Part 8: Fall 2018 Labs

133 Canvas Discussions – 10.11.2018

Online discussions can be challenging and tedious, from the student and instructor perspective alike. At the October 11, 2018 Active Teaching Lab, participants discussed how to make discussion boards both engaging and useful. Attendees shared pitfalls to avoid and Canvas features to streamline the assignment, delivery, and grading of discussions. 


  • Include discussion forum options for students to share resources with each other, so all their course discussions don’t feel like “must-do” items.
  • To build a sense of community, try assigning peer interviews at the beginning and throughout the course so that students get to know their classmates on a more personal level. Responses are more likely to be meaningful with that personal connection. Also, profile pictures can go a long way toward making discussions feel more personal.  
  • Break large classes into small groups so that the board doesn’t become overwhelming. Smaller groups also prevent students from becoming invisible or lost in a conversation. 
  • Provide guidance on keeping posts concise so that others will actually read it, and structure the prompt to promote responses that are substantive and conversational without needing to be paragraphs long. 
  • Respond to students on SpeedGrader instead of on the discussion board so that any praise, shaping, or criticism is private, not public. This strategy helps to limit instructor intervention in the discussion but still builds a relationship between instructor and student. (Note: Teach students where to look for instructor feedback in SpeedGrader.)
  • Be intentional with settings. Can students delete their posts? Attach files? Start new threads? Many important settings are embedded deep within Canvas.
  • Decide what analytics are important to access for a particular Discussion when creating it. For example, a Canvas Discussion must be a graded assignment to view all of a student’s posts at once in SpeedGrader.

To learn more about Canvas Discussions, visit the session’s activity sheet.


The Active Teaching Lab is a Faculty Engagement program with sessions held on Thursdays from 1:00-2:00pm (room 302) and Fridays from 8:30-9:45am (room 120) in the Middleton Building (1305 Linden Dr.) during fall 2018. Check out upcoming Labs or read the recaps from past Labs. We build interdisciplinary conversations that are more emergent than a presenter and more dynamic than a panel — a conversation with colleagues sharing challenges, solutions, and experiments on topics selected by a variety of stakeholders.

Sign up for regular Lab announcements by sending an email to


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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