This is a very important topic for an administrator to wrap their head around as they design a template structure and then combine that with feeds to create courses.
A course is the main unit of organization in Concourse. Each course:
- contains a single syllabus,
- belongs to one campus-school-department domain (e.g. Downtown-Science-Physics) triplet,
- is comprised of one or more sections,
- enforces a set of course and item-level permissions based on groups (e.g. instructors, students, etc.),
- can be associated with a series of users registered for one or more sections, and
- may have files and/or an audit trail.
Further, courses are general in the sense that they can be used:
- as high-level templates (e.g. College-wide Template),
- as course-level templates (e.g. Painting 101 Template),
- for instruction (e.g. Painting 101 with Dr. Bob, Spring 2013 Section 2A),
- for curriculum approval/updates (e.g. Proposed Pottery 201 Course),
- for archival (Photography 203 Master Template, Fall 2009),
- and more.
The reason behind this is so that data for all courses (including those flagged as templates) can be stored using the same format and logic. This is a critical concept because it shows that a course is simply a course in Concourse even though it may go by many names at your school (master template, course template, course outline, course format, sectional syllabus, schedule, proposal, etc.).
A template is a course that contains "common" information and permissions that will later be used to populate other templates or individual courses. This is helpful for driving consistency initiatives and making it painless to update content from a higher level and then potentially prevent others from editing.
Though a template is really still a course at heart that's flagged as a template, they are distinguished from courses in two ways. One, they can be linked to other templates. Two, they cannot have items imported to them (though importing from template to non-template courses is allowed).
A section is a subset of a course to which a set of users is associated. For example, an instructor might be teaching two sections of Pottery, 1A and 1B. In this case students are enrolled in either section 1A or 1B while the instructor can be partied to both.
It is important to note that while a course can have multiple sections, it can only contain a single syllabus. The availability of sections in Concourse is mainly to "merge" together a series of student rosters under a "single" course of which an instructor plans on using the exact same syllabus. Every single course (including those flagged as templates) needs to have at least one section to operate as expected.
In other words, unique courses still need to be created even when they are used in the "sectional" sense. For example Painting 101 during the Spring of 2013 with Dr. Bob would still require that both a course and section(s) be created. If Dr. Bob is only planning to teach one section with one syllabus (e.g. 2A), one course and one related section would be created. However, if Dr. Bob is teaching three sections (e.g. 2A, 2B, and 2C) all of which will share the same exact syllabus, one course would be created with three related sections.
Similarly, in the case of templates both a course and section need to be created. Here it is almost always the case that one course will relate to one section. It is also typical for the section label of a template course to be "All."
Merging sections is fairly easy when courses are being created manually and you have insight from the instructor on just how they want to arrange their course offerings. However, most modern learning and student information systems do not have information as to how instructors would like to "combine" their sections together. Therefore while it is easy to manage this in small numbers, it usually becomes impractical over full campus deployments when feed files will bulk-create users, courses, sections, and registrations. In this case it is far more likely that you have a one-to-one relationship between rows in your course feed and the corresponding rows in your section feed.