To request that a course not be archived for an extenuating circumstance, please use the following form:

Canvas course retention exception request

How to export a Canvas course

Course owners can download a copy of their course in the Common Cartridge format (IMSCC Zip file) using the "Export Course Content" process built into Canvas. This standard format has been stable and used for many years. It can be imported into most learning management systems (LMS); however, content cannot be viewed in its original organizational structure without restoring it into an LMS (see below). Also, exports do not include student data. Thus, it is ideal to review course content prior to exporting, making notes or taking screenshots as needed.

Another option is for course owners to share their course from Canvas to Canvas Commons where it can be moved into a non-CRN course at Western. This should be done prior to the 6-year timeframe. Note that this copy can be shared with a limited audience in Canvas Commons, including the department or only the instructor. The file size limit for uploaded content to Commons is 500 MB.

Where to store an exported Canvas course cartridge

Once downloaded, ATUS recommends storing your exported course on OneDrive as a long-term, secure location. Once again, the course cartridge file is not properly viewable unless restored to a learning management system (see below).

How to temporarily "restore" an exported Canvas course cartridge for the purpose of reviewing content

To see the original course organization of an exported course, the course cartridge file can be imported through an LMS, such as Canvas, into a course shell (i.e., empty Canvas course known as a non-CRN course shell). Anyone can request a non-CRN Canvas course at Western or create a free teacher Canvas Basic account outside of Western and use that to import the extract. Again, most LMS's should be able to import the file type.

Is there any way to view contents of a downloaded course cartridge offline?

It is possible to view the basic files in a course by uncompressing the IMSCC file. Viewing the contents of the IMSCC file, however, will not show course organization or layout of the course.  

To view the content of the IMSCC file, simply rename the file’s extension to “zip.” Your operating system should then offer a way to uncompress the file, by clicking on it, through a file menu, or tool such as Winzip on Windows and unzip on a Mac. It is recommended that a safe copy of the uncompressed IMSCC file is created first to avoid corruption. Note that the uncompressed IMSCC file will not import into Canvas. Only the original, compressed IMSCC file will import.

What do Western's retention statements require?

Please note that official University retention statements only require the retention of course content for three months. ATUS is extending this time period to six years for the convenience of the educational community. The implementation of a retention procedure for Canvas was shared and discussed with the Faculty Senate's Academic Technology Committee on 4/5/2021 and again on 2/28/2022.

For details about University retention statements, please see Western Libraries, Heritage Resources for the following statements:


For additional information about Canvas at WWU, see Canvas Help.