Teaching & Learning
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Tip! Under-appreciated Benefits of a Source Course

Every section in every term’s credit schedule gets a dedicated space in Canvas. Canvas itself calls these spaces “courses” — which is confusing because a course, like ACCT 121 for example, is a catalog entity which transcends sections and terms. People who’ve been dealing with online learning for a long time sometimes refer to these spaces as “shells” — which is a different kind of confusing.

Many of you may know that spaces like these exist in Canvas which aren’t dependent on the schedule. Some of them are class-like spaces called “communities”. But some are off-the-book class spaces which (for a mix of the above reasons) are called “source courses”.

A source course is essentially a “course”, “shell”, or “course shell” which is not generated by the credit schedule and which therefore never automatically enrolls or disenrolls any students, and is never automatically published. It is generated by request from a professor, and that professor is initially the only assigned teacher.

Source courses are great for developing course content out of view and harm’s way. They can also be a great way to share entire courses of content between professors without risking anyone interfering with a live class.

With previous learning management systems, source courses were a great way to fish course content out of the stream of time to preserve it from disappearing, especially for cases in which someone only taught a particular course every few years. But with the advent of Canvas, all concluded sections are preserved (in theory) forever. This has made it much easier for people to get into the habit of just copying content from section to section over time, tweaking as they go.

The danger of relying on this habit is that what the credit schedule giveth (in terms of automatically generated sections and teaching assignments) the credit schedule also taketh away — sometimes as a temporary accident and sometimes with no warning. If you’ve been updating your material for an upcoming section in that section, and the section is cancelled or re-assigned, your work could pass out of your reach or beyond anyone’s retrieval before you get a chance to do anything about it.

But if you update your material in a source course, changes in the schedule will never affect it.

The form for requesting the creation of a source course is here.

It’s worth nothing that the form has two purposes: requesting the creation of a source course, and requesting that two or more sections be “merged”. The first field on the form lets you specify which request you’re making.

It’s also worth nothing that the form is structured on the assumption that you are asking for the creation of a source course to develop material for a specific catalogue course (like, for example, ACCT 121) and that the same person will never ask for more than one source source for the same catalogue course.

This does not mean that you can’t ask for more than one source course for the same catalogue course, over time or at the same time. It doesn’t mean you can’t ask for a source course that doesn’t correspond to a specific catalogue course at all! The form is structured the way it is to give some order to the way source courses are typically named, without you or the person creating the source course having to guess about how to name a new one. If you have specific needs for how a new source course is named, just put that in the “Special instructions” field.