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erinhmcmillan
Community Team
Community Team

Releases Q&A: 2021-05-15 Course Templates

Looking to discuss this feature from the 2021-05-15 Release Notes? Post a reply and start a conversation!

POSTING GUIDELINES
  • This topic is for feature discussion only—please share use cases, best practices, etc. regarding this feature
  • Please thread replies as much as possible to keep posts organized
  • Feedback to product managers about idea enhancements should be submitted in ideas.canvaslms.com (though linking to the idea here so others can find it is welcome)
  • Bug reports should be submitted to Canvas Support—bugs will not be triaged in this thread
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73 Replies
kirsten_ryall
Community Participant

This is exciting! I'd love to see a comparison between Course Templates and Blueprint courses. It would assist to make a more informed decision about the better direction for applying templates across our institution. Is this something that could be supplied? I'm hoping it already exists. Let me know if not.

Hi, Kirsten, 

Our product marketing team is working on that type of resource! It will be available soon.

Thanks,

Erin

anagui81
Community Participant

Please, could you add to this comparison the Copy course content feature?

shufent
Community Participant

I would like to see the course template is accessible. (Pass accessibility).

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erik_gustafson
Community Participant

Yes, this is a huge improvement!

I would like to see in future updates a dropdown list in Course Settings to choose a template from the list of designated Course Templates if a template is not selected in Account Settings.

For our institution, we have a design template that is not required to be used. Instructors can use it if they wish. So, applying a Course Template across an entire account is not practical for us, especially when we copy courses from previous terms. Instructors don't want to start from scratch every term. It would be a headache for them to reset the course and then import if we enabled the Course Template on our accounts. 

--
Erik

Hi, Erik,
Have you considered something like Canvas Commons as a way to provide a template instructors can use and import into a course?
Erin
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hechla
Community Participant

We also copy courses from previous terms but our ID team develops new visual enhancements to courses which we roll out as "versions" of our digital classroom. As it is now we have to touch every page and assignment in order to make these changes in our courses. It would be great if there was a way to use the template for these visual enhancements that can be pushed into every page and assignments in an existing course. Of course, I think I'm now bordering on somehow distinguishing content and design (like a CMS does). 

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turnermz
Community Participant

Yes @hechla this is bordering on CMS design, but the design is increasingly important as more and more teaching content is provided online. The more Canvas promotes and provides web-site like interaction the more it needs to offer the same editing and templating tools.

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mattg
Community Participant

@hechla I would agree that what you are describing would be a function of a CMS, but depending on how many courses you are trying to manage with the same content the use of Blueprint courses may lend some efficiency by updating once and pushing to many courses at once.

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leward
Community Contributor

Interesting!  Indiana University developed a home grown templating service  that works almost exactly like the Instructure solution in terms of template inheritance, etc.  

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dbrace
Community Contributor

I am looking forward to this.  Our previous LMS had something similar.

My first question is, if a course is a template course, what course settings are applied to the other courses?

For example, if the template course has dates to do, are those applied to any courses that get/use the template?

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The course template is essentially a course copy but without the option to adjust any dates. In most cases the course template will be used as a starting point with structure, such as with course navigation, the home page, and resource links.

Erin
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If we use the Course Template to be the starting point of a course, and then an instructor wants to import content into the course after the template has been applied, will the home page change based on the new course import or will the instructor have to manually change the home page? 

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dbrace
Community Contributor

What will be done to prevent duplicates that could exist when copying course shells?

For example:

  1. a course shell has been designed and set as a template
  2. a set of course shells are created during a data transfer
  3. the set of course shells have the template applied to them
  4. one course shell that was created is designed by a faculty member
  5. that course shell is exported by the faculty member and given to another faculty member
  6. the exported course shell is imported by the other faculty member into a different course shell

Based on the above scenario (other scenarios may also relate to this such as an admin copying a course shell designed by one faculty member and giving it to another faculty member of a different course shell) will there be duplicates in the course shell that belongs to the other faculty member since both course shells originally had the template course applied to them?

Once a template is applied to a course, that template doesn't apply to anything else. So if the content in a template is added to a new course, and that new course has content that is modified and exported (and so on and so forth), it's possible to have duplicate content, as does sometimes happen in course copies.

