Learn how to set up a dynamic reflective space for your learners through the creative use of built-in Canvas tools.

Reflection has been a huge part of my learning, and I engage my students in some of that deep thought in my courses. I value reflection because it provides learners and instructors with the opportunity to construct meaning from their work rather than passively engage with it (Costa and Kallick 2000). 

There are various methods for engaging learners in reflection, but Costa and Kallick outline a few strategies that I think are quite commonly used in reflective classrooms: 

  1. Metacognitive reflections prompt learners to think about thinking. This strategy has students write or share aloud their thought process when solving a problem or completing a task in your classroom.  
  2. Collaborative dialogues prompt learners to reflect on the progress with learning the course objectives. To do this, consider setting aside time for learners to think about what they have learned and how they might be able to apply it to their future work.  
  3. Portfolios and Journals provide an archive of learning that students and instructors can look back on. This allows instructors and students to see snapshots of progress at various stages of the learning process.  
  4. Provide models of reflection. Reflection is a skill, and it is helpful for learners to have some examples. Costa and Kallick suggest that this model can be the instructor, but they also state that novels or movies can provide that model for learners.  

(Costa and Kallick 2000, pp 61-62)

My Personal Frustration 

While my courses have largely been in-person, I have found that the most frustrating thing for me is that I haven’t had a good digital method for collecting, collating, and interacting with my learners on those reflections.  

I have had them keep physical journals or submit a word document in the learning management system. But I want a digital space that allows students to reflect and refer back to previous reflections as well as a space in which I can nimbly interact with them. There are times when group reflection is helpful because learners can acquire skills and ideas from each other that way. But I think that having a private space might allow some learners to feel more open to share, especially if the interaction from the instructor warmly encourages that kind of openness.  

After doing some research into what other folks are doing, I came across a post in the Canvas Community pages where an instructor was asking a similar question. One of the respondents suggested a creative use of the groups and discussion tools in Canvas to set up private journals for learners. 

Regardless of whether you incorporate reflection or you are curious about how to practically engage learners in it, I would like to walk you through the process for setting up private digital journals. Along the way, I also hope to illustrate the benefits of utilizing this digital method in Canvas.

Setting Up the Groups 

In order to get this to work, you will need to set up groups in your Canvas space. You will also need to make sure that each group only has one learner in it.  

To do this, complete the following steps: 

  1. Navigate to your Canvas course 
  2. Click on “People” in your left-hand course navigation menu 
  3. Click “+ Group Set” 
  4. Give this group set a name. You may want to call it something like “Journals.” 
  5. In the “Group Structure” drop-down menu, select “Split Number of Students Per Group.”  
  6. In the box that appears below that, increase the number to 1. 
  7. Click “Save”
Create Group Set Canvas dialogue

This should automatically divide the students into their own groups. So, if you have 30 students, you should have 30 groups with one student in each. Once you have created this group, you can then create the journaling space.  

Setting Up the Journaling Space 

To get the students set up with their journaling space, you will need to create a discussion board. This sounds counterintuitive because you aren’t creating a class discussion, but this is the best tool for creating the space that I am referring to.  

To do this, you’ll need to: 

  1. Navigate to your course discussions by clicking the “Discussions” link in your left-hand navigation menu 
  2. Click on “+ Discussion” 
  3. Provide a title and relevant directions 
  4. Scroll down and check the box that reads “This is a Group Discussion” 
  5. In the drop-down menu, select the group set that you created for this. 
  6. Input any due dates or check any of the options that are relevant to this assignment for you. 
  7. Click “Save” if you want to come back to this or “Save and Publish” if you are ready for the students to interact in this space.  
Discussion Reflection Journal Example in Canvas

Once this is saved and published, students will be able to click into this discussion board and will only see their own posts. They can journal about their learning experiences over time here, and you are able to interact in that space with them.  

Why Would I Do This? 

If reflection is an integral part of your course, this space provides learners with the opportunity to go back, refer to, or even respond to their past posts. So perhaps, a learner poses a question that they are grappling with in an early post. Later in the semester, they are introduced to a new concept that answers that question for them. They can respond in that space making the connection for themselves, but you are also able to see how and when they made that connection.  

This also offers learners the opportunity to respond in text, audio, or video, and they can easily link to relevant items as well as upload pictures. They can really make the space work in whatever way is most meaningful for them and their learning.  

As the instructor, you are also able to check in with your students from time to time to see what connections they are making. Additionally, you can interact with them via text, audio, or video. This is a great way for you to provide specific resources or feedback to your students as you see what they are grappling with individually.  

Share in the comments below how you engage your learners in reflection. If you feel like this would be a useful method for your courses, let us know how you intend to use it! 


Costa, Arthur L., and Bena Kallick. “Getting into the Habit of Reflection.” Educational Leadership 57, no. 7 (April 2000): 60-62. https://search-ebscohost-com.proxy.bsu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tfh&AN=3162325&site=ehost-live&scope=site.  

  • Shane Lanning (they/them)

    Shane Lanning is an Instructional Consultant in the Division of Online and Strategic Learning. Their academic background includes an MA in Linguistics and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), which they earned at Ball State, and they are currently pursuing a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition. They previously taught as an Instructor of ESL in the Intensive English Institute where they developed a passion for international students and internationalization efforts; moreover, Shane strives for an inclusive teaching practice and is interested in exploring how to best achieve community in a rapidly evolving educational landscape.

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