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New Member

Reasons for Sub-Accounts

Hi everyone,

I am a new Canvas administrator for a higher ed community college where we have been integrating / migrating for the past year. We currently manage all our online and hybrid courses in our main account, which is where everything is kept. We also have two sub accounts, but they are for our course designer to use for training purposes and developing courses so we really don't take advantage of the sub-account options.

I recently returned from the InstructureCon 0017 conference and had overheard MANY other administrators talking about the numerous sub-accounts they have to maintain. I was unable to relate because we don't really use sub-accounts. But I got the impression that sub accounts may be a bit of work to maintain. I'm hoping that this will generate a discussion where other admins can discuss the reasons your institution decided to use, or not to use, sub-accounts. 

I'm looking for the benefits (positives) of and the downfalls (negatives) of multiple accounts. I'm hoping this will be a great place for those of you who are experienced in Canvas to brag and boast about what works (and perhaps especially, what didn't work) so that we can all benefit from the wisdom of the elders! I'm certain that newbies like me will learn a great deal and hopefully this will save us from future headaches, especially if we need to modify our structure later on.

I hope you will take a minute to express your experience.

Thanks in advance! 


8 Replies
Community Member

Hi, Dave:

Here at UC Santa Cruz we implemented sub-accounts for a few reasons:

1) We have our Student Information System (Peoplesoft) create a course shell for each course in each term. We created a hierarchy of a top folder for the SIS system / Division / Department for the course shells. The hierarchy under this matches what is in our Peoplesoft system. This will allow us in the future to grant access at the division and department level to admins in those divisions / departments, so they can access reporting at their appropriate sub-account level. We can also facilitate blueprint courses, rubrics, and LTIs specific to a department or division (paid for by them, and not available to other departments / divisions) by having these sub-accounts.

2) We also have some sub-accounts outside the SIS-managed sub-accounts for things like:

   - a place where we give our student workers admin-level access so that they can experiment and learn without having access to live courses and grades

   - a place where we can do testing in Production without being in the same sub-accounts as live courses

   - Manually Created Courses are outside of the area where live courses are being created and managed

   - We will have some non-academic sites (they were called project sites in Sakai), and they are going into a sub-account where we can give different permissions than we want to have available in the live course area managed by our SIS system.

The primary drivers were: reporting at the sub-account level, varying permissions at the sub-account level, third-party apps access managed at the sub-account level.

Hope this helps.

New Member

Hi Dave!

I'm eager to hear a discussion on this as well!

I work for a K-12 school district and we have many sub-accounts (and sub-sub-accounts, etc.) set up as well, and largely for reasons that are similar to Leslie's. Initially, we wanted to be able to pull meaningful reports from the account-level, as well as to easily create different roles/permissions for different needs, and to house our SIS generated courses in a different location than our professional development and mandatory staff courses. I've also appreciated having a production container for testing where only my own test courses are involved (we ran into an LTI that wasn't written to perform as usual in test and beta environments, so it was nice to have a small sandbox.)

Another reason that we use sub-accounts is for branding. Each of our schools are branded differently, and we also have different branding styles for other accounts for departments, etc. Our teachers also use manually-created Canvas pages as their "homepages" or webpages with contact information, so we have those grouped by school and type in sub-accounts as well. Another nice things is that when running api calls, it's really easy to differentiate between groups of courses because each of the sub-accounts have their own ID, so it's a swift way of changing settings on all PD courses, for example. I'd say the only con for me so far is just the time it takes to organize them, and keep them organized, and right now, re-branding them based on new logos. 


Community Champion

Hi. We are not a conventional K-12 or Higher Ed school. We are a vocational school that certifies in a specific bodywork modality. We are much smaller than most other schools, but I found using sub-accounts a very useful way to set permissions and organize certification programs.

We have five types of classes: Basic Training, Advanced Training, Regional Training, Movement Training and Continuing Education. Each one is a sub-sub-account under the area of the world in which they are taught. Right now, only the USA is set up, so that is the first sub-account. I also have subs for our programs in Europe, Brazil, Canada, and Japan, although they are not using them yet.

