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  6.  — Communication


Communicating regularly is especially important when you cannot be in the same physical space as your students.

Please note, a link for students called, has been added to the course navigation in Canvas.


Providing clear instruction is always important in online courses, where the opportunities for quick face-to-face clarification are rare or absent. This is even more so when there are remote students who may have language barriers or internet access issues. Making course requirements clearly understood early or prior to the course start date reduces cognitive overload. Lack of clarity can cause confusion, anxiety and affective barriers to learning.

Feedback from students

Students polled in 2020 responded that they would benefit from more communication from teaching staff, for example:

  • “Please don’t stop sending us messages if we don’t reply – we still see them.”
  • “Please overemphasise things like assignment due dates and remind us. Even if it’s in Canvas, don’t assume we know.”
  • “Please use plain language and repeat information in different places (as long as the information is consistent!)”


Video introductions

In this video, Helen Villers discusses her foray into using video to develop teacher presence for EDPROFST 707, Children’s Literature in Education. In 2016, Helen worked with learning designers Damon Ellis and Nicoletta Rata-Skudder to further develop the design of her course. Helen first taught this course—which is delivered exclusively online—in Semester One 2017.

To connect with and engage students across the country, Helen included a video introduction to the course. She created the video herself using her computer’s webcam or iPad.

Damon Ellis also mentions the use of closed captioning for enabling accessible video. The University has since invested in Panopto, which provides this feature.

Communication tools

Set expectations of students on how to engage with each other and guide them on the rules of etiquette and the use of social media. The following tools can help to maintain a connection, keeping them engaged with you, your course material, or one another.


Use Canvas Announcements to communicate to your entire cohort, or if you have used Canvas Groups to group your students, use Announcements within the Group to target these students. Go to the Group homepage first before posting the announcement.

If you want to post an announcement to a particular lecture, lab or tutorial stream, or students who are approved to study remotely, you can message them separately. Read about how course streams are identified through Canvas Sections and how to post a targeted announcement to them.

To communicate with individual students as needed, use the Inbox functionality in Canvas (see the People tab and click the mail icon). You can also use a context card to contact a student directly.


  • Savvy students within the group will also be able to post announcements, but they will only be posted to the group.
  • Make sure students have set their Canvas notifications settings to accept Announcements and Conversations.
  • Ask students to ensure their University email account is forwarding to their personal email address (for those who prefer to use personal email only).


Delayed posting functionality to avoid overwhelming students with announcements

Students may experience information overload, especially if they are receiving announcements at all times of the day and night.

While teaching staff often can only deal with these in the evenings/nights, it is good to reinforce that we are not expecting students to be studying 24/7, and that we acknowledge they have other pressures on their time.

Use the Canvas’ functionality of ‘delay posting’:

  • Tick Delay posting found in ‘Options’ immediately above the SAVE button.
  • This allows you to write announcements at any time and send it to students at a later date/time (for example, write it on a Friday night but delay sending it until Monday morning).

Canvas announcement delay posting setting


Online discussions

Online asynchronous discussion gives teaching staff and students a space to actively engage with the course and each other.

At their best, such discussions:

  • Increase student-student interaction.
  • Establish a learning relationship between the teacher and student.
  • Support and grow confidence, competence, and autonomy.
  • Increase critical engagement with the contents of the course.
  • Open new channels for fast informal feedback.
  • Build a genuine learning community that is not bound by the confines of the physical classroom.

For teaching staff, online discussions can:

  • Reduce time spent addressing common questions and misunderstandings.
  • Provide feedback on how students are engaging with the course.
  • Identify knowledge gaps or areas for improvement in how the course is taught.

However, to realise these benefits, online discussions must be purposefully designed, framed, and facilitated. An unplanned or unattended discussion forum is unlikely to be effective.

In order to maximise the positive effects, include ways to:

  • Establish and maintain the discussion forum as a safe and inclusive space.
  • Clearly communicate what the students can expect from the discussion.
  • Manage the volume of activity on the discussion.

