[Assignments] Prohibit Submissions to Group Assignments without a Group Set

The Problem:

If students submit to a group assignment that does not have an associated group set, those submissions appear as individual submission rather than group submissions. Because this causes numerous problems for students, teaching teams, and Canvas support teams, we would like to see some kind of error message, warning, or other blocking mechanism when students try to submit -- ideally, this would prompt students to reach out to a teaching team member who could correct the assignment before students begin submitting.


While I recognize that preventing/delaying a student submission may not be consistent with Canvas's student-friendly approach, the dangers, risks, and extra work associated with the problems caused by this issue warrant considering this idea. In the past, Canvas unofficially supported individual submissions to group assignments, but that is no longer the case and a group assignment without a valid associated group set is essentially "broken."


Canvas currently will not save an assignment if a valid group set is not associated with the assignment:



However, Canvas does not prevent you from deleting that Group Set and leaving the group assignment without an associated set of groups. The current confirmation dialog only asks if the user is sure that they want to remove the group set. (See below and https://community.canvaslms.com/ideas/10708-warn-before-deleting-an-assignment-associated-group-set-...)




Why does this happen? Group sets are most commonly deleted as a result of how Group Sets and Group Assignments behave during course copies (including Blueprint courses -- Canvas Release: Blueprint Courses😞 The copied course has a group assignment associated with the default "Project Groups" group set. However, because this copied group set does not include any pre-created groups (see https://community.canvaslms.com/ideas/10709-enable-group-setup-wizard-for-existing-group-sets-resubm...), that group set may be deleted and a new one created, to benefit from the convenience of having Canvas automatically create groups. Even if the group set is given the same name ("Project Groups"), it is considered a different group set and not automatically associated with any assignments. And the end result is a group assignment without an associated group set.


If students submit to an assignment without an associated group set, they essentially submit as individuals to the group assignment -- which is not supported. The expectation is that students will be placed into groups within a group set prior to submission (How do I assign an assignment to a course group?).


This behavior causes numerous problems for various groups:


Problems for students:

  • Submission is visible only to the group member who submitted the assignment
  • Other group members continue to see the assignment as overdue/missing, which can cause anxiety and confusion (and be problematic for any future "nudge" efforts: and feature ideas like https://community.canvaslms.com/ideas/8585-generate-automatic-messages-to-students-who-do-not-submit...)
  • Delayed grading/feedback, if teaching teams need to correlate students/group submissions manually
  • Risk of losing credit for a group submission entirely


Problems for teaching teams:

  • Loss of the ability to use the group grading/feedback functionality
  • The "disappearing comments" problem in SpeedGrader (comments intended for group members do not display in SpeedGrader if students are not in a group, unless the "grade individually" option is selected, see How do I grade group assignments in SpeedGrader?)
  • Multiple, possibly different and/or late, group submissions to navigate, if concerned students resubmit because they see the assignment is still due/overdue
  • Inability to effectively use the "message students who" feature for the assignment
  • Unexpected and excessive manual work to correlate group submissions and students -- especially for large-enrollment classes (which can be very challenging when there are students who use nicknames that may not obviously match the name in the LMS)


Problems for (local) Canvas support teams:

  • When we've reported problems associated with this issue to Instructure support, we've been told that individual submissions to group assignments is not supported, leaving our team to address problems locally.
  • Often the fix requires recreating the assignment, configuring it correctly with a valid group set, and submitting on behalf of students/groups using masquerade. Depending on the size of the course, this can take a great deal of time, and it requires that support teams doing this be root admins.
  • There are fewer options for support teams without the ability to masquerade, placing a larger burden on students and teaching teams.
Coach Emeritus

Hi again,  @lindalee ‌

Here I am disagreeing with you yet again. Technology cannot mitigate all user errors. I see this as a training issue.

Anyways, I am responding mostly because it is not clear what you are asking for except perhaps in the title of your feature idea. I think you are saying that if there is a group assignment for which there is not a group set associated, then Canvas should prohibit individual submissions.

If that feature were developed and enabled, wouldn't it also create a similar cascade of problems?

  • Students see an assignment, they do the work, try to submit, can't and complain to teacher and support.
  • Teachers can't figure out why students can't submit or how to fix the problem, and support gets more complaints.

I see this as a training issue and a course design issue. Clearly labeling group assignments, and with text not icons (because Icons are not accessible). Include clear instructions that these are group assignment so students know they must submit as a group, train faculty how to create groups and groups assignments. You are still going to encounter setup errors, it happens, but I suspect there will be less of them by both faculty and students.



Hi  @kmeeusen ‌,

You have understood my request correctly. And regarding the potential results:

If that feature were developed and enabled, wouldn't it also create a similar cascade of problems?

  • Students see an assignment, they do the work, try to submit, can't and complain to teacher and support.
  • Teachers can't figure out why students can't submit or how to fix the problem, and support gets more complaints.

