Jayde Colquhoun

Large course management: Sections/Groups

Discussion created by Jayde Colquhoun on May 29, 2018
Latest reply on Oct 31, 2018 by Mark Van de Velde

As we move into our final stages of implementing Canvas in a large University, every day we are faced with more and more challenges when it comes to managing large courses, specifically around Sections and Groups. 


We are trying everything, and I wanted to share this experience with you, along with reach out for any feedback/ trials and errors you may have also faced. 


Firstly, I mention large course management - but most of what I mention affects our smaller courses too, it is just that users tend to be more willing to find their own workaround for these issues in smaller courses - and we tend to only see the pain points raised when teachers are managing over 1,000 students in a single Canvas shell. 


Secondly, I will also mention that large course management is a Khaki 2017 focus area - Though, the only delivered outcome of this focus group so far, is section-specific announcements. I will also mention Canvas Studio where some items I mention below are pegged for future development. 


So, at our institution, we, like most, have large courses, and within those courses, we use Sections to manage student classes/ break these courses up. These classes are representative of their face-to-face class, and students will move around these classes up till (and sometimes post) timetabling closing/ census date.


Large courses, along with section movement (students moving between sections) has seen us face multiple problems - some of which I have noted below!


ProblemOptions for management
When students move between sections (made inactive in one, and active in another), students are still bound to the assignments (due date, submission area) allocated to them in the first, now inactive section (where differentiated assessment is used). 

We do not have a solution for this, rather have raised with Canvas as a serious issue.


We are currently needing to give extensions to students who are affected, and are viewing the incorrect due date!

When limiting students to access users only within their section, and a student moves a section (made inactive in one, and active in another), students still have full access to the previous inactive sections users.We do not have a solution for this, rather have raised with Canvas as a serious privacy issue.
UPDATE: FULFILLED! Gradebook performance is seriously affected by large courses - Rendering the number of cells of the grade book table within a large course takes time. 

Canvas have recently significantly improved gradebook performance in large courses. 

Unmuting an assignment in a large course means the comments/ feedback provided takes sometimes DAYS to be released/ filtered out to students.We do not have a solution for this, need to raise as soon as possible with Canvas. 

Edit: 19/06 - I thought we had raised this with Canvas but were yet to. Will raise and follow up with updates here. 
UPDATE: FULFILLED! Discussion boards do not accommodate section specific non-graded discussions. 

This has now been deployed in production and section specific discussions are now supported. 

Group Limitations -
  • Can only have 200 automatically created groups in a group-set and no ability to 'appendage' Group Sets (or create sub- groupsets). 
  • No search function making it difficult to find students (if needed to make a change) 
  • No ability for batch group management for course roles. 
  • Students cannot be assigned to more than one group in a Groupset. 
  • Difficult to know when in a group area/ or a course area (solved by creating a UI change to include a visual indicator - but not solved by Canvas). 

The University of Michigan has kindly shared a Course Manager tool (allowing teachers to create and edit sections across courses they are enrolled in, and batch group management) - GitHub - tl-its-umich-edu/canvas_course_manager Though this requires serious development for our environment (its current capabilities do not align with our policies). 


UPDATE: Rob Ditto has kindly shared a workaround for searching users in a group in the comments below. "Canvas does have a limited way (a workaround, perhaps) to search for students in groups through the UI: go into Student View first, then visit People > Groups. Typing part or all a student's name in the Search Groups or People box will have the effect of "filtering" the list of groups to show just the ones that students belong to."

UPDATE: Matthew de Jong has kindly shared a workaround for the limitation of being able to create only 200 groups automatically in a Group Set. "First create 200 groups automatically, then add more groups manually." 
Additionaly, Matthew created a feature idea for this - Increase the limit of automatically created groups within a groupset

Course role management of sections is bound by too broad permissions. 


Idea document: Canvas Permissions and Granularity Feature Ideas 

More granular permissions are needed in order to open up limited section management to course roles. This is in Canvas Studio but has been talked about for years. 


We have a conflict between the use of integrated data and course functionality that uses sections, and we need a way to assist course roles to have limited section management so as not to interrupt the integration but allow for full use of the section specific course functionality. 


As mentioned in the previous problem item, the University of Michigan has kindly shared a Course Manager tool (allowing teachers to create and edit sections across courses they are enrolled in, and batch group management) - GitHub - tl-its-umich-edu/canvas_course_manager - Though this requires serious development for our environment (its current capabilities do not align with our policies).


If a student moves around sections (made inactive in one section/ active in another) it is difficult to know what participation was made in which section. It is also difficult to know which section is inactive via the 'People' pageYou need to navigate to the individual user profile to view which section is active/ inactive. 

Attendance - fails to load with large cohorts

Submitted by Jen Burn

Quiz statistics - limited to 1000 quiz attempts or quizzes with less than 200 questions. You can still download the raw data but the nifty graphs don't work at all.

Submitted by Jen Burn


I understand we can submit feature ideas, and push for votes, though this is no guarantee or indication of what will be developed. We have had Batch Group Management, for example, sitting at over 200 votes for some time now. 


I wanted to reach out to this group and ask what are you doing now? While we wait for these items to improve...


How are you managing large courses?

How are you managing sections on a large scale?

How are you handling groups on a large scale?

How can we all raise this, and champion to Instructure, that we need more work in this area, we need more focus on large courses and section management! 
Do you have any tips/ tricks? 

Are there any external tools (limited development needed) that help?


I appreciate you making it this far in this post, and look forward to learning from all of you!