When you start your class discussion, consider drawing students’ attention to the page on Learning Essentials called communicating respectfully and constructively.

Canvas Discussions

Canvas Discussions can be used as an online equivalent to tutorials and collaborative work. This is a good option for holding an asynchronous interaction.

Discussions can be text based or use multimedia. Using the Canvas Rich Content Editor, you and your students can record and upload video or audio clips to the discussion. This may be especially good for language courses.

If you want to give a student direct feedback on their discussion without posting a comment (which all students in the same discussion can see), make the discussion a graded discussion and use the feedback mechanisms within SpeedGrader to give individual feedback.

Other advantages of Canvas Discussions:

  • Best for course dialogue.*
  • Integrated with Canvas.
  • Allows for group and graded discussions.

Students engage in debate, discussion, critical discourse, and collaboration.

Piazza discussion

The Piazza discussion tool is integrated with Canvas and can be used as an alternative to Canvas’ built-in Discussions. One of the main differences with Piazza is that students can edit their posts and post anonymously. This obviously has its pros and cons depending on where you’re pitching the discussion; always remind students (up-front) about the rules of engagement.

Add Piazza to your Canvas course menu from the Canvas Settings > Navigation options.

Some advantages

  • Good for course questions and answers (Q+A).*
  • Most effective with larger cohorts (>50).
  • Includes features for managing high response volumes.

Students ask, answer, and share questions about the content or management of the course.


  • Students are able to sign up as an instructor in your Piazza discussion. To avoid this, disable the self-signup feature (under the Manage Class setting).
    Piazza screenshot with instructor self-signup option disabled
  • Students who are not part of your class are able to search for and sign up to your Piazza discussions. To avoid this, add an access code to the Piazza discussion (under the Manage Class setting). Either share the access code with your class or keep it secret and manually enrol each student.
    Screenshot of Piazza access code setting

See also

The University of Sydney also provides a comparison between Piazza and Canvas Discussions.


Comparison - Piazza / Ed Discussion / Canvas Discussions

Functions & Features Piazza Ed Discussion
(trialled in Semester Two 2022)
Canvas Discussions (Redesign)
Access and Setup 1. Add Piazza to the course navigation tab in Settings.
2. Create your account and configure Piazza in your course in Canvas.
3. Select Piazza in the course navigation menu to create a post.
4. With LTI 1.3 Staff/Students should be automatically enrolled into the Piazza forum, based on the canvas roles.
1. Add Ed Discussion to the course navigation tab via Settings.
2. Select Ed Discussion in the course navigation menu to configure and activate your Ed course.
3. Select Ed Discussion in the course navigation menu to send a welcome announcement (optional) and/or create a new thread.
4. Staff/Students automatically enrolled into Ed Discussion, enrolments pulled through from Canvas.
1. Go to Course settings.
2. In the tab Feature options, enable Discussions/ Announcements Redesign (Feature preview).Note: this is still in development (April 2022)
Anonymous Posting Instructors can allow students to post anonymously to everyone (classmates and instructors) or to classmates only

Instructors can allow students to post anonymously to everyone (classmates and instructors) or to classmates only.

Note: Even when its anonymous instructor can see who posted if required.

Instructors can also add private comments (visible to teaching team only).

Students can create private threads (visible only to author and teaching team)

Settings available:
If setting is Off: student names and profile pictures will be visible to other members of this course.If setting is Partial: students can choose to reveal their name and profile picture.


If setting is Full: student names and profile pictures will be hidden

Editing and deleting posts

Students can edit and delete comments and posts they have authored as well as edit other students’ posts.

Students cannot edit or update an instructor’s posts.

Instructors can edit and delete all posts.

A history slider option shows how a question or answer has evolved over time, this is as, the answer is formed by multiple authors

Students can edit and delete comments and posts they have authored.

Instructors can edit and delete all posts.

