Delta PDC Portal

Combining Sections & FERPA Compliance

Faculty may request to combine (merge) Canvas courses prior to the start of the term when they are teaching multiple sections of the same course in order to more efficiently share the same content across course sections, freeing up time for other instructional activity. 

However, according to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) regulations, students cannot have access to student information (including the fact of their enrollment) of students in course sections other than their own (with the exception of officially combined sections in MyDelta). Because of this requirement, students in courses with combined sections should not be permitted to see or interact with students in sections other than their own.

You must take steps to to protect your students’ privacy and comply with FERPA.

What Canvas Does for You

In Canvas shells combined upon faculty request, students are prevented from seeing students in sections other than their own in:

  • the full roster view of the People tool,
  • and the Canvas Inbox (Conversations).

Steps to Ensure Privacy

To prevent students from seeing students in other sections in your course, you’ll need to disable or lock down tools that expose information about students in other sections.


Under Settings > Course Details > more options, make sure the selections are as follows:

  • Check Disable comments on announcements
  • Uncheck Let students create discussion topics
  • Uncheck Let students organize their own groups
    Click on Update Course Details button at bottom to save these settings.

By default, the following tools are disabled in the course navigation:

  • Chat
  • BigBlueButton (formerly Conferences):
  • Collaborations


When adding TAs to your course, check “Can interact with users in their section only,” and add them to only the sections for which they are responsible. 


The names of all students are visible when students organize their own groups, regardless of section assignment.


The names of all students who post are visible, regardless of section assignment.

  • Create separate groups for each section. Students can then chat with group members, all of whom will be in their own section.


If you use collaborations, be sure to add students to Collaborations who are enrolled in the same section. The Collaboration setup screen doesn’t display section information for students, so you will need to refer to the People area.


The names of all students who post are visible, regardless of section assignment.

Note – if you want each section to engage in discussions about the same topics, simply Duplicate the original discussion and modify it so it is available to a different section of students.


When sending a Canvas message to two or more students in different sections, check Send an individual message to each recipient. This will send a separate copy to each recipient and hide the names of the recipients in the message header.

You may also compose messages addressed to all members of a specific course section.

Synchronous (Live) Online Sessions (e.g. Zoom)

Hold separate synchronous meetings with each section. When you record a synchronous meeting, share the recording only with the section that participated in the meeting.

Enable combined-section collaboration

If you intentionally wish to create collaboration opportunities with students in other sections in your course, you can work around the default section privilege restrictions by setting up mixed-section groups in Canvas, which will allow them to interact with one another in the group space as well as send messages to one another in the Canvas Inbox (Conversations) tool. For instructions for creating Canvas Groups, see How do I add a group set in a course? in the Canvas Instructor Guides. You can also remove the restrictions to Chat, Discussions, and Groups described above.

However, before taking any action, you must let your students know why you would like to lift the privacy restrictions and request consent from each of them.

Here are two ways you can request and document consent in Canvas:

  • Use the Canvas Quizzes tool to give a one-question survey asking for consent to collaborate with students in other sections.
  • When setting up your course groups, use the self sign-up option. In addition to mixed-section groups, create one group for each section. Tell your students that by signing up for a mixed-section group they are tacitly granting consent to collaboration with students from other sections.

Place any students who are unwilling to give consent in groups with members of their own section.

Other Things You May Do

Note:This section is not required for FERPA compliance but may be helpful for managing a combined course if you would like to create differentiated events/activities for different sections.

The following Canvas Guides will help you create Canvas activities/assignments specific to a particular section within a merged course:

(Discussions must be separated by section – see earlier section).

Information on this document was adopted from Cornell Center for Teaching Innovation – Resource Library. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.