Contributors:Misty Hamideh

The Groups tool in Canvas allows instructors to create spaces where students can work together on collaborative assignments and participate in smaller group discussions. Using Groups can help both with classroom management and with fostering a sense of community within courses. 

When Should I Use Canvas Groups?

Canvas Groups can be used for any type of small group activity. Because the Groups tool integrates with Canvas Assignments and Discussions, it is easy to assign activities based on Group settings.

When you create groups, each group is given a “Group Site” that functions like a mini Canvas course, which only the students in the group and the instructor can access. In this Group Site, students can create their own discussions and announcements, share files, and create their own pages to share with each other.

Navigating groups can be tricky! When viewing a group activity, you navigate out of your main course page and onto the Group Site. To navigate back to your course, you can use your browser’s back button or re-enter your course from the dashboard. 

Let students know they can contact the OIT Help Desk for Canvas-related questions or share with them the Canvas Resources for Students page.

Some Activities That Could Benefit from Groups

Collaborative group projects can help break down more complex tasks and allow individuals to combine their unique skills and perspectives to address a topic and/or task. Here are some practices  to consider when planning your group project: 

    • Scaffold the assignment to include milestones throughout the term. This will help students stay engaged with the activity and can foster better communication among group members.
    • Consider suggesting that students adopt specific roles in their groups. This can help the teams identify the responsibilities of each member.
    • Offer choices in how groups present their final projects (e.g. writing a paper or recording a video). Employing this type of Universal Design for Learning practice can increase motivation and deepen learning.
    • Provide at least one opportunity for groups to get feedback either from you or another group before submitting the project for assessment. This kind of cross-group collaboration can help both teams clarify their work.
    • Consider offering students a chance to reflect on or self-evaluate their own group contributions and those of their team members.

Conducting differentiated discussions on readings within group settings encourages participants to explore topics that are more meaningful to them with classmates who share their interests. You can either assign students to specific groups or let students select their own groups based on their interests. Also consider providing a discussion space where each group can share important takeaways from their discussions with the entire class.

Breaking down large enrollment classes into smaller discussion groups allows for more meaningful interactions between students and instructors. This practice creates a supportive environment for personalized learning, increased student engagement, and effective communication.

How Do I Set Up Canvas Groups?

Create Groups

Begin by creating a group set, then add each of your students to a group.

  • A group set identifies the type of groups you are creating for your students. You can create multiple group sets, each for a different activity. For example, you might create one group set for project work and another for discussions. Each group set can be configured for that particular activity.
  • While a student can be a member of multiple groups, they can only be in one group per group set.
  • If you choose to create your course’s groups at the time you create your group set, groups will be created automatically. However, if you choose to create groups later, you will have to add your groups manually.
  • Be sure to include your course number in the title of your group set. Groups can be accessed from outside your Canvas course through the Groups tool, so including your course number will help students distinguish your groups from those belonging to other classes. For example, you might name your group set “ENG 101 Discussion Groups.” (Note: If you create your groups later, make sure the title of your group includes your course number so students can find it easily.)

Build Group Activity

Once you have created your groups, build your group activity. You can set up group assignments in discussions or as assignments. Canvas groups can also be linked to assignments.

Check Your Groups

Student enrollment can change so much in the first two weeks of the term. It is important to check in periodically during this time to make sure recently enrolled students have been added to groups, and dropped students haven’t affected the balance of your groups.

Copying Courses That Use Groups

When using a course that has been copied from a previous term, all discussions and assignments that have been previously identified as group activities are assigned to the default Project Groups set. For this reason, you’ll need to recreate your desired group sets then reassign each group activity to the appropriate group. The University of Minnesota has a useful guide for resetting groups after a course import.

Now That I've Set Up My Groups, How Do I See My Students’ Work?

Both you and your students will have access to the groups through the group-affiliated activity or via the link to the Groups tool on the Global Navigation bar.

    • For group discussions: Students only see posts from their teammates, while you can visit each discussion group and see the posts of all your students.
    • For group assignments: Students can select a single member of their group to submit the assignment. You can then assign one grade that is added to the gradebook for each member of the team. Alternatively, if you select the Assign grades to each student individually checkbox at assignment setup, you can assign a separate grade for each individual student.

Note: Instructors can also visit each of the Group Homepages via the People tab in their courses.