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Conversations - a hot mess that needs to be fixed

A very frustrating day I had yesterday, trying to predict the behaviour of Conversations. Especially problematic is how it interacts with other systems.

I was prompted to start thinking about this by a teacher asking me a question regarding scenarios when using Conversations.

Scenario: a teacher sends a group message via Conversations to the class and observers within the class. Students and observers receive the conversation message in their conversations Inbox, as well as via email, if they have notifications set up this way.

A parent hits Reply on their email, expecting to reply just to the teacher who sent the message, which is normal email behaviour (Reply to respond to the sender, and Reply All to reply to all of the recipients of the original email).

As observers cannot send messages to anyone other than their observee (their child) and the teacher, the message goes to these recipients.

The teacher reads the message from the parent, some of which contains some personal details, then hits reply in their Conversations Inbox. As Conversations includes the previous message when replying, the reply from the teacher includes the message sent by the parent. The teacher has, however, sent the reply to everyone who received the original message.

Is this alleviated by clicking the Send individual messages checkbox? And why is there no checkbox when sending a similar message through the app?

Why is it that Conversations adopts some email behaviour (including the body of the message in the reply for instance) but not all (i.e. replying to a notification email with an attachment strips out the attachment).

I have no option but to tell my staff not to use Conversations until the hot mess it is, is fixed. No-one should have to try to figure out what is going on when using the system. When messages appear in email systems, people treat them as they do  normal email. If there are issues with using Conversations with external email systems, then don't use them.

There are real issues with unpredictable behaviour leading to a serious privacy breach.

Had I known Conversations would cause me so much angst before we went with Canvas..............

Someone please tell me that Instructure has thought all of this out and that the Conversations system works well - if so, I'll delete this post! But at the moment, it seems to me to be a hot mess that needs to be fixed.

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8 Replies
Community Team
Community Team


I have been in direct conversation with you, but I just wanted to make sure to post here so that others knew we were not ignoring you!  We are still looking into this.  Thank you for the scenarios you sent.  They have been very helpful.

Thank you Renee. I've experimented with some scenarios under test conditions over the past day or so - I'll post sometime today.

There are a few nuances that I already knew about Conversations in Canvas, and I learned a couple things while exploring this further.

What I knew (from my 5+ years as an LMS admin)

  1. Best practice is to always have instructors select 'individual message' when sending any message that does not warrant group conversation.
  2. If a student replies to a group message with confidential information, always check the recipient list when responding.  When in doubt (ex. email inboxes only show the communications path URL, not a list of recipients) create a new individual message to the user.

What I learned

  1. Conversations in the app reply to everyone in the recipient list by default.  Conversations are not forked or threaded when using the app.
  2. The app inbox does not have a feature to select 'individual message' when sending a message.  Instructors will want to be very selective when using the app to initiate group conversations.
  3. Replying from an email notification is super efficient, but there are some subtleties that are missed in the communication channel.  Email notifications will also always function with a 'reply all'.  In this case, individual messages will function perfect.  The potential for sharing confidential information occurs if a student replies from the app (reply all) and the instructor replies from an email notification or the app (both are reply all).

I'm not sure that what I learned warrants a 'hot mess', but it does possibly warrant some training or reminders to faculty.  Overall, if they use the 'individual message' function, all concerns are alleviated.  I relate it to teaching faculty how to use BCC instead of CC in basic email.

Does that help?

Thanks Renee. This does help, although it is still confusing. If a teacher has to think carefully about from which channel they are sending a message rather than simply sending the message, then the system is flawed.

The behaviour for messaging should be the same regardless of which medium you are in - browser, app, or email notification. If a message is sent to me in Conversations and I receive an email notification, if I hit Reply, I expect it to go to only the sender, not the group. I don’t know whether or not the sender has clicked “Send individual notifications”. Invariably, in an institution with over 3000 users in it, someone somewhere along the line will forget to click that checkbox, or send the message through the app not realising they are sending a group message.

If the only users in the system are teachers and students, then the problems aren’t as severe. When you have parents as observers, the problems are greater.

Consider this possible scenario: I send a message through the app regarding an upcoming excursion to all students and observers (parents). A parent replies to me that her daughter can’t attend as she has ongoing issues with another student in the class. No-one else in the course gets the notification, given that observers are prevented from messaging anyone else in the course - apart from he daughter, which could be a problem for the mother and daughter if the content relates to the daughter. A further problem arises if I reply to the parent through the app with more personal details about the situation - not realising I have just sent it through to the entire group.

With email, this would only occur if the parent clicked Reply All, and then I replied to her with Reply All. Most people avoid this by understanding the implications of clicking Reply All. With Conversations, it doesn’t seem to matter - if a parent clicks Reply, an individual message is not sent to me - it is sent to the Conversation, and my reply is added to the conversation.

Given the potential problems with group messaging, individual notifications should be the default, and the implications for sending through a group message made clear, and send individual messages made the default on the apps.

I completely agree with the use cases you present.  When I chatted with the product team we discussed examples just like this.  Just like the cases I presented, in the one you have above, the instructor should use the 'individual message' feature - for there isn't a need for collaborative discussion on that topic.

If you have specific ideas on how conversations can be improved, I would encourage you to create a feature idea. 

Let me know if you have any questions about feature ideas.  You can find more information in

Couldn't some of what​ reported be submitted as a bug?  While I appreciate the feature idea and voting, this is the sort of thing where the system clearly does not seem to be working the way it should--or at least the way most users would anticipate it to work.  Some of what Sam is reporting could be a FERPA violation depending on the content of the message one is replying to.  Most email users are used to seeing a "reply" or a "reply all" button, regardless of the platform used.  I was grateful to Sam for earlier pointing out an issue with email attachments, and this one is quite similar in nature to the Inbox/Conversations not working as an average end user would necessarily expect.

Community Coach
Community Coach​,

Were you able to find an answer to your question? I am going to go ahead and mark this question as answered because there hasn't been any more activity in a while so I assume that you have the information that you need. If you still have a question about this or if you have information that you would like to share with the community, by all means, please do come back and leave a comment.


I have not received notification of any changes to the way the system works.