Digital Learning & Design

Carefully craft prompts and set requirements. Strictly speaking, these recommendations are part of course design, not facilitation, but a poorly designed discussion may become a facilitation nightmare. 

Let the discussion unfold. Does it meet your expectations for the activity? Many class discussions have a tendency to unfold in one of several identified styles, such as “The Eclectic Beaded Necklace,” in the words of one teacher: students post a response to the prompt without necessarily connecting it to preceding responses. You could think of this as a public assignment submission, like a paper, but visible to all in the class, not just the teacher. A more engaged style is “The Whirlpool,” where students circle around a subject, exploring it deeper and deeper. 

Provide feedback to individuals. Use Speedgrader to deliver assignment feedback and grading to individuals. It is addressed to, and visible to, only the intended student and can therefore be personalized. Consider how students add to the discussion and further the narrative rather than posting in parallel without a clear connection to what has come before.

Feedback tips*

  • provide as soon as possible after student submission (or after the discussion closes)
  • provide frequently, in both low- and high-stakes assignments
  • be specific and actionable
  • balance suggestions for improvement with affirmation of successes
  • use audio and/or video feedback to personalize and reduce chances of misinterpretation of text comments
  • use rubrics to make grading more efficient and make expectations clear to students
  • incorporate peer review in select assignments to reduce instructor feedback and diversify feedback

*Partly based on Fiock, Garcia, 2019.

Summarize feedback. Summarize your takeaways from the discussion through an announcement after the discussion closes or a page placed at the end of the module. Provide these for the benefit of all students, as opposed to individual and personalized feedback in Speedgrader. Alternatively, assign a different team each week the task of summarizing discussion takeaways.

Participate explicitly in the discussion. While it’s uncommon for instructors to engage in online discussions directly, they might do so in specific circumstances to establish their presence, particularly in a get-to-know-each-other introductory discussion. More commonly, instructors summarize the discussion comments afterward (see above). Instructors, or TAs, might post in the discussion to keep student responses aligned with the scope of the prompt, provide clarifications, or perhaps connect ideas in different posts for further examination. Guiding through questions may be more effective at encouraging discussion than offering criticism, at least early in the discussion window, which may shut down some ideas.

Post your comments directly in the discussion. They will be visible to all (unlike feedback in the grading area).

How to participate

  1. Post a response to the prompt, which will appear parallel to other student responses.
  2. Reply to individual student posts to target specific responses (thus creating a thread).
  3. Post a video response instead of text to differentiate it from others and personalize it even more.

How much to participate

  1. More than your face-to-face discussions, this is primarily a student forum. It presents opportunities for student-to-student interactions, so consider how your contribution to the discussion can encourage more student engagement rather than acknowledging the contributions of a select few.
  2. Be careful not to write too much or too frequently as to appear to dominate the conversation. Yours is one among many voices here.

TIP: See the Canvas Discussions page for configuration options.


Fiock, H., Garcia, H. (2019) How to Give Your Students Better Feedback with Technology. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from