Large course management: Sections/Groups


2020! Can you believe it is now 2020?  

As such, I have updated the topic below. 

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 outcomes of this focus group are:

- Section Specific Announcements: Canvas Production Release Notes (2018-03-10)

- Section Specific non-graded Discussion: Canvas Production Release Notes (2018-06-23) 

- Section Specific Graded Discussion: How do I assign a graded discussion to a course section?  

Khaki 2018 delivered the following outcomes for large courses:

Large Course: Sections/Groups 

- Section-Specific Announcements 

- Section-Specific Discussions

I will also mention Ideas‌ 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
Group Limitations -
  • Can only have 200 automatically created groups in a group-set and no ability to 'appendage' Group Sets (or create sub- groupsets). (in the UI)
  • No search function making it difficult to find students (if needed to make a change) 
  • No ability for batch group management for course roles. (in the UI)
  • 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:  @RobDitto ‌ 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:  @m_e_m_dejong ‌ has kindly shared a workaround for the limitation of being able to create only 200 groups automatically in a Group Set (in the UI). "First create 200 groups automatically, then add more groups manually." 
Additionally, Matthew created a feature idea for this -

2019 UPDATE: "Groups" and "Group Membership" is an SIS import option that allows a higher creation than 200 groups. Though, there look to be some issues as noted in the conversation here:

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 Ideas‌ 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 is present in more than one section in a single Canvas shell, and 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 jennifer.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 jennifer.burn

SOLUTION IN PRODUCTION! Speedgrader fails to load in large courses - Speedgrader thresholds are set at 1,500 submissions will cause loading delays and 2,500 will result in failure to load. there is additionally a 60-second time-out. 

Vote for submitted by canhelp

Ensure you are well versed in the Speedgrader guide and are aware of these thresholds How do I use SpeedGrader? 

Update: Speedgrader will now load in large courses if you filer by section! 

Update: Large Course setting group filter has been released: How do I enable SpeedGrader to launch filtered by student group? 

Update 2020: You can now filter the grade book by section in a course that has a large volume of submissions, and then launch Speedgrader and Speedgrader will only load the requested submissions and not attempt to load all. This means we are not facing the 'load' time or failure to load errors. 

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, for example, sitting at over 200  400! 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!