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Making SIS Assignment Syncing More Flexible with SIS Category Syncing

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For many of our K12 teachers in Canvas, SIS assignment and grade syncing is one of the most appreciated pieces of functionality in Canvas. With that being said, it can also be a very large source of frustration for teachers who are unaware of how to configure their Canvas courses properly for Assignment syncing.

Issues with Existing Workflow 

One of the most common issues that we see with grade sync jobs are errors focused around SIS Categories. Many SISs require assignments to be created into an existing category already associated with the teacher's SIS gradebook. Many of our current SIS Integrations rely on Assignment Group names exactly matching SIS Category names for assignment creation in the SIS to be successful. 

Sometimes the name variations may be small like an SIS Category of "Assignment" and a Canvas Assignment Group of "Assignments" aren't always easy for teacher's to identify and resolve. It also can cause frustration when a Canvas course with multiple SIS sections don't have their SIS categories named exactly the same. This causes some section's assignments to successfully sync while other sections fail and understandably can lead to increased teacher frustration.

This method of associating one assignment group to one SIS category can also limit a teacher's ability to organize their Canvas assignments with Canvas assignment groups. Teachers have to have a single "Homework" assignment group instead of Q1 Homework, Q2 Homework, etc... assignment groups. 

New Feature: SIS Category Syncing

In an effort to resolve all of the above issues we have designed and are in process of implementing, is a feature called SIS Category Syncing. The generic guide for using this functionality is currently available. As we add support for the various SIS integrations, this documentation will be linked in each SIS's specific grade sync documentation found in our Student Information Systems (SIS) guides. We will automatically roll this feature out to schools with compatible integrations in August 2021.

This new feature allows for teachers to explicitly align each section's categories with Canvas assignment groups. If an assignment group is explicitly aligned to an SIS category for a section then that SIS category will be used during grade passback. If direct alignment isn't used, then the existing process of matching Assignment Groups and SIS Categories by name will be used. 

Feature Highlights

Where to find it?

Within a course Assignment Group menu on the Assignments course page, admins and teachers in Canvas (that are using SIS integrations that support this feature) will see a new option to "Sync SIS Categories" (see image below). 

Untitled drawing (1).png

Clicking on this Sync SIS Categories menu item will launch the following modal (annotations included for context). 

Sync SIS Category Modal

This modal displays the Canvas Assignment groups in the Canvas course and each section's SIS gradebook categories. Users will have a better experience if they pre-create their desired Canvas Assignment Groups and SIS Gradebook categories in their respective systems prior to aligning Assignment Groups and SIS Categories.

Depending on the category sync method of your SIS integration and the performance of your SIS API, teachers may see a spinner indicating that the necessary data is still being retrieved. Most integrations will pull directly from the SIS for the most recent categories, but some integrations may rely on periodically cached data.

Sync SIS Categories annotated 1 (1).png

Per Section & Assignment Group Alignment

Expanding one of the toggles next to the assignment group name will reveal each section in the course and the section's currently aligned SIS Category for that assignment group.

Sync SIS Categories annotated 2.png

For the above screenshot. Any assignments marked as Sync to SIS in this assignment group would be placed into the "HW" category for the p01 section and in the "LAB" category for the p03 section during the next grade sync job.

Note: Some SISs do not update the SIS Category on assignments that already exist in the SIS. So updating the p03 section to use a "HW" category and re-syncing a previously synced assignment may not update that assignment's category in the SIS.

Multiple Assignment Groups -> Single SIS Category

There is no limitation for the number of Assignment Groups that can be aligned to the same SIS Categories. This allows teachers to have different Canvas Assignment Groups passing assignments to the same SIS Category.

Sync SIS Categories annotated 4.png

Assignment Group Names - Icon

If a teacher Syncs an assignment group with an SIS Category, subsequent loading of the Assignments page will render an icon next to each Assignment Group name that had an association made.

Sync SIS Categories_ Assignment Group Icon .png

We hope that by rendering this icon, teachers will be able to have confidence that assignments in these assignment groups should be able to sync without category errors occurring. 

Note: This icon will be displayed if any (not all) sections have had an SIS Category associated to that Assignment Group. If no explicit category is associated for the section, assignment group name matching to categories will still be attempted.

Wrap up

We are excited to offer this new functionality to our teachers and look forward to hearing additional feedback on how we can make things better. We have some additional upcoming improvements and designs that we hope to get your feedback on, so keep an eye out for those blog posts.