While I am an admin at the school/root level, the USA staff are admins at the USA level since we don't want those permissions to cross-over between sub-accounts. I am not really focused on permissions for the sub-subs that are the certification types, but use the urls that come with those groupings as bookmarks so I can easily filter to a specific class type to find a specific class faster. Since there is no way to ever hide old classes, using sub-cat urls and Terms to filter through the long, endless list of classes is the best way to find one if you do not know the specific title to search with in the Find a Course box. 


0 Kudos
Community Champion

For a large school like Ohio State, sub-accounts are a necessity.  As Leslie outlined, we have Canvas linked to our SIS.  We don't pre-create a Canvas course for every course in the SIS, but we create the option for instructors to create the courses.  We have sub-accounts for each SIS program, and within that, we have sub-accounts for each course offering (so, Psych 1100, Psych 1131, Psych 2367, etc.). 

This lets us give distributed support staff access to their courses at the level they need to work at, but without having access to more than they should.  Departmental or course admins can pull reports, provide outcomes / rubrics / grade schemes / question banks / blueprints courses, etc.  Where there are integrations where a department has paid for access, we can deploy it just in their sub-accounts.

We do have a few sub-accounts for non-academic courses, but fewer than others seem to have.  We had a lot of non-academic org-units in our previous LMS and decided it created an unmanageable rabbit warren. 

Unlike others in this thread, we don't have different branding or permissions in the different sub-accounts.  But that is mostly because we are trying to create a unified experience for students.

I'm interested to know what happened to those non-academic units who were prviously using the LMS. Did they get booted to another platform, or was it simply their sub-accounts that were done away with?

Community Champion

There were various destinations for the non-academic uses when we transitioned from D2L to Canvas.

In order to better meet HR / compliance requirements, our university adopted Cornerstone for staff training.  That transition began a year or so before we decided to switch the academic LMS to Canvas. The last of the staff training courses were moved out of the academic LMS and into the HR LMS during our Canvas transition year. 

For all the other people / groups that had been using the academic LMS for non-coursework, we tried to help find better solutions.  Our university has many more online tools now than 5-10 years ago, when the LMS was the only option, but many people hadn't found the time to explore.  Our WordPress platform, institutional Box service, and Qualtrics service met many people's needs very well, without them having to hassle with the enrollment issues and extraneous functionality of using the academic LMS.

We are currently still evaluating options for "public facing education" and "continuing education," so some of those are still in the academic LMS.   And we do still have a fair number of oddball projects and groups using course sites for various reasons.  However, they aren't numerous enough or complicated enough for any distributed support person to need sub-account access, and since Canvas sub-accounts are not visible to end-users the way org units were in the old LMS, there is no "vanity advantage" in having separate sub-accounts for all the projects and groups.

New Member

Hi everyone! and Thank you for your input.

The information you’ve offered thus far will really help me promote the idea of subaccounts by providing good rationale for doing so. We are a large Community College but are into Canvas for only about a year now, and I can see that if we don’t organize soon it may become an issue in the future.

One concern I have is that our SIS system (Ellucian’s Banner) is not integrated with Canvas at this point. We tried it for a limited use semester (5 teachers for about 20 courses), and were successful in connecting, but the result in Canvas is not what we need as an institution. In addition we can’t change the output of the Luminis Message Broker because too many other systems rely on it in its current form.

So, all that to ask this. Are there any of you using multiple sub accounts or sub-sub accounts AND a flat file SIS import to Canvas? If so, how do you manage the creation of courses, users and enrollments?

~ Dave

Hi Dave --

We're using the flat-file SIS import as our primary SIS->Canvas synchronization mechanism, though we generate all of the flat files programmatically and upload them automatically via the Canvas API.  We've got several different SISs in play here (I think we've got 7 that we deal with, down from more than a dozen few years ago...), so we aggregate data from all of those systems into a single database first, and then our custom export process produces the files for Canvas.  We upload a full set of current course/enrollment/user/account data each night, and then we send incremental updates every 5 minutes throughout the day using the same flat-file process.

We've automated the creation of Canvas sub-accounts based on our combined SIS data using the above mechanism. We create a first-tier sub-account for each of our schools (Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard Law School, Harvard Divinity School, etc.), and then underneath that we create sub-accounts for the departments within each school. We can then associate each course with its department sub-account. 

Similar to others upthread, we do this to be able to delegate administration out to the school and department level, and to be able to apply custom branding at the school level. This also gives our schools some control over what features to enable, LTI tools to install, etc.