Edit PDFs in Canvas Assignments

There are many ways to share information with students through Canvas.  One strategy that is easy and seamless is to allow students to annotate over documents in Canvas.  This allows students to open the document, annotate over it with text tools, and easily submit back to the assignment…no downloading, copying, sharing, or paper and pencil required! If you want to try this with your students, read on for instructions.

Create the PDF

The first step is turning any document you want to share into a PDF.  If the document is something you have created in Word or Google Docs, you can download it as a PDF. Go to File > Download > PDF Document (.pdf).

If the document you want to share is a hard copy, use a scanner app to take a photo of the hard copy, and the app will convert the photo to a PDF that you can upload to Google Drive.  I used a free app called Scanner to create the images below.

Again, if you upload a scanned document from your phone (or other device) to your Google Drive, you can then download it to your device as a PDF.  

Upload to Canvas

Next, you’ll need to upload the PDF into your Canvas Files.  Open any Canvas course. Select Files from the left menu, then choose Upload.

Once you select Upload, you’ll be able to choose the files you want to put into the course from a menu. Locate the PDF files you scanned, select them, and choose Open. Files will upload to your Canvas files, and can now be dropped into assignments.  

Open or create the assignment you want to drop the PDF into. On the right hand side, there is a menu that contains all of the files you have uploaded.  Click on the PDF you’re looking for, and it will automatically link into the assignment you’ve created. Make sure your assignment submission is set to File Upload.

Save your assignment, then instruct students to access the assignment using the Canvas App. When they click on the PDF in the Canvas app, they will be able to annotate over the PDF to complete the assignment.  Here’s an example of the student view:

When the assignment is complete, they can submit back to the app using the “sharrow” (box with arrow) in the upper right corner of their screen. If there are any problems submitting, another method to submit would be for students to take a screenshot of their annotated PDF and turn in via the web version of Canvas through Safari or Chrome.


To recap, here are the steps:

  1. Download your file as a PDF.
  2. Upload your PDF to your Canvas files.
  3. Insert the PDF from your Canvas files into an assignment.
  4. Instruct students to complete the assignment using the Canvas App.

This has helped me streamline distributing files as well as getting student work turned back in. Do you have other tips to share? Leave a comment below with what works well for you.

10 Replies to “Edit PDFs in Canvas Assignments”

    • Rahny Day

      I don’t understand what is ” Canvas App” ? I’ve done all those steps and entered in studetn to view to make sure it was correct.

      Do I need to download this within the Canvas apps available?

  1. Trisha

    Hi, if I annotate a PDF on Canvas as a student, would it change the original file or would I be the only person who is able to see those changes?

  2. Kim Garza

    How do I tell the kids how to edit/annotate the PDF? I know how to get the PDF into the assignment, just not how to tell the students how to edit/annotate the work. Tips?

    • Brian Bennett

      You’ll probably need to put something in your assignment instructions about how to submit the PDF. Feel free to link to this post for turning it back in with the share button from the editor.

      • Melanie

        I have the same question and your answer didn’t really answer the question. When I open the PDF in the assignment I do not see any tools that allow you to write on this PDF. So how do the students actually put annotations on it. Is there something they need to click on to get a pen to show up?

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