[Assignments] Assign to by Group for Individual Assignment

This idea was submitted previously and archived (see below). I would also request the same thing. For individual assignments, I would like to be able to "Assign to" by Group. I often divide the class into groups with varying discussion assignments or assignment due dates, yet these are individual assignments. I teach large classes, so it is too much work to type in individual names repeatedly.


Assign to" Student Groups for Individual Assessment


I want to be able to create Groups based on their modification or need and assign it to that group.Currently we have teachers who have to type in a LOT of student names when it's a modified assignment. Being able to pre-create groups with those students in them and assign or exclude that group would save a lot of time.

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I have to type in around 140 names for my 6 classes to assign each group of kids an assignment  (different assignment) and it take a lot of time each week that I could be doing something more worthwhile. When I used a different system previously, it was not like that, so Canvas does seem behind the times in that regard.

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This would be extremely helpful as a I run an extremely differentiated classroom in regards to types of students present. Wish that this was currently existing for our hybrid learning. 

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It's tough typing the same names every time for every quiz to differentiate due dates. It would be greatly appreciated if I could just select already created groups. I need this to assign varying due dates to students with accommodations. It would be easier to pick a group I already created called "time and half" for students who get 1.5 x regular time. Thanks! Have a great day.

Community Champion

@James, as many have pointed out typing in lots of names individually to exclude one student in a large class is too much. There are other use cases too.  Do you or @kona have any idea if this Idea is on Instructure radar (old term but that covers it!)?  Thank you very much for checking.

Our school also doesn't allow teachers to create sections because those are tied via SIS to enrollments in the course. If we allowed that, and a student drops, they would only be dropped from their official section so still have access to the course.  We really need groups to handle the many times assignments, discussions etc should only be available to a group. Group selection should be available everywhere Section is allowed.

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I have no special insight into what Canvas is doing other than what they make public.

I disagree with your statement about groups, though. Groups are designed for students working together on assignments. There is a lot of overhead (files, pages, discussions) created with a group that does not occur with a section and that should not be used just because you want to only assign things to some people.

What you are really describing are sections and that doesn't change just because your school doesn't allow you to create sections but allows the creation of groups. The issue is finding some way to create sections or making it easier to exclude people.

Community Explorer

You have a good point about all the tangential stuff that comes with collaborative groups, but I disagree that sections is the solution for us. 

For schools that have automatic SIS integration to create sections, creating sections to differentiate assignments is just plain not possible from what I can tell. I have worked closely with my tech admin and we haven't been able to make it work. I would love suggestions as to how to do this.

Ultimately, we need a more time efficient way to create differentiated assignments. At the very least we should be able to copy/paste student names into the assign to box, but as it stands, you have to type in each individual name for every differentiated assignment. If you have students who need modifications or accommodations (legally), you are doing this on almost every assignment, not to mention other reasons to differentiate. That is the pedagogy at the root of the problem for teachers, and secondary folks often have well over 100 names to enter for each assignment.

Community Champion


In Canvas terminology, sections are what they have for the ability to combine students into a logical cohort. You cannot create the sections that do what you want, so you think you want something else, but the ability to assign to groups of students at a particular time is handled through sections. Groups does not meet the need (do you want one student turning in an assignment for the entire group?). The issue is how to create sections in a way that doesn't conflict with the SIS.

There are really three issues with slightly different implications. Some want the ability to exclude students from an assignment. Some want the ability to create a list of students and then exclude them all at once since typing in the names is a pain. Some want the ability to create a list of students and only assign those students to something.

The last two are solved by the use of sections and Canvas has a solution for that, but it is inadequate when the SIS controls the sections.

For the first issue, the current implementation of differentiated assignments does not allow for easy exclusion of students or sections. They do allow you to go into a gradebook and enter EX for the students that you don't want to complete the assignment but that is not without its own set of complications.

What you want are instructor-created sections that are not under the control of the SIS. Canvas doesn't see any distinction on who creates the sections, though, they're all just sections to it. With an instructor-created section, they would only be able to enroll students that are already in the course, but the SIS would be responsible for changing the status of enrollment (adding, dropping).

From Canvas' perspective, they already allow this. The ability for a faculty to add their own sections or move students between sections is controlled by the Canvas permissions, which an admin can set. Most admins who are using SIS disable the ability because the SIS is the authoritative source for information. If I go into our test instance and masquerade as a faculty member, that option isn't there. If I go into beta, which doesn't keep all of the settings that are in production, then the faculty member can. So the ability for faculty to create their own sections is possible, but I didn't track down which permissions exactly controlled it. Two come to mind: Manage course sections and  Users - manage students in courses.

