Part 9: Spring 2019 Labs

164 Social Learning in Canvas – 03.08.2019

Research shows peer-to-peer interaction greatly enhances learning, but it’s not always easy to facilitate. In the March 8, 2019 Active Teaching Lab, nine participants unpacked how to create more opportunities for social learning without losing educational intent. Attendees weighed how Canvas can help and hinder social construction of knowledge, swapped examples and experiences with social learning, and brainstormed how to share their conclusions, challenges, and questions with campus on a broader level.


  • Share learning objectives with students — not only the academic goals of an activity but also the social skills involved. This helps communicate that developing group dynamics are an intentional part of the activity and important in the discipline. Consistently building objectives into the context and description of assignments using Canvas Assignment and Page tools is an easy way to transmit the intent of a task to students.
  • Be proactive to avoid common pitfalls. For example, to prevent one student from dominating discussion or doing the majority of the work, jigsaw with roles (editor, researcher, manager) and/or form groups with intentionally diverse abilities related to the tasks. Try the Canvas Groups feature for quick and easy group formation and communication and see Roberts and McInnerney’s “Seven problems of online group learning (and their solutions)” (2007) for more group work ideas. 
  • Provide opportunity for reflection to promote growth. Ask students to reflect on what did and did not work well so the next social learning task gets better. See ideas for group work reflection activities from the University of New South Wales to get started. Consider Canvas Surveys and Peer Review to streamline the feedback process and promote individual and group reflection.
  • Empower learners to explore good problems that reveal systems (Gee 2013). Give students agency in designing learning environments and activities that work for them (and their peers!) so they can explore problem spaces in personally relevant ways to understand the underlying systems. Let them share what they learned in ways that honor their unique paths in life.

For more information on Canvas how-tos and the pedagogical underpinnings of social learning theory, 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 and Fridays from 8:30-9:45am in the Middleton Building (1305 Linden Dr.), room 120. 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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