Please note the warnings found in both https://community.canvaslms.com/t5/Instructor-Guide/How-do-I-copy-a-Canvas-course-into-a-new-course-... and https://community.canvaslms.com/t5/Instructor-Guide/How-do-I-copy-content-from-another-Canvas-course...

Erin
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dbrace
Community Contributor

Thank you for that reply, @erinhmcmillan.  I can tell you that based on my experience with our prior LMS and its default course template, this may be functionality that we do not use and this is based solely on how there most likely will be duplicates when the various export, copy, and import features are used.

Our prior LMS, we started our transition to Canvas in February 2018, had duplicates inside of courses and it was difficult to manage and required a considerable amount of manual labor to stay on top of it from course-to-course and semester-to-semester.

Tasha_Biesinger
Community Contributor

We've been thinking through this exact scenario - course 1, 2 and 3 all get the template applied. Course 1 is fleshed out by the instructor, and they want to use that same course in course 2, so they copy course 1 into course 2 and end up with duplicates of everything. Maybe they don't notice that term, then import course 2 into course 3 and now have triplicates of everything.

We are excited for the template feature so that we can adjust course navigation and settings and in all courses, but I'm having a hard time working through any scenario where a template with actual content (pages, assignments, quizzes, discussions) will not result in a mess.

leward
Community Contributor

Have you actually tested this scenario.  We use a home grown templating solution, but to the best of my recollection, if the same template is applied to two courses and then the template materials are modified in the first course and imported into the second, the modified versions overwrite the original versions in the second course.

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Tasha_Biesinger
Community Contributor

I've run one test importing template content into three Canvas sites (1, 2, 3), slightly modifying the template content in course 1, importing course 1 into 2, slightly modifying template content in 2, then importing course 2 into 3. I ended up with duplicate (course 2) then triplicate content (course 3).

I was really hoping for the overwriting 'feature' that burns so many faculty who want a copy of something to finally have a wonderful purpose, but my first test didn't pan out that way. We'll try again since it was one test with one person, but I'm not holding my breath.

@Tasha_Biesinger I'm trying to figure out why you saw duplicate and triplicate. Do you know why it happened? Before you copied content into Course 2 and Course 3, were they empty courses or did they have the template? If you create a new course in the subaccount that has designated a template, wouldn't that template automatically be in any course that was created in that subaccount?

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Here is my process that I've followed twice now with the same results:

  1. Created a template course with one each of the following: Module, Page, Assignment, Quiz, and Discussion.
  2. Imported the template course (entire course copy) into three empty sites named Course 1, Course 2, and Course 3
    • Each of the three courses now have the template content and settings (just one copy of template content each)
  3. Imported Course 1 into Course 2 (as an instructor would do when they wanted to use their past term course in their current term course)
    • Course 2 now has two each of the following: Module, Page (title appended with a number), Assignment, Quiz, and Discussion.
  4. Imported Course 2 into Course 3 (as an instructor would do when they wanted to use their current term course in their future term course)
    • Course 3 now has three each of the following: Module, Page (titles appended with a number), Assignment, Quiz, and Discussion.

This isn't too difficult to replicate, so it would be great if others would try it out and see if they get the same or different results.

Thanks for the details @Tasha_Biesinger - I would expect these results, even without the template feature. The idea of a template is to not add content that is included in the template. In your example, Course 2 should just add content that isn't included in the template (Course 1). Otherwise, as you discovered, there are duplicate modules, pages, etc.

I see the template as a way to easily get placeholders or content into a new course. Instead of starting with a blank canvas (the pun is on purpose), the course designer or instructor can start with a template and then just make edits or additions as needed. Our college uses a template. I put the template in Canvas Commons, Instructors import the template into their empty Canvas shell first thing. Then they make changes or additions. Then the next semester, they just copy their previous course into their new shell, they don't need to import the template again. I hoe this makes sense. 

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Yes, that is how various units currently work with templates - they put them in Canvas Commons and folks can choose to import the template then add/build in their customized content as desired.

The reason for this conversation is because of the new ability to automatically apply a template to all Canvas courses in an account/subaccount. If this functionality is enabled and the template contains anything other than Settings changes, there is no longer any such thing as an empty Canvas course shell. Every new/reset course shell always automatically has the template applied, and importing a past term course (with the template automatically applied) into a current or future course (which also automatically had the template applied) will result in duplicate/triplicate/etc template content. Faculty would need to figure out what is old/new, what to delete/not delete every time they import content from one course to the next.