However, there is an issue here -- changes made through the UI override the SIS import unless certain flags are set with the SIS import (generally you want this behavior). That means that if a faculty moves a student or adds a student to multiple sections, then the SIS may not be able to control the student's status anymore. That makes the SIS not authoritative anymore, which is a bad thing from the administrator's perspective.

There is nothing that keeps a SIS from enrolling students into multiple sections and then removing them from all of them when they drop the course. I doubt that many SIS software have done this as most equate section in the traditional meaning. We have section 01, 02, 03, etc of a course that corresponds to set meeting times and instructors. Our SIS has no knowledge that it should create sections for females and males as well. From Canvas perspective, that's for the institution to decide how to do things and they give the permissions to allow or disallow it. The SIS probably has an idea of which students have IEP or 504, but I wouldn't call it that when you create the groups since students can see the sections that other students belong to.

The current method of overrides (differentiated assignments) is not designed to easily exclude certain students. The assignment overrides allow for individual student, by group, or by course section. Groups can only be used when it is a group assignment, but then you can give different dates to one of the groups. That's part of why I'm saying what Nancy asked for with groups isn't really what people want.

Overriding by the student ID involves listing every student that is supposed to get the override. People typically think this means that they need to assign it to everyone that they don't want to include, but that may not always be the case -- depending on some other settings. If you have 200 students and you want to administer it to 195 of them, then what you might be able to do is assign it to everyone and then add a second differentiation for those 5 and make it well into the future (available, due, and lock on the last day of the quarter/course within a minute of each other). It would not show up for them on their calendar or to do list until the end so they probably won't see it. As is the problem with any hacks, this has its own set of issues. If you have automatic 0's for missing grades, then at some point they will get a 0 for it. That's why putting in an EX for those students is still required, and that solves a bunch of the issues anyway.

One could write a script that would go through and negate a list. That is, add the 5 students, click an inverse button, and it would replace their names with everyone but their names. That's not as simple as it sounds. You would need to consider other overrides that might already exist and not put someone in that is in any of those. Then you have to decide what to do if someone is part of a section override and whether to honor those or not. If you later decide to do a section override, then what happens to the individuals that have been added in previously -- I haven't tested, but I imagine that Canvas would leave them as an individual and not put them in a section override, so this whole approach means that section overrides become useless. There's also the issue of having a large list of students that are assigned an assignment could slow things down (processing 200 students takes a lot longer than processing 1 section). It also has the problem that when new students are added to a course after the assignments have been made, they won't get it.

It would also be possible to edit the script to put in the IDs of the 5 students who were not getting the assignment so that you didn't have to manually add them each time, you could just run the script on an assignment.

One long-term fix would be for Canvas to implement a "not" operator, which is kind of what this thread is about. The ability to exclude people. There is the aforementioned issue of what precedence "not" has -- that is, does it apply to the assignment as a whole, to the section, ???. You would have to have an declaration like "everyone" or "section 01" before you could use the "not".

An alternative to "not" that would probably be better for more people is to make each override an "assign to" or a "do not assign to" and then you could either put in a section or a bunch of students. A "do not assign to" would override everything else and it would suppress the warning about not all students being assigned something.

Right now, it's still easier to go through and exclude students through the gradebook. If I remember correctly, they will still be able to see the assignment, they just won't be able to complete or submit it. Some students (and faculty) don't understand that and so it causes confusion.

There may be a solution where students are enrolled in the course through the SIS and then permissions set to that faculty can add sections and manually put them in. Then when the SIS removes them, they only have to remove them from the course. I have not tested that, though, as we add them to sections rather than courses.

Essentially, there is no perfect solution with the existing product. That's why this idea conversation exists.

Community Champion

@James , I can see Canvas was designed to use sections to differentiate assignments and not groups.  Yes there is a lot of overhead with groups, which I discovered when first created group discussions back when we first started using Canvas.  All we wanted was to have a discussion with smaller numbers of students involved to facilitate interaction, without a special group workspace, but that's what we got, the whole workspace of files and pages that never got used. Very wasteful.  (That is another idea, to have some groups without that workspace, although I'm not sure how it could work.)

I think having 107 comments since 2016, and 62 votes up on this idea since the change to a new Canvas community is meaningful. There were probably a lot more votes previously.  In any school, since a number of teachers might want to use differentiated assignments/discussions by group, I can't imagine the Canvas admin would want to take charge of creating SIS files to add students to multiple group-ish sections in the course, and then manage additions/changes as well as what happens if a student drops the course. All these sections would need SIS IDs.  Students would need to be dropped from each section or they'd still have access to the course.  We just don't have the resources to devote to this kind of setup.

