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What are Discussions?

What are Discussions?

Canvas provides an integrated system for class discussions, allowing both instructors and students to start and contribute to as many discussion topics as desired. Discussions allows for interactive communication between two or more people; users can participate in a conversation with an entire class or group.

Discussions can also be created as an assignment for grading purposes (and seamlessly integrated with the Canvas Gradebook), or simply serve as a forum for topical and current events. Discussions can also be created within student groups.

Discussion topics can be organized as focused or threaded discussions. Focused discussions only allow for two levels of nesting, the original post and subsequent replies. Threaded discussions allow for infinite levels of nesting. Focused discussions are relatively short-lived interactions, while threaded discussions allow replies within replies and may last for a longer period of time.

Focused Discussions

Focused discussions include one response and one layer of comment nesting. Focused discussions are relatively short-lived interactions that tend to disappear as the course progresses, such as a weekly forum for questions related to that week's activities.

Use a focused discussion for single posts and related comments. One discussion leader typically posts a message and multiple learners comment on it. Participants may leave a side comment to a reply, but cannot develop the conversation beyond two layers of nesting.

focused discussions might also be used to:

  • answer a single question
  • share resources amongst peers
  • collect results from a simple research activity
  • share solutions to a single problem
  • correct misconceptions
  • clarify course policies
  • get feedback on a work in progress
  • share insights about a single reading

Threaded Discussions

Threaded Discusisons

Threaded discussions include infinite layers of response nesting, allowing commenters to continue responding on a single nested thread. Threaded discussions lend themselves to the refining of complex ideas. Responses and different lines of inquiry that can be quickly navigated due to its hierarchical structure. Threaded discussions may be long-standing spaces for thoughts that persist throughout an entire course.

Use a threaded discussion for multiple posts and related comments. One or more discussion leaders post a message and multiple learners comment on it with the freedom to create any number of related discussion topics and comments.

Threaded Discussions might also be used to:

  • post and answer multiple related or unrelated questions
  • organize results from a complex research activity
  • share and iterate upon ideas shared by each student in the course
  • debate the pros and cons of a single issue or multiple issues
  • ask multiple questions of a single discussion leader
  • refine ideas between multiple discussion leaders and multiple learners
  • facilitate group discussions around multiple topics
  • facilitate discussions around a discussion (fishbowl conversations)
  • explore at length the feasibility of different solutions to a complex problem

How do I use Discussions as an Instructor?

Within Discussions you can:

  • Create, edit, and delete discussion topics. You can also reply to, edit, and delete individual student discussion posts.
  • Create threaded or focused discussions within your course. (Private discussions can be initiated within student groups, which are not viewable by others outside that group.)
  • Create discussions with varied due dates for different sections within your course.
  • Create a group discussion as an assignment.
  • Create a graded discussion for everyone, individual students, course sections, or course groups. When a discussion is marked as a graded assignment, the Canvas SpeedGrader™ isolates each student’s comments from the thread and combines them into one easily readable view for grading.
  • Subscribe to a discussion and be notified of replies.
  • Enable podcast feeds within your discussions.
  • Embed or attach files, images, and YouTube videos.
  • Add course content directly from your course.
  • Delay discussion posts until a defined date.
  • Pin discussion threads that you want your students to see at the top of the Discussions page.

Note: You can also use keyboard shortcuts to navigate individual discussion threads. To view a window with a list of keyboard navigation shortcuts, press Alt+F8 (on a PC keyboard) or Option+Fn+F8 (on a Mac keyboard) simultaneously on your keyboard.

What Settings Can I Control in Discussions?

You can control certain settings within Discussions:

  • Tell Canvas how to mark your discussion posts as read and unread. You can also manually mark posts as read.
  • Require students to reply to a discussion before viewing other replies.
  • Allow students to edit or delete their own discussion posts.
  • Allow students to create new discussions and attach files in your course discussions (this setting does not apply to student groups).
  • Allow students to like discussion replies in your course discussions.
  • Close discussion threads to comments.

How do I use Discussions as a Student?

Within Discussions you can:

  • Create, edit, and delete discussion topics. You can also reply to individual student discussion posts.
  • Subscribe to a discussion and be notified of replies.
  • Subscribe to podcast feeds within discussions.
  • Embed or attach files, images, and YouTube videos.

Note: Your instructor may have some of these options disabled in your course.


As a Moodle expert new to Canvas, I do not find this to be particularly illuminating. What is a "pinned" discussion? How does it differ from a discussion specific to a single portion of a course? How do I create a graded discussion? Canvas may be popular but it is not especially intuitive.

I too was a Moodle user.  Pinned discussions in Canvas just mean they are "pinned" to the top of the Discussion page.  I find that helpful because when they are pinned, you can rearrange them.  For example, I would like for them to appear in sequential order but they won't do that unless I pin them to the top of the page. This page is an overview of Discussions.  If you go to the Canvas Guides for Instructors, there are directions that will answer your questions. 

@redlick40 thank you so much for helping out @profmsf. Appreciate you!

My name is Maricela Lara. This CANVAS discussion format is very new to me. I hope to learn more quickly. 

Is there a way to receive a notification when people respond to a post you make on a discussion board, without being notified about every single post on that board?  I am in a super large online class and it's overwhelming to be notified any time someone posts, but I would like to know when people respond to my posts or comments on their posts so I can keep the dialogue going.  

Thank you!  🙂 

Hi @jesscohoe,

According to How do I subscribe to a discussion as a student?, "You can subscribe to entire discussion threads in your courses and be notified when new comments are posted to the topic....[however,] you cannot subscribe to individual threads within a threaded discussion."


I'm glad they can't see responses until they make a comment!  

Do Discussions become locked after the due date is passed?  I did not lock the Discussion but a student is trying to access it (late) and she says it is locked.


The due date shouldn't affect whether a discussion can be accessed or not. But availability dates definitely could. Did you designate for the discussion to only be available between certain dates?


Welcome to 6th Grade Inclusion

Today we will be listening to a social story and everyone is expected to join in on the discussion 

that will take place immediately following.  

Please sign in on the sheet that was provided in the front of the room.  

Make a list of those questions that you might have and have them ready to be handed in

immediately following class.

Thank you for helping this school year be a success!!

Hi @ParkerKate 

It seems that you might've intended your comment for a class discussion or announcement. If that's the case, you'll need to login to your school's Canvas website and post to the correct area. If you have any questions, please let us know.


These comments are posted to the global Canvas Community,

NOT your Canvas course.

  • Have a question about using Canvas? Visit the Q&A page.
  • Have an idea to improve Canvas? Visit the Idea Conversations space.
  • Need to reply to a course discussion? Log in to your Canvas course and add your comment there (Tip: Visit your school's website to log in to Canvas).
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