Best Practices: Using Discussions for Sharing Among Students

The Best Practices series focuses on what instructors and students can do to effectively use Canvas. You’re welcome to contact Courseware Support at canvas@pobox.upenn.edu if you have any questions about best practices.

Thinking Outside the (Discussion) Box

Students working together

Canvas discussions harness your students’ collective knowledge for your whole class.

The content-sharing options in Canvas discussions are often overlooked. To go beyond the ho-hum implementation of this tool, it’s useful to think of a Canvas discussion like a crowd-sourcing  resource for collecting students’ input on one another’s work.

Pedagogically, this discussion practice might sound risky, especially if you’re concerned about the quality of students’ contributions. To protect against any misuses or misunderstandings, it is recommended that you, a co-instructor, or a TA vet discussion posts, and the easiest way to do this is to subscribe to the discussion so you are alerted about each post. If you have multiple TAs or co-instructors, it’s a good idea to have a discussion monitoring schedule to equally distribute the vetting responsibilities.

Using Discussions to Facilitate Conversations about Student Work

One way to use Canvas discussions effectively is to have students post their work as an attachment in a discussion and then have their classmates provide feedback in discussion replies. Here are the steps required for doing this:

1. Grant your students the permission to create their own discussion boards in your Canvas site, which you can do by following these instructions:

How do I allow students to create a course Discussion?

2. Give students the permission to upload attachments to discussions, which you can do in the same settings area as step 1 or by following these instructions:

How do I allow students to attach files to a Discussion?

3. Ask each student to create a discussion, which they can do by following these instructions:

How do I create a course Discussion as a student?

When they at set up their discussion boards, ask students to do the following:

  • Upload their assignment files as attachments to the discussion by clicking on Browse next to “Attachment” in the discussion set-up interface and uploading the assignment file.
  • Check the box next to “Allow threaded replies,” which will create a threaded discussion that will let students reply to one another’s replies (this way, the student who posted the assignment can respond to a classmate’s question directly in a reply to the classmate’s reply to the original post).

4. Have students look at one anothers’ discussion boards and then reply, which they can do by following these instructions:

How do I reply to a Discussion as a student?

Explore More Alternative Uses for Canvas Discussions

If you would like to learn more about what you can do with Canvas discussions, please see the Discussions section of the Canvas Instructor Guide. If you have any questions, please contact Courseware Support at canvas@pobox.upenn.edu

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