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Best Practices for Offering Choice Between Discussion Boards

Hello Community,

I have some courses where the instructor wants students to be able to choose between 2-3 graded discussion boards to participate in in a given week. What is the best way to do this so that it doesn't mess up the gradebook?

Option 1: differentiated assignments: Students would sign up in a separate wiki page to indicate which board they wanted to participate in, and then the instructor would go into the discussion board settings and assign that board to specific students.

   Downside: students can't view the other boards, and this is a pain to set up for the instructor

Option 2: Have all discussion boards assigned to everyone and worth the same number of points (say, 10 points each), and a student can just pop into the board they want to participate in, and you just give them a grade for the discussion board they did participte in. As long as you don't use the "treat ungraded as zero" option in the gradebook, it will only calculate a score for the board they do participate in and ignore the other discussion assignments when calcultating their final grade.

   Downside: You can't use "treat ungraded as zero" in the gradebook, and we use AspireEdu's Dropout Detective student analytics and support system, which will show them as "at risk" because it looks like they failed to complete an assigned item. instructors were just giving them 10 points on all three choice even though they only participated in one, just so it didn't mark them as missing an assignment, which skewed the relative value of that discussion board.

Option 3: Make them all ungraded discussions, and just have a separate assignment woth 10 points where the instructor would capture the grades for their participation that week.

   Downside: You couldn't use Speedgrader. The instructor would have to go into each board, look to see what the students posted in various boards, and then go back into the other assignment column in the gradebook to enter feedback and a grade.  Also, the boards themselves wouldn't show up on a student's to-do list. If they clicked on the assignment in their to-do list, it wouldn't bring them to the boards.

Option 4: Group Discussion: Set up the discussion as a group discussion board, assign students to the different groups, and just make sure each group knew which topic they were discussing. 

   Downside, this still has the same set-up hassles as the differentiated assignments option, and they couldn't see what the other groups were saying. Plus, you'd have to find a way to make sure each group knew which prompt was assigned to them.

Does anyone have a better idea? I wish Canvas had some way for students to self-select and assign.

17 Replies
Learner II

"treat ungraded as zero" only applies a mask onto the gradebook; it doesn't actually convert missing grades to 0. the thing you're thinking of is the missing submission policy: 

We've used Option 2, but we don't use the dropout detective tool you mentioned, so that's not a problem for us. I'm really curious what other people say. 

I haven't tried this, but could the discussions be graded but worth 0 points? Would that allow the instructor to still use speedgrader and then copy the grade into a separate assignment? Although I suppose you'd still have the problem with the dropout detective. hmmm....


Katie, making any assignment worth 0 points, Canvas will treat that as extra credit and artificially inflate the scores when you give the students credit for participating in that discussion. Also you may be creating duplicate assignments with two different grades which may trigger that dropout detective software for having a zero point assignment and a regular assignment.


Yes, the instructor wouldn't put the grade in the discussion because you're right, that would appear as extra credit. It would go into a separate assignment. That would definitely lead to duplicate assignments, though, as you say. Unless... the discussions were in their own group that counted for whatever percentage of the grade (and no additional assignment). Would it behave like extra credit then? Hmm...That would probably still trigger the Dropout Detective, though. 

873179959, Have you considered having students grade themselves? I haven't done this yet, but I might be designing a course for Fall that follows laurakgibbs‌'s un-grading philosophy


In my class for the Introduction for Health Informatics, the instructor there has 13 discussion board assignments and the students can choose 10 of them. She has rules in the background that drop the 3 lowest scores. Every assignment board is 5 points a piece.

Hope this helps.


I am a student in the mentioned class, not an instructor. She addressed how Canvas handles the assignments in class recently.

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Community Coach
Community Coach

Hi 873179959 

I also value choice for my students, and this is how I do it.........

  • I create one discussion each week,
  • In the instructions for that discussion I create multiple related topics that the students can choose from (the numbers vary, or course),
  • I instruct the students to include the chosen topic at the top of their reply. The vast majority follow that instruction, so it has never been a problem.
  • I then create a grading rubric that is generic enough to support the students' choices.

I hope this is helpful,



I second Kelley's approach to multiple topics in the same discussion! Smiley Happy

The students just really have to make sure they start their post with the Topic in the first line and then it's easy to find other folks in the same topic through the search feature(1) or different topics by collapsing replies(3) and then just the first line is shown. 

view discussion screen shot

After a little practice, students should be able to get the hang of it and with the right rubric, you can grade any discussion!

Hope the advice helps,
Cheers - Shar

Highlighted‌, would you be willing to share a screen shot of one of these discussion prompts so I can see your wording?



Here is the pertinent extract from one................

Forum Topic: Choose one topic from below. These topics will require research. I want this in your own words but I don't want opinions, I want the best facts that money can buy. Cite your sources!

  1. Discuss lifestyle decisions that could potentially make an individual more likely to develop renal disease (be specific - how and why), and what steps individuals can take to lessen their chances of developing renal disease.
  2. Discuss the relationship between hypertension and impotence (be specific about structure and function)
  3. Discuss the relationship between diabetes and renal disease (again, be specific)

Include your topic as the first line of your reply!

I hope this is helpful,