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Collaboration with Canvas Groups 


With the start of the new year, it’s the perfect time to set resolutions to enhance your online teaching practices. One common resolution is to provide opportunities for student collaboration. Education has repeatedly recognized collaboration as a powerful learning strategy. Research has shown that collaboration can improve students’ knowledge of the topics taught and teach important collaborative skills needed for their careers (Flaherty, 2022). Additionally, collaboration in online courses can create a sense of community and facilitate student engagement, improving student satisfaction and learning quality (Young & Bruce, 2011). Despite these benefits, crafting successful collaborative assignments in an online course can be challenging. If adding collaboration to your online course is one of your resolutions this year, Canvas Groups is the perfect tool for you to explore. In this article, we will explore what Canvas Groups are and some of this tool’s key features that can help you create effective collaborative assignments.

Overview of Canvas Groups

Canvas Groups allows you to split students into smaller groups within your Canvas course to create group assignments and provide students with a workspace for collaboration. To access this feature, go to your Canvas course and choose the People tab from the Course Navigation menu. Once in the People tab, you will see Groups at the top of the page. Here, you can set up new groups and view and manage existing groups. There are various features available within Canvas Groups including options for setting up groups, tools to facilitate group communication, and the ability to create group assignments and discussions.

Setting Up Groups

Canvas Groups gives you multiple options to set up your student groups, allowing you to choose what works best for your assignment. If you have already created groups, you can manually create groups and assign students to them yourself. If you want to randomize the groups, Canvas can automatically create groups and assign students. You can also select the self sign-up option, allowing students to sign up for groups on their own. With these options, you can adjust the settings based on your needs, such as limiting the number of students in a group or requiring group members to be in the same section.

Canvas Groups also helps you to set student roles. Setting student roles can provide structure and ensure each member has a clear part to play in completing the assignment. Canvas Groups allows you to set a group leader for each group either manually or automatically. If you choose automatic, you have the option for Canvas to randomly assign a leader or for the first student to join the group to be the leader. The group leader can edit the group name and manage it by adding or removing group members.

Group Communication

A common complaint students have when working on online group assignments is that they struggle to communicate with one another. Groups may not know the best way to communicate in a timely manner or how to collaborate on tasks. With Canvas Groups, group members communication is streamlined through the group workspace and Canvas Inbox. Once groups have been created, Canvas will automatically create a workspace for each group. Only the group members will have access to this space. Within their group workspace, students can send out Announcements and create Discussions to communicate with one another. They can also create Pages, share Files, and create collaborative Google or Microsoft documents through Collaborations, making it easier for them to collaborate on tasks. Instructors have access to each group’s workspace, allowing you to communicate directly with each group and check-in on the work happening in their workspace. Canvas Groups also integrates with Canvas Inbox, making sending messages to groups easier. When sending a message, students and instructors can choose a student group as the recipient and then send a message to individual group members or the entire group.

Group Assignments and Discussions

You can create both Canvas Assignments and Discussions using the groups you create in your course. If you create a group Canvas Assignment, students can work together on the assignment and then submit it as a group. Only one student has to submit the assignment on behalf of the group. When grading a group assignment, you can assign a grade and provide feedback comments to the entire group in Speedgrader. You also have the option to assign grades to each student individually. With this option, you can enter a grade for each individual member of the group, and you can choose to send feedback comments to the individual student or the whole group. This is a good option if you plan to adjust students’ grades to reflect their individual contributions to the assignment. For example, you can create a peer evaluation for students to provide feedback on their group members’ contributions and use this feedback when grading. If students know you are evaluating them, on their individual contributions, they may be more motivated to participate, which can prevent unequal task distribution and hold each person accountable.

You can also set up group discussions in Canvas. When you create a group Canvas Discussion, Canvas will create a copy of the discussion board prompt so that students interact with their smaller groups instead of the entire class. This is a great feature if you have a large online course. Discussions with a lot of students can become overwhelming, which can lead to students all replying to the same one or two posts. Using group discussions can be less overwhelming for students as they have fewer posts to read and respond to. This can lead to better quality responses and diversify points of conversation. Students will only be able to see their group’s discussion, so it can be helpful to send out an announcement to the class after the due date to share common themes or interesting points you noticed. If you have multiple discussions, you can change the groups throughout the semester to allow students to interact with different peers.


Canvas Groups is the perfect tool to meet your resolution and enhance your online teaching practices through effective collaboration. By providing multiple options for group structure, a platform for group communication, and the ability to create both group assignments and discussions, Canvas Groups makes it simple to create opportunities for collaboration that will foster student engagement with your course material. If you’re interested in further exploring Canvas Groups and discussing how you can utilize this tool in your course, you can reach out to your Instructional Designer for support and ideas.


Flaherty, H. B. (2022). Using collaborative group learning principles to foster community in online classrooms. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 42(1), 31-44. https://doi.org/10.1080/08841233.2021.2013390

Young, S., & Bruce, M. A. (2011). Classroom community and student engagement in online courses. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7(2), 219-230. https://jolt.merlot.org/vol7no2/young_0611.pdf

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Noelle Frantz
CIRT | Instructional Designer