Asynchronous discussions facilitate communication through text, video, audio, and/or images, and allows people to post and respond to each other in staggered time, based on the individual’s availability. As opposed to synchronous (real-time) communication, asynchronous communication allows learners to develop their thoughts more deeply because they have preparation and reflection time when not actively participating; they can review, research, and curate additional materials to incorporate into their contributions in the forum.
Discussions can be used for different purposes: introductions and community building, content engagement, real-world application, reflection, experience sharing and story-telling, problem solving, critical analysis, and debate. The forums can be organized as whole-class or small groups. Anchored (or “focused”) forums are short-lived and task-oriented (e.g. weekly forum for questions related to activities). Threaded forums are persistent and process-oriented long-standing spaces that let students refine complex ideas throughout a course.
Currently, the most common tools to facilitate asynchronous discussions are Canvas Discussions and Piazza. Learn more about the affordances of each tool by reviewing, Canvas Discussions vs. Piazza and review the detailed info below.
Pedagogical implications of asynchronous communication
Canvas provides an integrated system for class discussions, allowing both instructors and students to start and contribute to as many discussion topics as desired. Discussions allows for interactive communication between two or more people; users can participate in a conversation with an entire class or group.
Discussions can also be created as an assignment for grading purposes (and seamlessly integrated with the Canvas Gradebook), or simply serve as a forum for topical and current events. Discussions can also be created within student groups.
Discussion topics can be organized as focused or threaded discussions. Focused discussions only allow for two levels of nesting, the original post and subsequent replies. Threaded discussions allow for infinite levels of nesting. Focused discussions are relatively short-lived interactions, while threaded discussions allow replies within replies and may last for a longer period of time.
- How to create a Canvas Discussion
- How to Create Group-based Canvas Discussions
- How to Post Audio Comments in Canvas Discussion Forum posts
- Responding with Video in Canvas Discussions
- How to add a Rubric to a Graded Discussion
- How to use Peer Review in a Canvas Discussion
- Canvas Guides Discussion index
Piazza is an external tool, meaning it is not a native Canvas tool, but it can be integrated into Canvas, and UW-Madison and Piazza have reached an agreement that provides protection for student and faculty data and intellectual property.
Affordances of Piazza
- Organize discussions in channels called folders. (It’s less linear than Canvas Discussions tool.) For example you can have a folder for HW, Exam, and Topic and ‘add’ the same post to multiple channels.
- Instructor-endorsed answers. If a student answers another student’s question, an instructor can “endorse” it. The instructor endorsement is visible to everyone in the class.
- Allow anonymous posts, so students can ask questions they may not ask otherwise.
- Enable group-based discussions.
- Instructors can change visibility after a post has been made, moving it from a group to class-wide visibility (and vice versa)
- Mark responses as resolved/unresolved
- Reference other posts and replies using @mentions
- Use the class statistics page to gain insight into learning
- View the question history along the top of the post, to see who posted responses and when
- Allow students to edit each other’s posts, to have a collaborative wiki-style response
- Utilize a single Piazza space across several Canvas courses and sections
- Instructors can post Notes and notify students immediately via email, bypassing user notification settings
- When posting a new question, Piazza offers duplicate post suggestion, to alert the user and avoid redundancy