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

Contacting offshore students in Canvas

Please note, a link to learning online resources has been added to the course navigation in Canvas courses.

Course coordinators can contact all students as they would normally through Canvas Announcements. If you have offshore students in your course, you can message them separately by posting to a course Section. These students are identified by section codes (OO, NO, NFxx or SWxx in Canvas). Find out more about students identified as studying online.

Feedback from students

Students in 2020 included that they would benefit from more communication from teaching staff, for example:

  • Please don’t stop sending us messages if we don’t reply – we still see them
  • Please overemphasise things like assignment due dates and remind us. Even if it’s in Canvas, don’t assume we know.
  • Please use plain language and repeat information in different places (as long as the information is consistent!)

Communication tools

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, and Groups in Canvas is 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.

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.

Note: Students who are studying abroad will be allocated into Sections, which are different from Groups. This page documents the difference between Groups and Sections.

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 screenshot showing the options for delaying an announcement.

Click to enlarge

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.

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.

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