Peer Learning with Canvas

Peer learning is a term that covers a broad spectrum of activities in which students work together to further their learning, from peer teaching, to group working, to peer assessment. There are great benefits to be seen from peer learning approaches. Students can be given opportunities to organise their thoughts through discussion with coursemates. Thinking critically about the work of others can help a student to reevaluate their own work. It can also reduce the focus on the tutor allowing you to observe and assess progress or understanding. 

So how can peer learning strategies be implemented in Canvas?

Canvas Discussions

Discussions can be used in a variety of ways to encourage peer learning. You might follow up a live or pre-recorded lecture with a Canvas Discussion to allow students to carry on talking about the topic. It’s a good idea to post one or two initial open questions to focus conversation. Alternatively, post a stimulus such as an image or passage from a text for students to reply with their interpretations. Students can then build on each others’ responses. Discussions can also be used for peer review type activities with students posting their work for comment. Though do note it is not possible for these to be made anonymous.

Do read our earlier post on Ways to make your discussion forums work for further guidance.

Collaborative documents

Asking students to co-create or to work together to critique a document is beneficial both for the students but also for you as a tutor. For example, giving students a document to work on in a breakout room provides another way to check that students are on task. 

Canvas has  Canvas Collaborations for creating shared Office 365 or Google documents however you may find it simpler to jump straight to Office 365 and link to your document from your Canvas module. It is quick and easy to create and share a word document that can be edited by anyone at the University with the link. In addition you can specify that students can only review, so that comments, changes and additions are clearer to see.

Alternatively you can give students access to edit a Canvas page. In the settings for a page under ‘Users allowed to edit this page’ select ‘Teachers and Students’. Canvas provides a student guide for editing a page.

Canvas groups

Many students will form their own mutual support networks outside of the University suite of tools, however there are options to foster this within Canvas as well. Canvas groups provide a student controlled space where they are able to share files, create discussions and collaborate with other students. 

We’ve written more about Groups in our post on Canvas Groups and Sections.

Peer assessment

Using the default Canvas Assignment submission tool for formative assignments you have the option to redistribute submissions for peer assessment. This can be done manually or you can select a required number of submissions to be reviewed by each student once the deadline has passed.

This same function can also be used to peer assess discussion posts in Canvas discussion forums

When using this there are some points to bear in mind. 

  • Students may not be familiar with critically assessing others’ work. Plan time to clarify what good feedback looks like
  • A rubric can help to guide student feedback.
  • Students can complain that they are performing a role that should be done by the tutor so it’s important to consider how you frame the peer assessment making sure its benefits are clear. 

If you’ve found other successful peer learning strategies using Canvas or other apps we’d love to hear more about it.

As always if you have any questions or thoughts about the ideas covered above, please email

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Posted in Canvas, Learning Design

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We are the Educational Enhancement team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

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