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Canvas - Guidelines for Combining Sections into a Single Course
Canvas supports the functionality to merge sections from two separate Canvas courses into a single Canvas course; however, there are student privacy concerns related to this practice which require the instructor to take special precautions before combining sections. This guide outlines requirements and best practices for combining Canvas courses.
When and Why Combining Canvas Courses Can Be a Student Privacy Concern
Combining the Canvas courses for course sections that are not combined in the timetable (SIS) and do not meet together in-person or would not meet together in an equivalent in-person class may be a student privacy concern under FERPA if the combination is done for the instructor's administrative convenience and not for a specific pedagogical purpose. Since a student's enrollment in a course is considered an education record under FERPA, students in a Canvas course should not be able to see and interact with students who are enrolled in a different class section that wouldn't otherwise meet at the same time and place. If you have multiple Canvas courses for a class where students register in separate sections but all meet together synchronously (as they do a point-to-point or point-to-anywhere Interactive Video class), there is no privacy concern with combining the sections into a single Canvas course; it is permissible for those students to interact with each other in Canvas.
Steps for combining Canvas courses in a way that prevents sections from interacting with one another exist, but they are complicated, prone to user error, lack safeguards, and not 100-percent effective. Because there is no 100-percent effective way to combine Canvas courses without exposing the sections to one another, UWGB instructors who wish to combine their Canvas courses with Canvas's "cross-listing" functionality must (1) notify their students of this practice by including a required statement in the syllabi of each course section and (2) follow best practices in Canvas to limit unnecessary interaction between the sections.
Blueprint Courses: A Flexible Worry-Free Alternative to Cross-Listing in Canvas
If you are an instructor wishing to combine students from two sections of the same class into the same Canvas course in order to benefit from the convenience of only needing to update/create course content in a single Canvas course, consider using a Blueprint course instead of cross-listing the sections in Canvas. A Blueprint course is a course which does not contain students but is associated with one or more student-containing instructional courses. The instructor creates and updates course content in the Blueprint course and then can quickly and easily sync those content changes to each associated course. Since all of the grading and student interaction takes place in separate associated courses, using Blueprint courses carries none of the student privacy concern associated with cross-listing Canvas sections. Another benefit to using a Blueprint course is the flexibility to differentiate course content in the associated courses; content synced from a Blueprint course can be set to either "locked" or "unlocked" in the associated courses to either prevent or allow divergence between courses.
Blueprint courses require setup by a Canvas administrator. If you are interested in using a Blueprint course for the first time, we recommend that you sign up for a CATL consultation to request the setup of your first blueprint courses and schedule a brief one-on-one training. If you have already used a Blueprint course in a prior term and need a new course set up for a future term, please email email@example.com with a creation request that includes a link to the home page of each Canvas course which will need to be associated with the new Blueprint course.
How to Use Canvas "Cross-Listing" to Combine Sections into a Single Course
If, for your class, using a Blueprint course is not a suitable alternative, and you wish to cross-list two or more sections of the same course in Canvas for your administrative convenience, take the following actions to combine the students into a single Canvas course while minimizing cross-section interaction. This procedure must be performed before the start of the class; sections cannot be combined after students have begun participating in the Canvas courses.
Part 1: Add the Required Statement to Your Syllabi
It is important to disclose to students that students in sections outside of their own section may be able to see and interact with them in Canvas. Add the following statement to the syllabus of each section you are combining:
This course is using a single Canvas site not only for students in this section of the class, but also for students in an additional section(s). For example, your instructor may teach two sections of PSYCH 102 and have both sections use the same combined Canvas site. Please be aware this means that students outside of your own section may be able to see in Canvas that you are enrolled in this course. If you have questions or concerns about that arrangement, please contact your instructor.
This disclosure must be done to give students the opportunity to bring forward any privacy concern they may have with the section combination. If a student does raise a concern, University administration will work with you and the student to determine an appropriate accommodation.
Part 2: Configure Your Canvas Course to Limit Cross-Section Interaction
To minimize the potential for students for students to interact across sections, perform the following steps in the Canvas course in which you plan on combining multiple sections:
- In the Course Details tab of the course Settings page, click the more options link at the bottom of the page and ensure the following selections:
- Uncheck "Let students create discussion topics".
- Uncheck "Let students organize their own groups".
- Check "Disable comments on announcements".
- Ensure Only Teachers is selected in the “can create, rename, and edit course pages by default” drop down menu.
Remember to click the Update Course Details button to save your changes.
- In the Navigation tab of the course Settings page, ensure the following course navigation items are hidden from students:
- If creating groups in the Canvas course, ensure each group contains only students from a single
section. Do not create groups that mix students who are enrolled in separate sections. When
randomly assigning students to groups in Canvas, check the box to "Require group members to be in
the same section." Please be aware that any student who adds the course after students have been
randomly assigned to the groups in a Canvas group set will enter the course unassigned to a group
and will need to be manually assigned to a group containing students in their section. Do not create groups that allow self sign-up.
- Discussions in the course should not contain students from more than one section. For each discussion activity, create a separate Canvas discussion for each section. For ungraded discussions, use the "Post to" drop-down menu to post each instance of the discussion to a single section. For graded discussions, use the "Assign to" box to assign each instance of the discussion to single section. You can save time by using the duplicate discussion option to quickly create multiple instances of the same discussion. Edit each of those instances to post or assign it to a single section only. For courses using group discussions, a single group discussion is adequate if the selected group set requires group members to be in the same section (see the above requirement for course groups).
- When creating Pages in your course, the "Users allowed to edit this page" setting must remain set to the default Only teachers setting.
- If using the Inbox (Conversations) feature in Canvas to message students directly, check the "Send an individual message to each recipient" box when sending messages to multiple students in different sections.
Part 3: Cross-list the Section(s) into a Single Canvas Course
Cross-listing a section from one Canvas course into another moves all of the enrollments from the section's original course into the destination course. After cross-listing all sections out of a Canvas course, you will lose access to the course itself, so, before cross-listing a section out of a course, be sure that any content in that course that you wish to retain is backed up in another course. Once you are ready to cross-list, perform the following steps to complete the procedure:
- Find and record the Canvas Course ID number of the course in which you intend to combine the sections (i.e. the destination course).
- Navigate to the home page of the Canvas course that will contain all sections.
- Copy or write down the number that appears at the end of the course home page's URL in your browser's address bar. This number is the Canvas Course ID number of the course.
- Navigate to the course that currently contains the section you wish to cross-list into the destination course.
- In the course navigation menu, select the Settings link.
- Select the Sections tab of the course Settings page.
- Select the name of the section you wish to cross-list.
- Within the stack of buttons on the right side of the page, select Cross-List this Section.
- In the text box next to "Or Enter the Course's ID:", enter the Course ID number you recorded in step 1. Click or tap outside of the text box and Canvas will look up the course and display its name at the bottom of the menu.
- Select the Cross-List this Section button to finish cross-listing the section into the destination course. Your browser is redirected to the section's page within the destination course. If you need to cross-list additional sections into this course, repeat steps 2-8 for each section.
Please see the official Canvas Instructor Guide How do I cross-list a section in a course as an instructor? for more information on this procedure.
If you make a mistake during this process and need to de-cross-list a section, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to request the assistance of a UWGB Canvas administrator.