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Facilitating class discussions

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What are options for facilitating class discussions online?

Discussion could take a few different forms when we move online. Consider which conversations might be most fruitful to have during synchronous time (or in the space of the scheduled, "real time" class session) and in asynchronous time (or outside of "real time," but within a time frame established by the instructor).

Synchronous Discussion Options

You may not currently use a chat function in your class, but it can be a useful tool, especially for student office hours or for students who may be more comfortable asking questions via chat compared to by phone or video calls.

Canvas Chat

In Canvas, there is a Chat tool available that functions as an instant messaging platform. The messages in chat are visible to the full class community and can be read in real time.

How do I use Canvas Chat as an Instructor?


Stanford has an institutional license to Slack, a real-time chat tool. With Slack, you can send direct messages to individual students, but also maintain a group thread stream. On Slack, you can also put students into small group chats, emulating small group discussions. 

Slack Resources from UIT


If you are engaging students in audio-video calls through Zoom anyway, there is a chat room function that students can participate in, which may be especially useful for students who do not have a working microphone or webcam.

In-Meeting Chat (Zoom)

Asynchronous Discussion Options

To ensure that students are able to engage with peers and each other in a discussion-based class (even without a strong Internet connection), you might choose to move student discussion to an asynchronous format.

Canvas Discussions

You can create threaded discussion boards in Canvas where students can write posts with text, but can also share responses via pre-recorded audio or video with Canvas's built-in audio/video-recording tool. Within these threaded discussions students can ask questions, respond to each other, and respond to the instructor's group prompts.

About Canvas Discussions

How to Record Audio/Video Comments in Canvas Discussions

Google Docs/Slides

You could create a blank document or blank slide deck that students can contribute to either in real time or outside of real time. The document would need to be easily accessible within your course Canvas site - and you'd likely wan tto give very specific directions on how to contribute - but it could create a shared class space to contribute ideas. Individual student contributions may be challenging to track, depending on whether students are logged in to the their Google account to edit and contribute, but that might not be a problem (and it might wind up being a good thing!).

Other Asynchronous Discussion Tools

Supported by Stanford:

Not Supported by Stanford (but could still be useful):

  • Padlet: Padlet creates layouts that look like "pinboards" where students can post text, images, videos, and links. The free version allows users to create 3 “boards."
  • VoiceThread: VoiceThread creates a slide where students can comment on text, images, and video. In VoiceThread, students can leave comments in the form of text, audio, or video to emulate the feeling of a full class discussion. Can create one "VoiceThread" board for free.

Tips on Crafting Effective Discussion Questions