Instructors can turn on the ‘Moderation’ feature to require instructor approval of new threads created by students before they are visible to other students.

In Ed Discussion everyone has their individual answer, so it is not as useful to have the answer’s edit history.  As a result, individual edit histories are not supported.

Students can edit and delete comments and posts they have authored.

Instructors can edit and delete students’ posts/replies to a discussion

Staff/Students can report on a comment if they believe it’s inappropriate

Look and Feel

Displays each course separately and has several topics/folder structures showing in the top of the menu by default (could be quite confusing)

Must go to each course in Canvas and click on Piazza to get to it

Older style UX

Displays a Menu on the left which shows all the courses that has Ed enabled.

Staff/Students can just click on the course in the window and be taken to the posts made in it

Modern UX with easier navigation

Displays in the navigation pane on the left of each course.

Staff/Students can select the discussion they want to reply to and post to it

Search and filter functionality

Search bar allows you to search for posts containing a particular keyword.

Built-in filters and folders to locate and organise posts.

Search bar allows you to search for posts containing a particular keyword.

Built-in filters and folders locate and organise posts.

Search bar allows you to search by content or authors

Instructors can pin important posts.

Posts can be tagged and organized into customizable folders and sub-folders. Clicking on a folder shows all the posts with that folder tag.

Instructors can pin important posts.

Posts are also marked as ‘Read’, ‘Unread’, ‘Starred’, ‘Answered’, ‘Unanswered’.

They can also be organized into custom categories (folders and sub-folders) that can then be used to filter posts.

Instructors can Pin a discussion.

Posts can be marked as ‘Read’ or ‘Unread’.

Views and other analytics

You can see how many times each post was viewed.

Class statistics/analytics: total posts, total contributors, average response time, post views, and individual student contributions.

Can be filtered by week or month by using the export statistics tool

Once enough students contribute to the Q & A, instructors can download these statistics at any time as a csv file.

You can see how many times each post was viewed.

Analytics can be viewed by Week, Month, or All time and include: student and staff participation, total posts, views, and comments.

Instructors can download these statistics at any time as a CSV file or JSON file.

View pages in New Analytics > Weekly online activity

No way to see how many times a post was viewed unless you go into the discussion itself.

Email notifications Instructors and students can follow posts to be notified of new updates via e-mail.

Instructors and students can ‘watch’ posts to be notified of new updates within Ed Discussion.

Users can configure their notifications settings for notification emails.

Staff/Students can configure their notification settings in their user preferences  to receive emails about new topics, replies, mentions and reports.

Notifications can be received immediately, daily or weekly

Assessment and grading

Instructors can ‘endorse’ student posts.

There is no option to assign grades to posts within Piazza.

Instructors can ‘endorse’ student responses.

There is no option to assign grades to posts within Ed Discussion.

Discussions can be setup as Graded discussions.
Group Discussions

You can create discussions for the entire class or for specific groups.

Groups are created directly in Piazza, either manually or via csv file.

Group discussions are currently not supported in Ed Discussion. Can be setup as a Group discussion and assigned to a specific Group in Canvas.

Email: or (login required)


Canvas guides in TeachWell, Canvas Instructor Guides, Chat online to Canvas Support: Students or Staff

Phone: 0800 005 205


Canvas Chat

This tool enables synchronous text chat (on-screen instant messaging). You might consider using it for virtual office hours – more manageable with small cohorts – whereby you tell students what time you will be online.

See the instructions for setting up Chat on the Canvas Resources website.


Assignment reminders through Canvas Gradebook

Message students who have not yet submitted their assignment. Use your discretion whether this is a timely reminder in advance and/or after the deadline.


See also

Sections and groups in Canvas

Learn about the difference between managing students through Sections and Groups in Canvas.

Collaboration tools

Find out what collaboration tools are available in Canvas.

Formative evaluations of courses and teaching

Learn how formative feedback can help improve teaching and the student experience.

Page updated 22/02/2024 (added link to formative evaluations)

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