Our institutional template will be a 'settings only' template, so we are very, very excited for this feature in that regard.

We had considered allowing colleges or departments to create their own unit templates (with content), but we can't see any feasible way to implement this feature in that way. Fortunately, Canvas Commons is still a viable option for units who want to make a template available for their faculty. They just have less control over trying to encourage or enforce their unit template.

 

dbrace
Community Contributor

@Tasha_Biesinger, I would like to thank you for testing this and outlining your steps.  What you have done, and I previously mentioned, is my exact concern.  Until this is resolved, or additional functionality (something like multiple "course templates" can be designed and manually selected by an instructor on their own) is implemented, this is not something that my small team can handle the work load for.

leward
Community Contributor

Hi @Tasha_Biesinger .  After reading your post, I did some testing with out locally developed templating service and got the same results as you.  So, my memory failed me.   I think I may have been recalling a test where I imported the same template into the course more than once.  In that case, template content overwrites the versions in the course rather than creating duplicates.   So, I don't think there's any way around the content duplication except perhaps to reset the course before importing another course based on the same template.  This works with our local implementation because we've kept the "course reset" and "apply template" actions separate.

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degensp28
Community Participant

I tried playing with this in the Beta environment and ran into a few snags.

  1. In my first attempt, an assignment was not copied over. I have been unable to reproduce this error, so may have been my fault somehow.
  2. The People tab always comes over visible, with no way (from what I can tell) to have it be invisible.
  3. New Quizzes seem to throw an error during the transfer and not come over.
  4. Classic Quizzes become New Quizzes during the transfer. At least they come over, but this is a big issue.
  5. The items brought over can not be removed via course reset, but ca nbe deleted one at a time. This is fine by me, but other people might have issue with this.

I am also VERY curious to see what answer @dbrace gets for their concern with repeated copies. This seems like it would become a big problem. 

dbrace
Community Contributor

Thank you @degensp28 for running a few tests.  I look forward to a response related to what you and I have raised.

With regards to #5, I guess that experience makes sense because a course shell that is reset is really just a new course shell that is created with previous settings and enrollments copied over and all new courses shells receive a copy of the template.  In my opinion, a reset course shell should be completely empty (content wise) especially because I could be reseting the course shell with the intention of designing a new course shell template.

I do believe that there should be a note included in the documentation at Canvas Release: Course Templates (2021-05-15) and How do I reset course content?.

My institution is scheduled to create our Fall 2021 course shells during the second-half of June 2021 (we create them about two months before a semester begins) and I am hoping to use this feature.  If this feature is not "ready for primetime" we will probably have to wait until Spring 2022 to use it.

d00084815
Community Member

#5 is a deal-breaker for us. If a course reset doesn't actually reset the course to a blank course, then this feature is just not going to work for us.

Even worse, if you reset an existing course (not a new one), the template will be copied into that course as well.

hechla
Community Participant

Could you use a subaccount for all new course shells based on the template and then move them to a different subaccount that doesn't have the template applied? And then reset the course? I'm just thinking that if all courses created in an account are subject to the template, then it might be useful as a standard practice to create the new courses in "development area" so to speak and then move them into production. 

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robertlbishop
Community Participant

On #2:

I hid the People tab and saved before designating the course as a template. On initial load, the People tab was visible, but after visiting Settings, it automatically became invisible.

Hope this helps!

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venitk
Community Champion

#4 would render this feature unusable for my subaccount, as bringing over our code of conduct quiz would be the main reason we'd use it.

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@degensp28@dbrace@d00084815, and @hechla ...

I just tried #5 myself, and you are correct.  When I reset my course, the template items I had included from my template course re-appeared.  The reasoning for this is because when you reset a course, you actually get a new course URL (with a new CourseID number in it).  So, for example, if your template course URL was:

https://SchoolName.instructure.com/courses/12345

...and you had two "child" courses that used that template:

https://SchoolName.instructure.com/courses/12346

https://SchoolName.instructure.com/courses/12347

...and then you decided to reset 12347, you'd actually get a new URL...as 12347 is not really "re-used":

https://SchoolName.instructure.com/courses/12348

So, because Canvas identifies it as a new, empty course shell, it brings in the content from your template: 12345.

