The Canvas’ Discussions Feature РHow does it Fare? 

Of all Blackboard tools, the Blackboard Discussion Board may be the most utilized by instructors and students. Many faculty rely on the discussion board as a central aspect of their teaching and learning strategy, for icebreakers, the deep dive, and debates.  

As we move towards Canvas, and away from Blackboard, what kinds of differences can we expect? Does Canvas’ discussions function the same? What implications do these differences have for our design and facilitation? 

This post explores what faculty can and should prepare for, as it relates to this one central aspect of digital teaching. Let’s start with the functionality we can all expect to see. 


Functionality Gained in Canvas 

With Canvas, instructors can require peer review of discussion posts. 

Instructors looking to assign students to small groups for student-to-student learning opportunities will appreciate this feature. 

Instructors can easily view/filter posts within a discussion through a word search. 

This may be useful if you need to zero in on students’ use of a word, concept, discussed in the prompt, after all students have posted. Could be useful in large class/sections, too. 

There are easier controls for managing notifications, seeing new updates, etc. 

Students can subscribe to a discussion with ease, be notified on their phone or email of any new updates, and student-created discussions automatically set up these notifications. 

Instructors can organize discussions into their proper Assignment Groups easily during the discussion creation process.

Do you ever find that you need an ad hoc discussion in the middle of a semester? Creating a spontaneous discussion and including their posts as part of their overall grade is possible with this feature. 



Functionality Maintained in Canvas 

Instructors will maintain the ability to link to external content (e.g. videos, attachments, etc.) 

Canvas Discussions, like Blackboard Discussions, don‚Äôt live in a vacuum ‚Äď they are connected to other content you find out on the web, as well as your own instructional content or instructions (such as Panopto videos and Office365 files.¬†

Instructors can still require that students post before seeing other students’ posts. 

Instructors can still ask students to edit, delete, or start their post over again. 



Functionality Lost in Canvas 

A student’s ability to edit and delete their own discussion posts can¬†only¬†be set on a course-wide basis rather than being set per discussion.¬†

This may have significant implications for instructors and their courses. While instructors can ask students to edit, delete, and then start a new post, enabling this will allow this behavior to all course discussions. 

You cannot set a minimum number of required posts before activity shows as needing grading. 

This may have been important if you used that ‚Äúflagging feature‚ÄĚ in the Blackboard Grade Center as a prompt to grade student work.¬†

A student’s ability to attach items to discussion posts can¬†only¬†be set on a course-wide basis rather than being set per discussion.¬†

There is no equivalent to Blackboard‚Äôs ‚Äúforce moderation of posts.‚Ä̬†

This means that student posts are posted without any moderation from faculty (Blackboard had the ability to prevent publishing of posts until faculty had reviewed the content…Canvas has no such equivalent feature). 

Instructors cannot allow anonymous posting in ungraded discussions. 



For instructors ready to dig deeper, there are two helpful resources to get faculty thinking, planning, and integrating discussions into their summer and fall 2021 courses. Canvas publishes an instructor guide on discussions and a student guide. Instructors looking for new ideas for engagement can also peruse the Priming with Canvas course, developed by the Coulter Faculty Commons. 



How does this align to Canvas training materials?

Canvas logoPriming the Canvas: Module 4 ‚ÄúActive and Interactive Learning‚ÄĚ and Module 12.2 “Teaching Online: Communicating with Your Students”¬†


Additional Resources: 

  • How do I create a discussion as an instructor?
  • Visit¬†¬†
  • Contact the 24/7 Canvas Help if you need help with issues as you are working in Canvas. (NOTE: 24/7 Canvas Help goes away on June 30 and Help will be taken over by the WCU Helpdesk which is not manned 24/7).¬†
  • Canvas Migration FAQ
  • Register for one of the¬†Zoom sessions¬†which will be held on Thursdays and Fridays at 11:00 A.M. after reviewing the¬†Priming the Canvas Course.¬†This week’s sessions will cover Discussions in Canvas as well as How to release content conditionally¬†in Canvas.

Our next article will highlight How to release content conditionally in Canvas; visit Canvas Blog to see all our Canvas articles.