Providing online access to a film or documentary video

This tutorial provides information on accessing film or documentary videos through Canvas, including locating titles through web searches, UWM Library resources, and digitized DVD or VHS tapes.

Instructors often use films, documentaries, or television shows to provide real-world examples and to help illustrate or contextualize course concepts. When using video in the online environment, these resources need to be distributed to students in a digital format through a streaming video service. In many cases, videos are already available online. However, in some circumstances, video can be converted from a VHS tape or DVD.



Step One: Determine the necessary amount of the video to be used


Ideally, instructors should use a smaller clip instead of the entire film. Copyright considerations dictate that it is best to use ONLY the sections of the video that will support students’ ability to complete the assignment. It is important to directly align the video content with the learning outcomes for each assignment. Once you have determined what you want your students to accomplish in order to achieve the learning outcomes, you can determine which piece of content and how much is required to successfully complete the assignment.



Step Two: Check to make sure if the video (and/or section of the video) is already available


First, take the time to run a web search for your chosen video. Many commonly used educational videos are already available online. Most search engines will allow you to sort the search results by “Video” format. In many cases, the publisher or producer has made videos, which are relevant to education, available on their websites. You can easily link to online videos from your Canvas course site. In some cases, you can embed the video to display from within your Canvas course site.

Second, search the UWM Libraries resources. The UWM Library has a wide variety of streaming video subscriptions. These streaming videos can be added to your Canvas course site through a link or by embedding. Here’s a list of streaming video subscriptions available through the UWM Libraries: It’s probably worth the time to check Search@UW for the title of your video:
Third, if you have some time before you need to deliver the film to your class, you can also request to have Library Staff locate the title for you. Complete the Purchase Recommendation Form to start the process: When prompted to select the [Type of Material] select [Streaming Video].

Step Three: Consider copyright and fair use

Distributing entire films to your students is not only pedagogically inadvisable, it is also technically difficult to distribute and likely to be in violation of fair use statues of copyright law. Please review this article discusses fair use and copyright considerations for video in online and blended courses. 

Step Four: As a last resort, determine appropriate software for digitizing the physical media (DVD or VHS)

Even if you have access to the DVD, you will not be able to provide access to your students on Canvas unless the video has been converted to streaming format. Converting the DVD for use online is both time consuming and a bit tricky. Before spending the time required to convert the DVD, be sure the video is already available online by following the directions in Step One and Step Two of this tutorial.
If you can’t find the film online and you need access immediately, you may be able to use free software to convert the DVD. However, you must have access to a DVD/CD drive (either built-in to your computer, or as an external drive). If you don’t have access to DVD/CD drive, you’ll need to purchase or borrow one to convert your DVD to an online format. We frequently recommend LG brand DVD drives with USB connection (available from Amazon here:
The next step is to determine which software to use. This will depend on whether you plan to show the entire film of a section of the film. If you plan to deliver the entire film you can use free software called, Handbrake. Here’s additional information on Handbrake If you plan to deliver a section of the film, you can use free software called VLC. Here’s additional information on VLC:
Be aware that the digitizing occurs in real-time, meaning the equipment captures the video as it plays. Estimate 1.5 to 2 times the number of minutes for the clip. So, a 30-minute clip will require between 45 minutes to 1 hour to digitize.
Once digitized, you can upload the video file to your Canvas course site using the My Media tool. My Media will display video (or audio files) in the browser with controls. Students do not need special hardware or software to view the videos. Here are the instructions for uploading a video file to a Canvas Page using My Media:
VHS tape:
VHS tapes require the use of a VHS deck and special equipment to convert the signal from analogue to digital. Normally, CETL offers instructors the use of a media lab (by appointment) that can be used to digitize VHS tapes for course related content, during business hours (Monday-Friday, 9:00am-4:30pm). However, with the COVID-19 campus closure, we are unable to provide this service.
If you have no other choice but digitize a VHS tape, you may consider set up a digitizing system. The hardware setup is very inexpensive, consisting of a VHS deck and the capture device ($90): For this setup, you’ll also need a computer to run the software associated with the capture device (Mac or PC). With this setup, you will end up with video files (.mp4) that can be distributed through a Page in Canvas using My Media. Instructors can use this tutorial to upload the videos to their D2L course site: or Canvas: 
You may gave a VHS deck already available to you. However, if not, you must purchase or borrow a VHS deck. Any functioning deck with RCA connections will suffice, for example: After the with the COVID-19 campus closures, you may consider contacting UWM Surplus ( to see if they have a VHS player that the department could have. 
Once digitized, you can upload the video file to your Canvas course site using the My Media tool. My Media will display video (or audio files) in the browser with controls. Students do not need special hardware or software to view the videos. Here are the instructions for uploading a video file to a Canvas Page using My Media:

KeywordsDVD VHS tape online film documentary video Canvas   Doc ID99243
OwnerAmy M.GroupCETL
Created2020-03-22 12:47:24Updated2023-01-30 13:52:55
SitesUW-Milwaukee Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning
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