Canvas highlights 7: Discussions

Canvas Highlights 7 - Discussions

Discussion boards are a common feature of VLEs, supporting the collaborative exploration of ideas and understanding that plays a central role on the development of knowledge. Canvas Discussions offer a rich set of options and a clean, highly usable interface.

Screenshot showing a tutor's view of a Canvas Discussion topic
A tutor’s view of a Canvas Discussion topic, showing information icons

Tutors and students will be able to see how many posts have been added and how many they have yet to read. Everyone can also subscribe to the Discussion, by clicking the green ribbon icon. Subscribing means you will be notified of any new contributions. Notifications reduce the chance of missing contributions that you would find relevant or would like the opportunity to respond to in a timely manner.

Writing a contribution to a discussion uses Canvas’ rich content editor, which means that you and your students can add all kinds of media content to your posts. As a tutor you can attach files from your computer and you can extend this capability to students, through the discussion settings. You can also place links to other module locations or content (such as assignments or seminar notes) directly within the discussion post.

Linking to other module resources within a forum post.

As a tutor you can pin a Discussion to the top of the Discussion area, to give it prominence and mark it as especially important. You can either drag and drop it into the “Pinned discussions” area, or select “Pin” from the Discussion’s options menu.

Screenshot highlighting the pinned discussions area
View of the Discussions area, highlighting the Pinned discussions.

Students can be given a range of capabilities (or these can be removed) through the discussion settings. These are opened by clicking the cog icon on the Discussions area of a Canvas course. By default they are allowed to add new discussions and to edit or delete their own posts, but these permissions can be reversed if necessary. As indicated above, they can also be allowed to attach files to their discussion posts, which might be useful for sharing drafts of written work for peer or tutor feedback.

Screenshot of Canvas Discussions settings
The discussions settings box

Use Cases

Canvas Discussions provide excellent support for several situations:

  • For focused, short lived discussions around a single topic, the default Discussion options will allow responses from the students and then counter-responses from other students or tutors (which will display connected to the original response). If you want to close the discussion, you can lock the Discussion to prevent further replies.
  • For longer discussions where replies can become triggers for side-discussions, Canvas offers an option to  “allow threaded replies” . When threading is set all replies are indented from their “parent” post to give a more nuanced picture of the flow and tracks of the conversation.
  • Discussions can be used combination with Canvas’ group settings to create group-specific discussions; students will only be able to contribute to the discussion for their group, but tutors will be able to join in all group discussions.
  • Where you want students to give a personal response to an issue or prompt, you can prevent them from viewing anyone else’s posts before they’ve made one of their own. This is the “Users must post before seeing replies” option.
  • Discussion contributions can be assessed. When marking the discussion, you can isolate each student’s comments from the thread and combine them into one easily readable view. You can also vary the due dates for different students or groups of students as necessary.
  • Light-touch peer feedback can be provided by allowing students to “like” posts, in much the same way as on Facebook and Twitter. You could employ this as a tactic to increase the students’ motivation to contribute to the discussion and their engagement and interaction with the topic.
  • All Discussions can be given availability dates: students will be able to see that the discussion exists, but will not be able to view the content until after the “Available from” date and will not be able to make further contributions to it after the “Until” date
Screenshot showing the options for individual discussions in Canvas
The options settings for each individual Canvas discussion.

For more information on Canvas Discussions, please visit the Discussions guidance provided by Instructure themselves.

Canvas Training

Places are filling up fast on our Canvas Fundamentals training workshops. We strongly encourage all Sussex academic staff to sign up for a place. Attending the workshop will familiarise you with Canvas and your options for teaching with the new VLE. It also gives you access to your migrated modules from 17/18.

Professional Services staff are also welcome to book a place on this workshop, although we are in contact with several School Administrators to arrange specific sessions for School Office staff.

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  1. […] If you’re interested in using online discussion in your teaching feel free to contact the Technology Enhanced Learning team on Please also have a look at our recent blog post highlighting the Discussions feature in Canvas – the new Sussex VLE. […]

  2. […] considered feedback presenters can share their materials after the session. This can be done in a Discussion in Canvas. Tutors need to change the setting to allow students to upload files to a Discussion (via Settings […]

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