Facilitating Student Group Work in Canvas

There are several tools that can empower your students to connect and collaborate effectively. Which of these could help you achieve your course goals?

Canvas Discussions

Perhaps the most straightforward interface for student discussion threads, Canvas Discussions facilitate interactions among students on an unlimited number of topics. Threads can be informal spaces or created as assignments for seamless integration with the grade-book. To enhance engagement, students can post video replies in addition to text.

Pro-tip: Early in the semester, use Canvas Discussions to host student introductions and build community in your course. 

Canvas Groups

Canvas allows you to form dynamic student groups within your course. Group members can create discussions, store files, manage a calendar, collaborate on documents, and submit assignments together. This helps keep students organized when working on a course project and saves you time searching for individual submissions. This tool is also a great way to encourage students to self-organize study groups (you can assign students to groups or allow them to self-enroll). Consider suggesting this at the start of term to facilitate peer teaching. 

Pro-tip: When naming groups, include your course title in the name. This is helpful because Canvas lets students view a list of all groups they are part of across all classes. Help them find yours easily!


Piazza is a Q&A forum and another place where students can create study groups. In fact, if all students engage with this tool, the entire class studies together, learning from each other’s questions. Unlike Canvas Discussions, Piazza permits anonymous posts, which allows students to ask questions more freely. Students benefit from a central repository of course Q&A and you avoid having to answer common questions multiple times.

Pro-tip: To encourage engagement, consider directing students to post questions about the course to Piazza rather than emailing you – and let them know how often you will be checking it.

Google Docs… in Canvas!

By now, we have all collaborated on our fair share of Google docs. As shared documents proliferate, it can be difficult to keep track of them. Help students stay organized by directing them to the “Collaborations” tab in your Canvas course navigation. Here, you or your students can create docs that are automatically shared with a chosen set of students. The documents remain available through your Canvas course, so they won’t get lost in your students’ other files. You can create spreadsheets and presentations here as well. Just select “GoogleApps” in the “Collaborate using” dropdown menu. 

Pro-tip: Google slides can be used for more than presentations. These also make great spaces for students to collaborate on concept maps and organize notes spatially.