If you have requested to join two or more course sections in Canvas, there are special considerations you need to know. By “joined courses,” we mean situations where two or more Canvas shells, representing sections of the same course, have been “merged” to help the instructor manage grading, announcements, etc. in the same place. (This does not apply to courses that are cross-listed by the Registrar, in which all students meet and interact.)
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires that certain information, including information about what courses students are taking, remains private in most situations. (Learn more in our FERPA basics article.) Because of this, students enrolled in different sections of the same course should not interact through Canvas or see the rosters of other sections. This means that there are some important differences in setup for joined Canvas courses versus single sections.
In summary, if you have joined (merged) sections in Canvas, you need to ensure that students cannot see or interact with students in other sections. The primary area in which you will need to manage this is Canvas Discussions. In addition, some settings restrict visibility and interaction in other areas of Canvas, and you should not change them.
Below we explain some common things you should pay attention to in joined courses to ensure FERPA compliance.
If you are using Discussions, you will need to use Canvas Groups to ensure that students interact only with people in their section. This allows you to create a discussion once and simply set it so sections experience it separately, which saves work. To use group discussions, you’ll need to set up groups by section once per semester and then select a simple option when creating each discussion. Read our tutorial for setting up group discussions.
The College has already hidden a number of Canvas features that would allow a student to view enrollment information. Please ensure that the following remain hidden for students (that is, disabled in the course navigation as seen in Settings):
- People tab (roster)
If you use the Peer Review option, make sure you manually assign partners and only assign students to review work within their own section.
Canvas Studio has a commenting feature in the video player. This feature is not section-aware. Please email email@example.com if you are planning to have students comment on videos through Studio in a joined course.
If you use InSpace with joined sections, live sessions are unlikely to be a problem because your sections meet at different times. However, you should disable the asynchronous chat function in your InSpace chat settings.
External Tools Integrated with Canvas
In addition to the InSpace concern above, other non-Canvas tools that are integrated with Canvas may be prone to FERPA issues. These include Perusall (social annotation) and Piazza (Q&A and discussion). These tools are not section-aware and will require workarounds. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to be connected with someone who can help you strategize.