Communicating regularly is especially important when you cannot be in the same physical space as your students.

Contacting offshore students in Canvas – Semester Two 2020

Students were sent a welcome email with a link to remote learning resources in Canvas to get them started with their online learning. These can be accessed through the Learning Toolkit on the Course navigation for all Semester Two courses. View the Canvas resource here.

Course Coordinators can contact all students as they would normally through announcements on Canvas. If you have offshore students in your course, it would be good to consider this in your communication to all students or send a message to groups of students within your course.

Set expectations of students on how to engage with each other and guide them on the rules of etiquette and the use of social media. The following tools can help to maintain a connection, keeping them engaged with you, your course material, or one another.

Using Canvas Groups

For students who cannot meet face to face, groups can be an excellent way of creating online ‘spaces’ for students to connect, collaborate, and study together.

Groups in Canvas are useful for small group collaboration. It allows you to communicate separately to sub-groups within your course and can serve as an online ‘tutorial stream’ space. For example for students who are studying abroad we recommend assigning them to a Canvas Group. This allows you to communicate separately in order to offer additional support, as these students will have different needs from your on-campus cohort.

Breaking up larger courses into groups can help make some of these online activities more manageable, compared to addressing the entire class. Additionally, it may be more noticeable if some students stop engaging, allowing for quicker follow-up and intervention if necessary.

How to:

Students can access the group from the sidebar in Canvas.

Use Groups to:

  • Send announcements to group members.
  • Create group pages.
  • Share files just to group members.
  • Create group-specific discussions.
  • Create conferences (using BigBlueButton).

When using the Groups features in Canvas, we suggest you open the Group homepage first, then create your content as normal.

Video: How to manage students using Canvas Groups.


Use Canvas Announcements to communicate to your entire cohort, or if you have used Canvas Groups to group your students, use Announcements within the Group to make contact with these specific groups of students. Go to the Group homepage first before posting the announcement.

To communicate with individual students as needed, use the Inbox functionality in Canvas (see People tab and click the mail icon). You can also use a context card to contact a student directly.


  • Savvy students within the group will also be able to post announcements, but they will only be posted to the group.
  • Make sure students have set their Canvas Notifications settings to accept Announcements and Conversations.
  • Ask students to ensure their University email account is forwarding to their personal email address (for those who prefer to use personal email only).


Delayed posting functionality to avoid overwhelming students with announcements

Students may experience information overload, especially if they are receiving announcements at all times of the day and night.

While teaching staff often can only deal with these in the evenings/nights, it is good to reinforce that we are not expecting students to be studying 24/7, and that we acknowledge they have other pressures on their time.

Use the Canvas’ functionality of ‘delay posting’:

  • Tick Delay posting found in ‘Options’ immediately above the SAVE button.
  • This allows you to write announcements at any time and send it to students at a later date/time (for example, write it on a Friday night but delay sending it until Monday morning).

Canvas discussions

Canvas discussions can be used as an online equivalent to tutorials and collaborative work. This is a good option for holding an asynchronous interaction.

We suggest you set up a Discussion within Canvas Groups. A smaller group is easier to manage and it becomes much easier to spot disengaged students.

Discussions can be text based or multimedia. Using the Canvas Rich Content Editor, you and your students can record and upload video or audio clips to the discussion. This may be especially good for language courses.

If you want to give a student direct feedback on their discussion without posting a comment (which all students in the same discussion can see), make the discussion a graded discussion and use the feedback mechanisms within SpeedGrader to give individual feedback.


The Piazza discussion tool is integrated with Canvas and can be used as an alternative to Canvas’ built-in Discussions tool. One of the main differences with Piazza is that students can edit their posts and post anonymously. This obviously has its pros and cons depending on where you’re pitching the discussion; always remind students (up-front) about the rules of engagement.

Piazza has been activated for all Canvas courses at the University. Add it to your course menu from the Settings > Navigation options.

There are also many other differences that the University of Sydney describes in this comparison chart between Piazza and Canvas Discussions.

Canvas Chat

This tool enables synchronous text chat (on-screen instant messaging). You might consider using it for virtual office hours – more manageable with small cohorts – whereby you tell students what time you will be online.

See the instructions for setting up Chat on the Canvas Resources website.


If you require live-streaming and chat of small-group work, you can use video conferencing in WeChat (also available from within China). We recommend that you practice using WeChat with a colleague before attempting to use it for the first time with a class.

Download WeChat to your mobile phone Using Google Play Store or iPhone App Store. The App uses voice/video over IP so it does not incur mobile calling rates, though make sure you are connected to WiFi so that it does not use your mobile data either.

  1. Create a WeChat account.
  2. Create a Group in WeChat, using your course name (e.g., EDCURRIC720).
  3. Get a QR code for your group for students to access the video conference.
  4. Embed the QR code image in your Canvas page.

A detailed guide on WeChat.

Other features of WeChat.

Additional reading
What is netiquette and why is it important in online courses? (Salk Lake Community College)