Maybe if it were possible to copy and paste the names of students in the group into the Assign to field, that would help.  There might be other solutions besides differentiating by group.  But since usually teachers have already created the groups for other purposes, saying it will create too many group workspaces doesn't seem an issue.  

Maybe Assignments could be added to the group workspaces?  That would allow assignments by group.

Sorry there are so many ideas here!  Maybe I will submit the Idea of copy/paste into the Assign to field.  It's a workaround, not the real solution we need. Perhaps create something besides groups if it will be too difficult to allow differentiation by group.

There are needs besides excluding a few people from an assignment.  Lab courses for example have people regularly working together in the same small group within the class. This idea helps in so many different situations.

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But since usually teachers have already created the groups for other purposes, saying it will create too many group workspaces doesn't seem an issue.

This might be true for your institution, but it seems anecdotal and I'm not sure how widely it holds, especially if people understand how groups work. I looked at our institution, which has been using Canvas since Fall 2012, and we have 3450 groups in 728 group sets in 421 courses. That's 421 out of 7659 courses or roughly 5.5% of courses that use groups at all.

Maybe Assignments could be added to the group workspaces? That would allow assignments by group.

My gut says that Canvas will not allow assignments will be added to group workspaces. Canvas has a different approach for group work. They already support group assignments.

Canvas already allows you to use groups for differentiated assignments, but it has to be a group assignment. That means it won't work for Classic Quizzes, which cannot be made group assignments. But for discussions and regular assignments, I can go through and differentiated assignments by group -- provided I'm willing to make it a group assignment. 

From Canvas perspective, you can already assign something to just one group. I will grant that the use of "group" is ambiguous and way-overused, but it is what it is and conversations would be less confusing if we used it the same way Canvas does. When you keep on talking about allowing "groups" for differentiated assignments, you're asking for something that is already there.

The problem is that "group" assignments are meant to be collaborative efforts where one person submits for the entire group. Groups are not designed for individual submissions, which is what you want. You want a collection of students that should not work together on an assignment to be used as a logical group, which is what Canvas calls "sections."

Using Canvas's wording. I cannot get behind using groups to assign to individual students, but I could support different types of sections. It might seem as simple as using the presence of a SIS ID to determine the type. Faculty could create sections that don't have a SIS ID. If a student is removed from a section that has a SIS ID, then they are removed from all sections including those without SIS IDs.

As simple as that sounds, it's problematic. We have a tendency to drop students for financial aid issues Friday at 4:00 pm before a long weekend. That means that the student is out of the course and unable to contact anyone for 4 days and they probably have work that needs done. Other times there is a mix up and the financial aid gets straightened out, but it doesn't get remedied in the SIS right away, but the instructor contacts us to say it's okay. In those cases, we manually add students to a section knowing that the SIS doesn't control that section. Also, changes made through the UI are sticky and are not modified by the SIS imports unless a setting is enabled.

There need to be SIS IDs for an external system to manage them, but then that leads to the option to disable creating your own sections. We don't want people in the class who shouldn't be in the class, unless we do on long weekends or when the SIS is acting funny. If an institution trusted their faculty to not mess with the real sections, then they could allow them to create their own sections.

We don't allow faculty to create their own courses at my institution, but I don't think there's a reason why we couldn't. We could enroll the students at the course level rather than into individual sections. We could enroll them both at the course level and into individual sections and then let faculty create their own sections or move them around. We're just providing a default set of sections. It's just not the way we do things, probably because we didn't think of "section" being anything other than a course section when we set it up. Now it works, so we don't touch it, but there is nothing on my end that ever fetches information by section other for enrollment purposes. All of the maintenance and tracking is done at the course level.

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I think this is a great idea.

I would love if in assignments/quizzes/etc. at the end that group were included in the list of Assign To. This would make it so I could give each group separate assignments with different due dates.

I understand that creating sections can already do this. The problem is that at some schools you can't add students to a section you've created because the school limits that privilege or, it was used for registration of students for multiple meetings of the same class.

Summary: I can't put my students in sections I create for the class because of how the school does registration or the privileges I have in Canvas as an instructor. It would be nice if I could use Groups like sections to release specific assignments with different due dates to specific groups of students without having to enter individual names in the Assign To section. (I have ~450 students, so it would take forever to put in names individually based on their group.)