Canvas Discussions

Canvas Discussions can be a useful asynchronous tool, helping students to collaboratively process their thinking before or after class and potentially adding a layer of depth to their engagement with course content.

Common Features and Settings

Depending on how you expect to use discussions in your course, some of these settings may be relevant:

  • Provide instructions or a prompt in the rich content editor, which appears at the top of the page when you create the assignment.
  • Make a discussion graded by checking off the “Graded” box. (Note: for a low-stakes assignment, you can easily set a small amount of points and/or use Canvas’s “complete/incomplete” designation.)
  • Allow students to respond to each other by checking off the “Threaded” box.
  • Create a group discussion to allow students to respond in small groups separately from the rest of their classmates.
  • Add a Canvas rubric to a graded discussion. This can be particularly useful if you plan to assign frequent discussion post assignments with the same expectations for each assignment – not only does it help to clarify expectations for students, but it also allows you a method of acknowledging students’ work even if you don’t plan to respond to all the posts.
    • If you’re curious to see how others have set up discussion board rubrics, the ACUE provides one general example rubric.
  • Add a due date. Even if you already have a due date in your syllabus or elsewhere on the Canvas site, the due date feature provides a helpful reminder in your students’ Canvas dashboards. (Note: this feature only allows one due date per discussion. For discussions involving multiple due dates, instructors typically fill in the first due date and provide a reminder to students for the second.)

Example Uses

  • Post a video or image connected to the course and ask students to write a short reflection, analysis, or creative response to it.
  • Ask students to introduce themselves to their classmates in a discussion post, either as an alternate or a supplement to in-class introductions. Some instructors add a multimedia component to this, either by asking students to include an image or by having students record an introduction video in lieu of text.
  • Assign peer review via Canvas discussion. For instructors who find Canvas’s peer review feature to be unwieldy, a simpler option is to have students upload their work as attachments to a Canvas discussion. (If you ask students to provide each other with inline comments on documents, they can upload annotated versions in response to a classmate’s post.)
  • Create ungraded discussion spaces for students to share content (materials related to a group project; links related to the course; course Q&A).


Some instructors have found that Canvas discussions present challenges:

  • The format of the tool—specifically, the empty text box that students write their posts in—can make an assignment feel more like an individual writing exercise, and might feel less authentically collaborative to students.
  • Students’ past experiences using the tool in different courses and other academic settings means that they may come in with preconceptions about what’s being asked of them.

Providing clear assignment instructions and gesturing toward different ways to engage collaboratively with classmates’ posts can mitigate some of these possible challenges. For instructors looking for a different collaborative tool, Perusall and Google Docs are two alternatives that gesture toward less mediated, more informal collaboration and away from an individual writing assignment.