Hope this helps.

dbrace
Community Contributor

I am aware of all of that, @chofer, and this experience is exactly why my institution is not using this feature.

I understand why it is happening and why some institutions may like this experience.  In my institution's opinion, a reset course should be an empty course and not a new course based on a course template.

My institution's preference for the use of course templates would be:

  1. to allow an institution and the appropriate individuals to create a variety of course templates (whether for use by courses in all accounts or within individual sub-accounts)
  2. for there to be a dropdown menu somewhere (maybe in the "Settings" area of a course) that an instructor can go to and select a desired course template

Until there is a change, I do not believe my institution will be able to use this feature.

chofer
Community Coach
Community Coach

@dbrace ...

In my institution's opinion, a reset course should be an empty course and not a new course based on a course template.

Agree with you here!  On occasion, we have instructors who mistakenly import the incorrect content into their course(s), and so we tell them how to reset content (or we do it for them).

At my school, I've been tasked with learning more about this new template feature...looking at the good and the bad.  We are in the beginning stages of talking about adding a "Module 0" to many courses that contains common documents that all students should have access to.  But, as some have already tested in their own environment (and I have, too), I am concerned about the extra duplication that occurs if an instructor imports content from one course to another that already was utilizing a template.  It creates extra clean-up on the instructor's part.  When I think of a template, I think of building out a class structure that is a basic starting point for someone to build out the rest of his/her course.  So, in a way, I suppose our "Module 0" isn't exactly a "template", but this feature could be used for that purpose.  The only problem is...if any of the content in "Module 0" changes, there is no connection to any of the "child" courses that used that template.  So, maybe we should be using something like Commons instead?  I guess I need to keep exploring options.

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kirsten_ryall
Community Participant

I've just run it through some early-stage testing too. First challenge I encountered was that the 'Enable course as a Course Template' checkbox only appears checkable on a course that has no content. Is that expected behaviour? If so, then perhaps it should be noted in the Course Template Release Notes. In order to get the box to become checkable, I had to create a new course, check the box, and then add content. Perhaps that is obvious to most people though and will be covered in the guides. 

Apologies for the quality of the following images btw. This is a grab of my terribly-designed template course home page. 

kirsten_ryall_0-1619065175978.png

This is a grab of newly created course that has had that template applied:

kirsten_ryall_1-1619065270069.png

It is missing items like:

  • the unpublished page - it has not even appeared in Pages, let alone in the module.
  • Quizzes are struggling. The NQ did not come across at all. Note we are having problems with NQ in beta so may just be our environment. We have a ticket with engineering on that problem. The CQ did make it into the Quizzes area, but not into the module, and it is showing as an error in Assignments. Possibly related to our NQ problems though.

'People' came across as hidden by the way. Actually the navigation settings came across as per the template, as did Files. The Assignment and CQ came across with the due date. Good to know. For some reason I was expecting those due dates to be removed.

It would be great to see some workflows or guides for this feature. I suspect they are currently 'under construction' 🙂

@kirsten_ryall 

I had a similar issue with my test as well. Although I was able to designate a course as a template without it being blank. But, when I created a new course with the template, it did not copy everything over in the correct places. There were some unpublished pages that are a part of our Instructor Only module with template setup information that did not populate in the modules properly. 

Intriguing. I chatted to a Canvas Agent about this just yesterday as he was having the same issue with me - unable to make a course that had existing content into a template. He was the one who suggested using a blank course. He was also going to report that experience internally as well. 

Another observation, I just tried to create a new course in the sub-account after adjusting content in the template, and no content came across from the template to the new course. I then removed the template from the sub-account settings, saved and re-added the template and saved again, and when I created a new course the template was applied. This time I had some unpublished assignments and quizzes added to the template, and these have not come across to the new course.

Kirsten,
A template is essentially a course copy, which is created via a background job in Canvas. They do not always update immediately and the content may take some time to update in the course.
Erin

Hi there, a quick update on some unpublished content not coming across in a new course that has the course template applied. L2 Support were able to replicate this in their own sandbox and have now asked the Engineering team to check it out.

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