A colleague asked me about a teaching challenge and whether there was a way to do what he wanted in Canvas. He teaches a science lab class and wants to turn the experience of writing a lab report into something more like a scientific paper. This gives students a chance to practice critical thinking. The teaching challenge comes with wanting students' papers and his feedback to be visible to everyone in the class. That way each lab group could see how the other groups wrote their paper and the feedback from the reviewer could be seen as well. What a great way to expose students to aspects of academic publishing.
Of course I thought of using the discussions tool as a way to make students' work (and feedback) public within the class. However, the discussion tool in Canvas does not have a distinct subject for each replies (though maybe that will change if Subject Lines for Discussions is enabled). This makes it a challenge to use a single graded discussion assignment for the assignment as it would require students to use the browser's search function to find a paper on the same experiment written by a classmate from another lab group.
I wanted a better option for students to help them find those other papers, and then I remembered there is a setting to allow students to create their own discussions in a Canvas course. I have never used this nor met anyone who has, though my own experience with online discussions is small. So I proposed using this option to help make things easier on my colleague's students:
- Each student creates a discussion following the instructor's guidelines for the title
- For the discussion prompt the student writes an executive summary of their paper and attaches their paper
- The instructor replies to each discussion with public feedback on the report
My colleague did not mention peer feedback as part of the assignment, but that could be added as well by requiring students to post replies to their classmates.
There is a minor additional hassle for the instructor, which is that a separate assignment needs to be created for the purpose of assigning a grade and giving confidential feedback on the assignment. But the main benefit for students is an easily scrollable list of paper titles on the Discussions page in the course, almost like the table of contents of a academic journal. And like an online academic journal, all the reader needs to do is select a title to see the executive summary and find easy access to the complete paper as well as an editorial response and maybe even feedback from fellow scientists.