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Combined Sections In A Canvas Course

arrows_mergingAn individual Canvas course shell is automatically generated for each official scheduled District section.

Instructors can request to have multiple course sections combined together into a single Canvas course, while still retaining distinct section enrollments.

When sections are combined, the instructor can still view student enrollments for each section, filter the Gradebook to display only a specific section, differentiate due dates per section, and more.

Before You Combine Sections

Consider whether combining sections is actually necessary.  Canvas includes several features for easily copying and moving content between different courses, while keeping them separate.

Content items can be quickly copied from one course or another throughout the semester using any of the following methods:

Import Content From Another Course
This feature includes the option to import either an entire course, or multiple specific content items.  Useful for copying many content items at once.

Direct Share
This feature allows you to quickly copy a specific content item from one course into another, even specifying exactly where to place it.

Duplicate
This feature creates a copy of a content item in the same course.  The content can then be modified to be used elsewhere.

 

Example Of Combined Sections

An instructor teaches THREE sections of the same class on different days and times, but the content is basically the same for all sections.  Rather than managing the same duplicated content in three Canvas courses, all students will access the content from a single Canvas course.

In this scenario, the instructor might benefit from combining the three course sections into a single Canvas course.  

Primary Course Section: An official course section in Canvas, chosen by the instructor to contain content, and serve as the single course used by students in multiple sections.

Merged Course Section #1: A second official course section in Canvas, with student enrollments, combined into the Primary Course Section.

Merged Course Section #2: A third official course section in Canvas, with student enrollments, combined into the Primary Course Section.

Diagram of Primary section and merged sections
The instructor is teaching three sections of the same course. Two sections are combined into the third, resulting in a single Canvas course for all three sections of students.

 

IMPORTANT: Please read the following notes about combining course sections in Canvas:

Important Considerations

  • Combining sections is only available by request (see link below) prior to the beginning of a term.

  • Sections may not be combined once a course has begun (student access and activity has occurred).
  • Choose a “Primary” section to hold content.
    One course section will contain the course content, and serve as the single course for students in any merged sections. 

  • Combining sections must occur before the first day of class.

  • Any prior student work will become inaccessible once a section has been combined.
    Coursework is retained with the section, not with the enrollment, so if a Published course is merged, enrollments in the section will lose any associated assignment submissions and grades.  They will not visible in the Primary section.

Content

If you plan to combine sections, develop your content in a single Primary course.
There is no need to add content in the course sections to be combined.

Most course content (modules, pages, files) CAN NOT be released separately per section.

 

Legal Considerations (FERPA)

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of a student’s education record, which includes a student’s course schedule.

When different sections are merged in Canvas, it allows students to see other students who are enrolled in a separate class. Combining class sections in Canvas can violate students’ right to privacy by sharing protected information.

Managing Combined Sections

There are several areas of a merged course that can be used to efficiently manage multiple sections in a single course, including Gradebook filtering, 

When class sections that do not meet together are combined into a single Canvas course, instructors should take steps to ensure student privacy and FERPA compliance.

Notify Students in Advance

Send a message to the entire class, notifying students of the presence of other sections in the Canvas course, and disclosing potential privacy concerns.

EXAMPLE:

“This course uses Canvas and may be merged online with other sections.  As a result, you might engage with students from other sections through Canvas.”

Course Menu

Disable the following tools in the Course menu (hidden from students):

  • People
  • Chat
  • Collaborations

See the Canvas Guide:

How do I manage Course Navigation links?

Course Settings

Confirm the following options are configured in the course Settings as shown:

  • DO NOT “Let students create their own discussion topics”
  • DO NOT “Let students organize their own groups”
  • DO “Hide sections on the People page from students”
  • DO “Disable comments on Announcements”

See the Canvas Guide:

How do I use course Settings?

Separate Discussions

  1. Create a single Discussion with instructions, grading and settings configured.
  2. Use Duplicate to make a copy for each course section.

    Duplicate a discussion

  3. Use the “Assign To” option to restrict each Discussion to a single section.

Due and Availability dates can be set to be the same, or different for each section, as needed.  Each section will have a separate column in the Gradebook.

See the Canvas Guides:

How do I assign an assignment to a course section?

How do I duplicate a Discussion in a course?

Messaging Students

Use the option to send a message to one section at a time.

 

When sending a message to the entire class, use the option to “Send an individual message to each recipient”.

Meeting With Students

When using ConferZoom, schedule meetings separately for each section. If you are recording the meetings, share them separately with students by section.

It is not recommended to hold a single Zoom meeting for all students in all sections simultaneously.

The “Appointment Booking” feature in ConferZoom can be used in combined sections, since they are limited to personal meetings.

