Canvas Discussions Redesign offers instructors the ability to create anonymous spaces for student engagement that might otherwise be stifled by social pressure.

Anonymity is a tricky pedagogical tool. On one hand, it can encourage learners to engage more honestly. While on the other hand, we have this sense that anonymous responders will seize the opportunity to enact violence.  

Nevertheless, I have found myself needing a space in which students can vent, ask questions, or even give kudos to their classmates without feeling like there will be judgment or retribution. Luckily, this solution comes with the possibility for students to hold each other accountable. Enter Canvas Discussions Redesign.

Why use Canvas Discussion Redesign? 

Like all tools, it’s valuable for us to consider our pedagogical aim. For me, I wanted a space in which my learners could vent about an emotional experience free of judgment. My students having the ability to share anonymously made for a discussion board full of raw emotion, which I needed and wanted to see. 

Another possible application of this feature is to have a semester-long discussion open for general questions or even suggestions. You could think of this as a suggestion box. Again, the ability to engage anonymously might help your students feel more comfortable posting questions and suggestions because they do not have to fear retribution. Many of us have been in situations where we had questions/suggestions and didn’t share because we were concerned about perception.  

I often have students post on a discussion board at the end of class to inform me and their classmates of any remaining questions they have and/or the biggest takeaway from the lesson. I typically grade these discussions, so I have not utilized the anonymous posting option for this. But I could see students appreciating anonymity for this activity as well. This would be especially useful as a digital alternative for those of us who have students list these items on Post-It Notes at the end of class.  

One final possible application is a kudos/praise discussion board. Students can log in to that space and anonymously or openly praise their classmates for the work that they are doing. Maybe, they praise a particularly thoughtful comment that was made in class, or they give a shoutout to someone who gave an engaging presentation. Again, anonymity might provide a kind of safe space for students to engage here.

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How do you set this up? 

Discussions Redesign is a feature option in Canvas that is not automatically turned on. But it is relatively easy to enable and use. I should note that this will also automatically turn on the Announcements Redesign since they are a shared feature. For that reason, it would be worthwhile to check out both features before turning this on.  

Once you have turned the feature on, creating a discussion board is mostly the same. You will still navigate to the Discussions option in your left-hand navigation menu. Then, you’ll click on the +Discussion button.  

This will open a page where you can set up your discussion using the rich content editor (RCE), much like you have in the past. The main difference is in the options for anonymity. You’ll see those options below the RCE.  

Options - Anonymous Discussion
Off (Selected)

The redesign offers three possible posting options for the instructor to set. If you do not feel that anonymity is needed or useful, you can select off. This will keep post authors identifiable.  

You can select Partial if you want the students to have the choice to be anonymous. When they are replying, there will be a dropdown menu that allows them to select anonymous or their name. This gives students some agency in whether they can be identified. I have typically utilized this option, but I will say that when I have, the students have all chosen to be anonymous.  

The last option is for the discussion board to be fully anonymous. It should be noted that in all options, the instructor’s identity will remain visible.  

One last item that I will point out is that students can report posts. I put a lot of trust in our students, and I really do not think they’ll choose to be disruptive in these anonymous spaces. But should a student do so, it can be reported by a classmate.  

If that happens, you’ll be notified via email with a link to the post. At that point, you can choose how to deal with the issue. You can delete the post, or you could choose to respond to the post to inform the class why it is inappropriate behavior for that space. What you choose to do there will likely vary based on the severity of the post and your own philosophy.  


Canvas Discussions Redesign has provided a space in which my students can feel safe to share emotional experiences that they might otherwise censor or withhold. But I can see other applications where anonymity can provide safety for students to engage in ways that they might otherwise not.  

How might you utilize Discussions Redesign in your course? I’d love to see what other possible applications you all might think of!

  • 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.