This is actually exactly what I would want to happen, as it would provide an opportunity to identify which teaching teams need training/intervention and to correctly configure the assignment and group sets/groups before a significant bigger problem is caused by students submitting to the broken assignment.

I completely understand -- and largely agree -- with your position that this is a training and course design issue. But it's also a technical issue. Currently Canvas has some mechanisms in place to prevent the creation of a broken assignment, but no warnings in place to prevent someone from breaking an assignment (for instance, https://community.canvaslms.com/ideas/10708-warn-before-deleting-an-assignment-associated-group-set-...). And further, Instructure's position is that the behavior that this feature idea would prevent is not supported -- but is possible through loopholes. Essentially, I'm asking that unsupported behavior not be allowed.

Coach Emeritus

Ah ha! A kind of reverse psychology negative feedback system!

Community Champion

For evidence of Canvas Support treating both a course design choice (good point,  @kmeeusen ) and a related student behavior as unsupported, see  @jolaine ‌'s comments at the bottom of https://community.canvaslms.com/ideas/6927" modifiedtitle="true" title="Warn before deleting an assi....

Community Contributor

Bit of a tricky one this, but voted up as I share similar 'group assignments published without correct settings' pains, but for slightly different reasons.

We have all group assignments set up by faculty admin staff at the start of term, which is before any groups can possibly have been formed. The protocol is to create a group set and then liaise with the teacher to ensure groups are correctly populated in canvas before submissions are open. What's happening frequently is that the liason/setup is being overlooked, then the teacher is caught out by the disappearing comments issue when marking, causing lots of confusion!

Completely agree this is largely a training issue, but I do think it's also a system alert issue too. Canvas is quick to alert me when I set up an assignment that doesn't include everyone - shouldn't there at least be a similar "warning: this group set has no students allocated to groups, are you sure"? Or even a "unable to publish this group assignment as there are no populated groups in group set x"?

Community Participant

We encountered the same problem. And it took a long time to figure out what the problem was. Once the group is created and the submission is annotated and graded, it does not appear as if anything is wrong except most members of the group cannot see the feedback button and their view says "no submission".

Were it not for this Canvas Feature request page, we would have escalated the problem to Canvas Support. 

Community Champion

 @nhirsig , thanks for voting here.  Usually it's worth escalating anyway, but for this issue doing so may not help much.  Wwe escalated our original issue of this type to Canvas Support. That was when we learned that they consider individual submissions to group assignments to be unsupported -- even though that seemed to work well for several years prior to their decision. 

If memory serves, the reason had to do with a necessary SpeedGrader change to ensure that students in a group would never be shown private feedback just to one student in that group.  This is something which was recently refined in this month's Canvas release.

Community Novice

I am not sure if this is the best place to make this comment, but...We have had multiple related problems, on the student end, with group assignments for which students are allowed to create their own groups.  Canvas does not seem to be set up very well for this, and I would appreciate improvements.  When setting up such an assignment – call it Problem Set 2 -- I create a set of groups called, say, “PS2 Group 1” through “PS2 Group 20.”  I tell students that they must first have all members of their group join one of these PS2 groups, and only then have one member submit the assignment.  Despite clear instructions on line and in class, they make the following mistakes:

  1. They fail to join a group and one member submits.
  2. Even though they all eventually join the group, one member submits before all of them have joined, leaving the latecomers unconnected to the assignment and feedback.
  3. They all join a group and then one member uploads the assignment to the group space, thinking this constitutes a submission. (I don’t have a good sense of how silly this mistake is, because I find there is a lot I can’t tell about the student experience from “student view.”)

It may not be worth your time to do anything about error number three, but I think it would be very useful for you to reduce the incidence of problems 1 and 2 (which are pains for me and my TA) with some combination of (a) a check at submission time asking the submitter if all members of their group have already joined the same PS 2 Group, (b) a software fix so that students can join groups after submission by a teammate, (c) (much better!) a software fix that eliminates the need for the clunky joining of groups prior to submission and just allows the submitter to click on the names of all members of the group when submitting.

Thanks very much, Julie


Hi Julie.Schaffner@tufts.edu Schaffner,

Thanks for sharing the difficulties that you experience with this. One of the things we do to mitigate this problem is to enable self-signup groups with the "Group Leadership" enabled (How do I assign a student leader to a group?). We typically use "set first student to join as group leader" and include in assignment instructions that group leaders can add other students to their groups. This typically improves compliance, by making the student submitting the work also responsible for adding students to groups.

As long as students are correctly placed into groups before assignments are graded, they still receive the feedback/grades for the assignments. Though students cannot change their group membership, teaching team members and admins can manually places students into the correct groups. We advise faculty to do this prior to starting to grade group assignments.

Good luck!


Community Novice

Thanks, Linda. This sounds useful.