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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 polled in 2020 responded 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

Online discussions

Online asynchronous discussion gives teaching staff and students a space to actively engage with the course and each other.

At their best, such discussions:

  • Increase student-student interaction.
  • Establish a learning relationship between the teacher and student.
  • Support and grow confidence, competence, and autonomy.
  • Increase critical engagement with the contents of the course.
  • Open new channels for fast informal feedback.
  • Build a genuine learning community that is not bound by the confines of the physical classroom.

For teaching staff, online discussions can:

  • Reduce time spent addressing common questions and misunderstandings.
  • Provide feedback on how students are engaging with the course.
  • Identify knowledge gaps or areas for improvement in how the course is taught.

However, to realise these benefits, online discussions must be purposefully designed, framed, and facilitated. An unplanned or unattended discussion forum is unlikely to be effective.

In order to maximise the positive effects, include ways to:

  • Establish and maintain the discussion forum as a safe and inclusive space.
  • Clearly communicate what the students can expect from the discussion.
  • Manage the volume of activity on the discussion.

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 use 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.

Other advantages of Canvas Discussions:

  • Best for course dialogue.*
  • Integrated with Canvas.
  • Allows for group and graded discussions.

* Students engage in debate, discussion, critical discourse, and collaboration.

Piazza discussions

The Piazza discussion tool is integrated with Canvas and can be used as an alternative to Canvas’ built-in Discussions. 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.

Add Piazza to your Canvas course menu from the Canvas Settings > Navigation options.

Some advantages

  • Good for course questions and answers (Q+A).*
  • Most effective with larger cohorts (>50).
  • Includes features for managing high response volumes.

* Students ask, answer, and share questions about the content or management of the course.


  • Students are able to sign up as an instructor in your Piazza discussion. To avoid this, disable the self-signup feature (under the Manage Class setting).
    Piazza screenshot with instructor self-signup option disabled
  • Students who are not part of your class are able to search for and sign up to your Piazza discussions. To avoid this, add an access code to the Piazza discussion (under the Manage Class setting). Either share the access code with your class or keep it secret and manually enrol each student.
    Screenshot of Piazza access code setting

See also

The University of Sydney also provides a comparison 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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