Does the Sections tool fully isolate sections?

Darrin.R.505 Posts: 16 🌱
edited February 1 in Higher Ed / Postsecondary
Does the Sections tool completely isolate students in different sections from each other? Specifically, if there is a Brightspace shell for Psych 100 with two sections (1 and 2), and a student is enrolled in section 1, with the Sections tool, but not enrolled in section 2...

Is there any way that student could see the names or IDs of students in section 2? For instance, are discussion boards fully separated? Are within-shell communication separated, such that this Section 1 student could not infer the enrollment of Section 2 students, such as by seeing options for names to message?

I ask because SUNY has apparently decided that combining sections in one shell is a "violation of FERPA." This leaves several thousand of us with the prospect of many hours per week of extra labor just to keep multiple sections synchronized now that we are forced (because separate sections are now separate shells) to manually synchronize everything between sections. If the Sections tool truly and fully prevents students in one section from seeing *anything* that might allow them to even infer the enrollment of specific students in Section 2 of the same shell, perhaps I can convince my IT folks to implement the Sections tool instead of forcing separate shells.

Best Answers

  • Johnny.B.962
    Johnny.B.962 Posts: 36
    edited January 26 Answer ✓

    Hey @Darrin.R.505, I'm Johnny the currently LAM for SUNY.

    First up, as part of the SUNY system you already are using Sections for all of your courses. You can even check by going to the Course Admin area of any of your courses and you'll see a link for sections with the students listed in there.

    As for limiting data access with sections, we've got some details on how sections work within our documentation: the page states, "Sections keep learners isolated from those in other sections under the same offering. For example, Concurrent Day vs. Evening courses associated with a common course offering. When sections exist for a course, learners only see learning materials and learners from their own section."

    For FRE, your campus is currently setup to not show anything on the Classlist/Roster except for Name and Role in the course, so no emails/IDs/etc. would be at risk for students within the same section, and in the case of merged courses (1 course having multiple sections associated with it) students would only see the students in their section and the course instructor.

    One other thing to note though with using sections is that the one main area that's not separated right away would be Discussions. You can create discussion topics and limit interaction to only those within the same section, but it wouldn't be that way by default. So if you wanted to start using sections more, keep that in mind for your instructors.

    Hope that helps,


  • Jennifer.W.973
    Jennifer.W.973 Posts: 231 🌟
    Answer ✓

    @Darrin.R.505 Have your D2L admins look into the config variable d2l.Tools.Groups.RestrictCrossSectionGroups which is OFF by default. If it is not turned on, then students from different sections can see each other if Groups are used in the course.

    Also ensure that Show course address book is not checked under Course Admin → Course Offering Information.


  • Darrin.R.505
    Darrin.R.505 Posts: 16 🌱
    edited February 8

    Thanks for your reply. Yes, we have "sections" there, but it is not changeable by instructors, and I think it's locked to one section per course shell.

    We've been told that there can be no possibility of a student in one section even seeing the name of a student in another section and thereby inferring their enrollment. We are being told this is the reason why we are not allowed to have two sections in the same shell.

    Your answer mostly addresses my question, though it clarifies that it would be the instructor's responsibility to separate discussion questions/boards/whatever (I have no problem with this, but I worry our administrators might say that's a reason not to allow multiple-section shells).

    I will suggest to our IT people and whichever administrators are in charge of them that the Sections tool could be used for this, but I worry I will be told this is still impossible because of FERPA.

  • Darrin.R.505
    Darrin.R.505 Posts: 16 🌱

    Oh, awesome! I will definitely recommend this. Thanks.

  • Jennifer.W.973
    Jennifer.W.973 Posts: 231 🌟

    @Darrin.R.505 For discussions, you may also want to ask your admins to update the config variable d2l.Tools.Discuss.GroupSectionRestrictDefault to set the default as Restrict topic and separate threads (Users in the selected groups/sections can view this topic but will only see threads from their group/section.) so that instructors don't need to do this manually for every topic they create.

  • Darrin.R.505
    Darrin.R.505 Posts: 16 🌱

    @Johnny.B.962 @Jennifer.W.973

    Just a follow-up for closure: I made your excellent suggestions to the LMS manager at my school, and was informed that the suggestions are great but we cannot implement them locally; the entire SUNY system (56 campuses) is on one Brightspace instance, centrally managed (not by us). She said Johnnny is awesome and she'll be asking questions and pushing for this change with SUNY. Apparently we are not the only campus asking for this change, though the current SUNY system administrator has said that it is impossible to separate discussions between sections within shells except by leaving this up to instructors, which (implicit) was not an acceptable solution to SUNY. My interpretation of all this is that my local LMS administrator will keep working to get this possibility activated, but doesn't see an easy or quick road ahead. Thanks for your help.