Our Custom "Viewer" Role for "Master" Courses

Blog Post created by Champion on Feb 17, 2017

In this blog, I'll explain how our College uses a custom "Viewer" role in conjunction with "master" courses. This blog expands on part of a Twitter chat conversation I hosted on Tuesday, February 14, 2017 called #CanvasChat: Managing Masters. But first, some background...


At MPTC, my team (Instructional Technology) gets approved course curriculum from our Instructional Designer/Curriculum department to build into the LMS. We take the course curriculum built in WIDS (an online curriculum building tool) and put it into the LMS. For the most part, our team builds the curriculum for our faculty and adjuncts so it is ready for them to teach at the beginning of the semester. Most of our instructors do not build their own curriculum into the LMS themselves. One of the reasons for this is to have a consistent "look" and "feel" for the courses that we that students have a general idea of where they need to go to access parts of their course. If instructors build content on their own, there is high chance that course "A" will look different than course "B", and students would have to figure out where to navigate around the course. We wanted to avoid that. Additionally, we found that this consistency also has helped our retention rates.


When we moved to Canvas, we wanted to mimic a similar setup we had with our previous LMS, Pearson eCollege’s LearningStudio, by way of Canvas Permissions. We decided to create a custom role (How do I create course-level roles in an account?) called Viewer. This new role was based on the "Teacher" Base Type. (This was the only way we found that instructors could import content from a "master" course.) For our Viewer custom role, we turned off almost all permissions, but we kept the following turned on:


  • Create student collaborations
  • Create web conferences
  • Moderate Grades
  • Post to discussions
  • See the list of users
  • Send messages to individual course members
  • View announcements
  • View discussions


Some of these permissions might not really apply, but that's what we've got set right now. The custom Viewer role can only view a course. Instructors assigned this role in a “master’ course cannot make any edits to the course content.


We work with our Deans and their Administrative Assistants to determine who gets access to “master” courses in Canvas. In general, we typically have one full-time faculty member (sometimes two or three) who is the person responsible for keeping a course up-to-date in Canvas. This person is assigned the Teacher role in the “master” course. Then, other faculty and adjuncts in the same program area are enrolled in the “master” course with the Viewer role. This allows for collaboration among the team. Based on student and instructor feedback, an instructor with Viewer rights can talk with the instructor who maintains the “master” to make any suggested or needed changes to the course.


If you choose to do something similar at your school/institution, be aware of one minor thing. When instructors are enrolled in "master" courses and then look at their "Courses" >> "All Courses" screen, they will currently NOT see the custom name that was created by the admin. Instead, they will see Teacher listed under the Enrolled as column. I submitted a Feature Idea about this issue in April 2015, but it's been put on Product Radar (New Ideation Stage: Product Radar): Custom Role Name on "View All or Customize" screen.