Part 6: Fall 2017 Labs

86 Asynchronous Discussions in Canvas with Karin Spader – 11.03.2017

In the November 3, 2017 Active Teaching Lab, Karin Spader shared how to design more productive class discussions in Canvas.

There are many ways to structure discussions, among them threaded, anchored, visual conversations. Lab participants discussed the pros and cons of each and learned how Canvas can support them. Karin demonstrated discussions she has used in her classes and described the pedagogical basis behind the different approaches. 


  • Embed videos or readings in a discussion to create an Anchored Discussion (anchored to that particular content).
  • Use a YouTube timer to help students keep track of time for free-writes or timed responses.
  • Encourage students to provide peer feedback that’s more constructive than “this is really good”  by asking them to post a segment of their paper on which they want input from others. Require peer reviews for at least two other students.
  • Use the online space to give students more time to respond thoughtfully compared to the pressure of being “on-the-spot” in a face-to-face class. 
  • Clarify your directions — they’re never clear enough for all students.
  • Gather feedback from students on the discussion process; they may realize that assisting and responding to others reinforces their own understanding.
  • Use online discussions to create a written record to refer back to.
  • Try a two-part deadline (1 = post, 2 = feedback) to help prevent a lack of response/feedback to late posters. 
  • Check out these 5 tips for Online Discussion.

For more information, see the session’s activity sheet.

Active Teaching Labs are held Fridays from 8:30-9:45am (and every other Thursday from 1-2pm, see events calendar for dates) in room 120, Middleton Building. Check out upcoming labs or read recaps from past labs. To stay informed about upcoming Labs, sign up for regular announcements by sending an email to

Watch Karin’s story and the discussion that followed:

Get started with the Canvas Discussion Board:


Active Teaching Lab eJournal Copyright © 2016 by DoIT Academic Technology and the UW-Madison Teaching Academy; Jennifer Hornbaker; John Martin; Julie Johnson; Karin Spader; Margaret Merrill; Margaret Murphy; and Jeffrey Thomas. All Rights Reserved.

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