Assignments

If necessary, assignments can have a different Due and Availability dates for each section.  Use the “Assign To” feature to configure separate dates for each section.

See the Canvas Guide:

How do I assign an assignment to a course section?

Grades

Grades for each section of students can be viewed separately. Use the Filters option in the Gradebook to add a “Sections” filter for easily view students and grades for one section at a time.

Add the Sections filter in the Gradebook

See the Canvas Guide:

How do I filter columns and rows in the Gradebook?

 

Request Combined Sections

Use the link below and submit the information requested to have multiple sections combined into a single Canvas course.

 

 

 


17 thoughts on “Combined Sections In A Canvas Course”

  1. I was wondering if you could clarify this bullet point for us:
    “Coursework is retained with the course, not with the section enrollments, so if a published course is cross-listed, all cross-listed enrollments will lose any associated assignment submissions and grades.”

    Would this scenario only occur if you tried to cross-list after a course started in separate shells?

    Thanks for your clarifications.

    -Mike

    Reply
    • Mike,

      My understanding is that if a student has done work in a particular section before it was cross-listed, any student work and grades will not be carried over to the “master” (combined) course, but is left behind in the original section, making it inaccessible unless the section is de-cross-listed later.

      This is why it is recommended to perform cross-listing prior to publishing a course. Hope this helps!

      / chris p.

      Reply
  2. If we have 2 sections that are being cross-listed, would it be better to create a master and then cross-list both courses or make one course the master and cross-list one course? [Or will either way work?]

    Thanks :)

    Reply
    • Suzanne,
      If you only have two sections to combine, then you can make one of those sections the “parent” course to hold content. The other (“child”) section should then be cross-listed into the parent course. Remember, the cross-listing action is actually done in the child course. After that, the child course disappears from view on the Dashboard, Courses list, etc, and all enrollments will then be visible only in the parent course.
      / chris p.

      Reply
  3. I have 3 sections of the same course on different days that I would like to merge. I give in class quizzes and exams that require adding an assignment solely for the purpose of entering grades. Since they are on different days, will I be able to show those days (in effect due dates) for each section when adding the assignment? I understand that assignments to be completed through Canvas can have different due dates for each section, so it seems logical that the same would apply. In other words, when creating an assignment, all 3 sections would appear on the screen when putting in due dates – correct?

    Reply
  4. Do I copy my course from last semester first or merge my two sections first and then copy last semester’s content into the new merged parent shell? Does this make any sense and does it matter which comes first?

    Reply
    • Hi Lisa,

      While you can do these things in either order, I would recommend having the courses merged first, then doing the content import. This will avoid the possibility of importing content into a merged “child” section, which would then be unavailable after the merge.

      Reply
  5. I just had three sections merged but I am not sure what to do now. Is there a guide for adding content, etc. that you can point me to? I can’t seem to find anything.

    Reply
  6. I have two sections of one class
    1) If we add something to the child course, will it auto populate in the master course or do all changes need to be make in the master?
    2) Also, discussion or group submittals stay exclusive within that section, correct?

    Appreciate the help!

    Reply
    • Hi Adelle,

      The result of merging sections is that all student enrollments are combined into a single Canvas course. The content in the course is available to all students in all sections, with some provisions for differentiating by date, or by section. For example, an assignment can have different availability/due dates for each section, or can be made available only to students in one of the sections.

      A discussion in a combined course will be available to all students, but can easily be duplicated to create a separate discussion for each section. This is feasible for a course with two sections, but would likely be difficult to manage beyond that.

      There is a feature in Canvas called Blueprint courses, which provides the type of “parent – child” course structure you referred to, but it is typically used for larger distributions of content to multiple courses/instructors, and requires some training and setup.

      I hope this helps, but let us know if you have additional questions.

      Reply
  7. If I have a Discussion, and the due date remains the same but instead of staying with “everyone” when setting the due date, I click each section separately – so it shows two sections instead of “everyone” – does that accomplish the goal of ensuring that students will only be able to see and reply to other students in their section, or will they be able to interact with the other section’s students?

    Also, in the FERPA section, one bullet says to hide “People” from students, but the other suggests using “Groups” to keep the section enrollments separate. My understanding is that “Groups” is only something you can do if you have “People” enabled, so I’m confused…

    Reply
    • Hi Deb. The easiest way to accomplish this is to create duplicates of the Discussion, then use the “Assign To” feature to set a single section for each one. In the example you described, each section would still be able to access the same single discussion, and be combined with the other sections, with potentially other Due and Available dates. I have updated the page with some information on setting this up.

      Reply
    • Regarding disabling the People tool, this only hides it from students. It is still available to the instructor, and can be used to create/manage Groups. Students access their groups from course content items, or from the Groups icon in the Global Navigation menu.

      Reply

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