Canvas Admin

A Different Way of Thinking About Differentiated Assignments

Blog Post created by Canvas Admin Expert on May 25, 2016

I'll be honest. Our distance education courses are on rolling enrollment so while I've understood the concept of differentiated assignments, I've never given them much thought because there is no real use for differentiated assignments when on rolling/open enrollment. Or so I thought.

In addition to rolling enrollment, our courses also use pre-requisites in the modules to help students pace themselves and prevent them from turning in all of their assignments on the last day (and thus overwhelming the Professor and TA with grading). Pre-requisities include discussion forums, quizzes (if applicable), exams, and other applicable assignments. For example, in our Hebrew Exegesis course, a student has to do all of the work for the first 4 modules (i.e. 4 weeks) before unlocking the next 4 modules of work to complete.

So what are we to do when somebody wants to audit one of our courses? Rolling enrollment doesn't so much present an obstacle, but the pre-requisites do.  We don't want auditors to be able to post in discussion forums. Our auditors are light on the access they have via permissions. So what are my options?

1. I could create a custom role, but that doesn't help anything because permissions are still not granular enough.

2. I could EXcuse each of the assignments for the auditor.  In Hebrew Exegesis, this would amount to excluding 34 assignments for EACH auditor and for future auditors. That's a lot of work I don't want to have to do!

3. Enter differentiated assignments.  I created a section within the Hebrew Exegesis course called "Auditor."  I then went into each of those assignments and assigned them to the non-auditor section.  Voila! The students still have pre-requisites, but the auditor can now access all modules without having to submit faux-assignments, interact in forums, etc.  AND, for future auditors, I simply enroll them in the "auditor" section of the course.


I always thought of differentiated assignments from a "positive" angle of being able to give different students (or groups of students) a different assignment based on their knowledge, ability, etc. However, this approach takes more of a "negative" angle of excluding students from certain (or all) assignments.


I thought I would share my light bulb moment with the community and hope others (or future others) can potentially benefit from it.