Canvas Groups and Sections: What’s the difference?

If you use groups or sections to organize your classes, this post is for you. In Canvas, students can be grouped administratively in Sections or for the purpose of group work in Groups. Let’s look at the different ways you might use Sections and Groups.

Sections and Enrollments

Each of your students is already in at least one section. When students register for a course, they’re actually registering for a section. If your course has separate lab or discussion sections, they will also register for those. When the Canvas course shells are created for the semester (Note: Spring 2018 shells are now ready!), Canvas is pretty good about putting those sections into a Canvas course for you. You can look at the People page to see the section enrollments for each student.

If you have two or more sections of a course that aren’t automatically combined, you can cross-list the sections so that you only have to post your materials in one Canvas course for both.

  • Here are UW’s cross-listing directions. (Note: If you’re a COE instructor, we can de-cross-list sections for you, so there’s no need to create the AdHoc section.)

We can also cross-list your sections for you with a 2-business-day turnaround time.

Assignment Due Dates for Different Sections

When you create assignments in Canvas, you can assign them by section. Directions here. For example, if section 001 meets on Tuesday and 002 meets on Wednesday, you can assign section 001’s homework to be due 10 minutes before class starts on Tuesday and make section 002’s homework due on Wednesday. Students will only see the dates that apply to their section.

Grading or viewing the Gradebook by section

In Speedgrader, you can view all students at once, or you can select a specific section. Graders, TAs, and Teachers can only see the sections to which they’ve been assigned. You can also filter the gradebook by section.

Creating Groups in Canvas

If your students do group work, there are 2 major reasons to set up those groups in Canvas. First, Canvas creates a work space for each group–sort of a course within a course. Groups can upload files, have discussions, and create Google docs for collaboration within their group space. If you create a group discussion, each group will have the same discussion prompt within their group space. Second, you can create Group Assignments where only one member of the group needs to submit something for their group. Then when you grade the assignment in Speedgrader, the grade is automatically assigned to each student in the group. (It’s possible to override that setting and give individual grades if you prefer.)

Tips to Avoid Frustration

If possible, wait until your enrollment is stable before creating groups.
Double-check the groups before assigning any grades. Make sure students are in the correct groups. If you’ve enabled self-signup, you can go back into the group settings and turn off self-signup to lock the groups. Once grades are assigned, it is problematic to re-assign students. Instead, if you have changes, clone the group set, make any changes there, and assign the next assignment to the new group set.

Assignment Due Dates for Different Groups

This is where things get interesting. You can use the Assign box to give different deadlines to different groups for a group assignment. If you’ve checked the box to make your assignment a group assignment, your group names will display under “Assign to.” That works if there’s one submission per group.

What if you want to give an individual assignment but only to certain groups? To do this, you’ll need to create sections that mirror your groups. (If you’re only doing this for one assignment or have a small class, it may be faster to just assign using students’ names.) Create the sections on the Settings page. Then add students to the sections via the People page. Don’t remove students from their original sections. This could create issues later with uploading grades to Faculty Center. It’s fine for students to be in both your created section and the timetable-based section. As with creating groups, it’s a good idea to wait to do this until your enrollment is stable. (UPDATE: UW-Madison COE instructors, please contact us for assistance with adding students to sections for Summer 2018 and later.)