One of the most common questions I'm asked when consulting our Canvas partners is how to synchronize the roster from Canvas into an external application. There are a variety of ways this can be accomplished, each with their advantages and disadvantages depending on the needs of your product and customers. This post is meant to be a resource for external tool providers hoping to maintain a synchronized roster between their systems and Canvas.
This approach requires an LTI integration to be configured and visible somewhere within a Canvas course. Ideally, this LTI connection will already have an LTI SSO mechanism. If username, login ID, email, and/or SIS ID is required, make sure the privacy level is set to Public in the tool configuration. Otherwise, Canvas will only send an opaque LTI user id (as the user_id parameter) and a Canvas ID (as the custom_canvas_user_id).
The main limitation of the LTI-only workflow is that it requires users to launch the tool through the LMS. This often does not make sense. For example, some tools are used only by instructors, so there is no opportunity for the students to launch an LTI tool. The LTI + API workflow works best for tools targeting teachers or students, but is limited when synchronizing rosters for large accounts.
This approach requires an LTI integration to be configured. It also must use OAuth2 to obtain instructor and student API tokens.
NOTE: This approach is not recommended for large accounts due to API throttling. Instead, either use the LTI + SIS + API approach in the next section or see the Instructor Workflow below.
NOTE: Some students may not have permission to view the list of users in their course.
The main limitation of the LTI + API workflow is that it doesn’t work well for large accounts. By using the Reports API, tools can generate reports that list all users in an account. This is best used for institutions who’ve implemented SIS, but it’s not a requirement.
NOTE: There are two reports of interest here. The easiest to interpret is the SIS Export report; however, the SIS Export report only shows users with SIS ID's. In this scenario, you’ll need to rely on the provisioning report instead.
Instructors and students don’t have access to the reports API. However, the same functionality of the LTI + API integration described in previous sections can still be used to compliment the LTI + Reports API workflow. For example, you may want to do a nightly sync at the account level, but still use API + LTI to synchronize data when a user launches the tool.
NOTE: Admins can also manually send reports to a tool provider for one-time provisioning of new customers; however, in order to maintain an accurate list of users and enrollments, the tool would still need to sync data via LTI and/or API.
NOTE: The workflows which leverage API can be further automated or simplified by obtaining an admin token with the “become other users” permission. This token can then be used to make API requests on behalf of teachers and students by appending as_user_id=<student/teacher user id>. However, this can be problematic for high numbers of assignments or students as you’ll likely experience throttling issues.
This won’t be discussed here. For more information about integrating with Canvas as a SIS provider, please contact: Chase Pendleton <email@example.com> (SIS Partnerships Manager)
We’re currently working toward implementation of the IMS LTI Names and Role Provisioning Service. We hope to have most, if not all, of the service implemented by the end of 2018. This service will make the LTI-only workflow more useful for instructors in particular as it doesn’t require all users in a course to launch the tool, and it'll allow tools to be aware of changes in the course roster.
The requirements are the same as the LTI-only workflow outlined above, but you must also conform to the IMS LTI Names and Role provisioning Service as a tool provider.
This isn’t a comprehensive guide to solving the challenge of synchronizing users and enrollments between systems. I encourage creativity and product discovery with your customers to see how they envision your product working within Canvas. My hope is that this guide has at least allowed you to gain a better understanding of what is and isn’t possible so your organization can make decisions that help our mutual users have the greatest experience possible.
For those who’ve already solved this problem, how has your integration combined API and LTI to provision users from Canvas? Are there any interesting approaches you've taken that I haven’t considered here? Please share in the comments!
Partner Integrations Specialist
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