Canvas is Champlain’s primary tool for asynchronous discussion. While other tools are great (as long as you are using them in ways that meet FERPA needs), Canvas is the only asynchronous tool for which we are able to offer technical assistance. We highly recommend that you use it whenever possible, both for that reason and because it is clearest and easiest for your students.
Using the Canvas Discussions Tool
The Canvas Discussions tool is a powerful way to create and run discussion fora, including graded discussions, ungraded discussions, and group discussions. If you are looking to master the basics, there are many tutorials available. The basic official resources are:
- Canvas Basics article “What Are Discussions?”
- Canvas’s more detailed user guides on Discussions; read the guide index carefully to identify the information you need
If you are just starting with Discussions, educator Ashlee Espinosa provides a video introduction and demonstration:
Many colleges and universities, as well as Instructure have developed video or Canvas-based tutorials on Discussions and other aspects of the LMS. You may find other useful information by googling.
Champlain resource: the Canvas templates available for optional import contain an instructional module for faculty that includes targeted information about how to set up Discussions, as well as blank weekly discussion fora to which you can add prompts and criteria. Learn more about how to preview and import the template.
Level Up: Leverage Canvas Discussions for Community and Creativity
We want to highlight two other things about Canvas Discussions: creative ways you can enhance Discussions to facilitate different kinds of interactions, and the Group Discussions feature.
Discussions in Canvas can enhance the course experience by structuring interaction in different ways. In a sense, they become the classroom space, especially for students participating virtually who have tech equity or time zone issues that make videoconferencing difficult.
Quick Resource: During the nationwide transition to remote learning in March, Instructure provided a webinar series on remote pedagogy through Canvas. This recorded webinar, with Dr. Travis Thurston, explores Discussions as a way to “power up” engagement:
Champlain Resource: As the video discusses, Canvas’s Discussions tool is primarily intended to facilitate discussion forums, but can be deployed for many other purposes, including student collaboration, peer review, artistic critique, informal communication, and more. In April 2020, a panel of Champlain faculty including Dr. Krista CrawfordMathis (CCO), Ms. Christa Hagan-Howe (CCO), Dr. Mike Lange (Core), and Dr. Roz Whitaker-Heck (CCM) shared their success creatively using Canvas discussions in fully online and flex-hybrid environments. We recommend viewing this recorded webinar to jump-start your thinking (Champlain login required).
Canvas contains a special, often-unused set of tools for student groups. To summarize, the instructor can set up permanent or semi-permanent small student groups that can create and exchange their own pages, calendar, and autonomous discussions. Fully using Groups is a more advanced Canvas skill (the organization is less straightforward than the main Canvas course), but you can use some of the features of Groups to set up small-group spaces for each Discussion. This is an excellent opportunity to refocus discussion itself: a small group of students talking to each other are motivated by their audience and the sense of learning sub-community that can develop.
Quick resource: There are two separate steps to setting up group discussions: creating the groups, and selecting the appropriate options to designate the Discussion for groups (which causes Canvas to generate the small-group spaces).