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Community Member

Organizing Discussions

I am a long time user of Sakai and have recently (by force I may add) moved into Canvas.  Last semester my courses had over 350 students and they responded to more than 250 discussion topics with nearly 2000 posts during the 16 week session.  The Discussions was where students could ask questions regarding material from lectures, in class-assigned problems (that I did not provide answers for) or to simply post general questions about the course rather than flooding my email inbox.  Answer one....answer them all.  "Discussions" is where I directed them for everything that was not of a personal nature.  The information was categorized by Forums, Topics and Subtopics.  This kept things highly organized and very easily maneuverable for the students and myself as the material progressed from Test #1 to Test #2, etc.  I can see that this is no longer possible within Canvas "Discussion" where it seems every single item has to have its own listing and then can only be organized if it is under a Pinned Discussion.  By the end of the semester this list will become so cluttered that I am afraid that the students will no longer engage in an information platform that has in the past been so beneficial. 

Has anyone run into this issue and how have your resolved this organizational problem?


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19 Replies
Community Team
Community Team

Hi Deactivated user​

First, I want to acknowledge that I know change can be hard - especially when it is not necessarily your choice.

Second, Great question.  I'm hoping some of our great community members will jump in with their experience but I will also share this question with the Instructional Designers group to help draw attention to it.

Community Member

Hey Deactivated user​,

 @Renee_Carney ​ makes a great point that it's difficult to change, and it can be very frustrating when you have a system of course organization that doesn't fit exactly the same into a new LMS. Having said that, there are ways to use the Canvas discussions that may potentially help your situation. First, I would take a look over the Canvas Guide How do I use the Discussions Index Page?​ to learn the basics.

Next, as you mentioned in your question, you can use Pinned Discussions​ to create a set order of discussions. This would be one way to organize the discussions in an order of your choosing. I may also use a specific naming convention that could include Forum>Topic>Suptopic in the structure of each name. This would probably still be very cumbersome and overwhelming for students to try to navigate.

From an instructional design standpoint, if you find that students are asking similar questions from semester to semester then rather than having so much information organized into discussions​, you could compile a frequently asked questions faq page or pages of the course. That would give you greater control over organizing all of the topics without dealing with the discussions index page. However, if you really want to keep all of that content in the discussions then you could create a content page that organizes the discussions in the forum>topic>subtopic hierarchy. I've included a screenshot of a page that I used in a class I taught last semester. I created it as an index of external resources rather than course discussions, but you could create something similar to fit your needs. That way, you could still have the discussions, but rather than pointing your students to the discussions index page, you could point them to an organized index page of your own.

Anyway, those are just a few ideas that I think could help your situation as you try to make the transition. Let me know if you have any other questions.

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 4.42.16 PM.png

Community Member

You could also organize your discussions within a "module", creating a Discussions Index.  You could also provide a link to this module on your course home page.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 2.41.02 PM.png

Modules are a great way to organize almost anything in Canvas.  Definitely give it a try.

I use Modules to solve the problem, but the top navigation bar takes my students to the discussions page again. So it is causing navigation issues. It would be great if we could create folders or tabs like in modules. Another issue with canvas is that discussion posts/topics change their locations based on status. IT was terrible experience for me as a student.

Part of your concern here is related to the ​ feature idea. Vote on it if you haven't yet!

Community Team
Community Team

Deactivated user​

Did the above comments help?

Not really solving the issues though.

Community Member

First off, that is fantastic that your students are actively participating in what sounds like a true classroom environment in the digital platform. I suggest making modules for each exam or for each content area and placing your specific discussions for those topics within that module and hide the overall discussions tab. This way you are organizing the discussions to a certain part of the course or for a certain topic. You could also use an outside source, such as an interactive whiteboard or post it notes style application that allows the students to post and reply on a specific topic. Here is a link to a long list of tools similar to that: 102 Free (or Free-to-Try) Online Collaborative Learning Tools .

You could also decrease the amount of responses/discussions at the course level and organize the students into groups and they can have their discussions within their own group space. This could maintain your activity and allow for a bit more organization for the students, but it would require a little more work for you.

You could also use threaded replies to organize subtopics underneath a large discussion topic. You would have to go in and create the threads for them to discuss under, but that might help.