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Community Member

How can I get students to choose topics without overlapping TOO much?

  • I have a list of topics. There might be ten or a dozen. 
  • I want students to find and share online resources explaining those topics.
  • I would like more than one student to 'cover' each topic.
  • But I don't want half the class doing one topic.

You're experienced at using Canvas.

How would you handle this in Canvas?

Is there a specific tool you think makes sense? An LTI?

The ideal solution is elegant: it's simple and involves the least amount of work for students and the instructor.

Things I've thought of which I find inelegant:

  • Create a discussion board with a prompt containing the list & ask students to choose, first-come, first-serve.
  • Create a Google Doc, and ask students to add their names. 
12 Replies
Community Contributor


You could make a group set where the names of the groups are the topic. And a max number of 2-3 per group. Then make them choose group to choose topic.

The submission could be published in many ways: assignment, discussion, collaborate document..

But thats just my two cents Smiley Happy


Community Participant

Hi Edward,

As  @lars_vemund_sol ‌ mentioned it would be simple to create a groupset for the assignment. Then create a group for each topic with a limit of students who can join set so that all groups must have more than one student but not so many that half the class can join one group: How do I create self sign-up groups in a group set? 

For the sharing of resources you could ask your students to use the group homepage for that, there they can create their own pages, discussions etc. The teacher can then view the group pages when their done and evaluate their work: 

Good luck!


Community Champion

Hi  @oneill_edward ‌! I like the Google Doc solution... it's flexible, open-ended -- students could also quickly indicate that way what aspect of the topic is of most interest to them which would be another way to reduce overlap! 🙂

I like this approach. It is essentially group work, so use self-assigned groups. Makes perfect sense.

FYI: I am separating the publication layer from the LMS. Students do research and share their work on a WordPress blog I've set up separately. That way, the students learn WordPress and also web communication (accessibility, categories & tags, etc.)

I was thinking that students separately prepare definitions of key terms, but there is no reason they could not discuss and strategize together. It could only improve the results, although online students have trouble synching their schedules....

These groups are ad hoc, and so I don't have any need for them to be enduring.

I think the larger issue I'm pointing to is: not all student groups are persistent. Sometimes you just put students together quickly for a short-term purpose....

I'm actually going to research sign-up tools.

Because a special-built tool does just what you want it to.

General purpose tools like Google Docs or Canvas Groups are great. The upside is: people get used to it and its use becomes trivial.

But I see a danger in using one tool for too many purposes: what if it breaks? Does the tool become 'polluted' with all the uses to the point where students start doing Behavior Set A instead of Behavior Set B, because it's all the same tool.

I'll confess to feeling very invested in Google Sheets and in Google Blogger; if/when those go belly-up it may just be time for me to retire ha ha.

But all other tools are pretty much in flux for me. Although I like using an old tool for a new purpose. I've been having lots of new Google Slide adventures this year, for example, often inspired by Alice Keeler at Twitter. 🙂

Community Member

Erin Keefe (@mskeefe on Twitter) made a good suggestion: Learning Technology on Twitter: "You're teaching in @CanvasLMS, and you want students to define key ... 

Make a Page students can edit with spaces for them to sign up.

I'm actually thinking now that, although student choice is good, randomly assigning students to topics would save time. And early in the semester, the topics are not so profound that depriving students of choice would de-motivate them, I think.

P.S. I tried adding a screenshot of this twitter conversation, but this site wouldn't let me....

I use randomizers all the time,  @oneill_edward ‌! For example, the blog commenting happens by random assignment:

Online Course Wiki / blog comments 

Random is the best way I have to spread the effort around when I am never sure just how many students will complete a specific assignment.

I am a fan of random. 🙂

I also offer an extra credit commenting option for students who want to pick specific students to stay connected with, so there's choice available, but random is the first level of blog commenting.