About communicating with students in Canvas

Last updated: March 23, 2023
Audience: Instructors

One of the best things about Canvas is the way it can help you stay in touch with your students. Canvas provides multiple avenues of communication, each one useful in a different way. Read on to get an overview of the communication options. Or, to delve deeper into using one method, follow the links below to the online Canvas documentation.

You can communicate with students using:

Announcements help you reach a large number of students at once and are useful when you want to:

  • Point students to internal and external resources in the form of written content/attachments or even audio/video comments.
  • Remind students about upcoming deadlines.
  • Announce important events that may be of interest to your students.
  • Feed a custom RSS feed related to the topic of the course to your students.

Discussions within Canvas provide an integrated system for you and your students to start and contribute to discussion topics. Discussions can also be created as an assignment for grading purposes and can be integrated with the Canvas Gradebook.

Use Discussions to:

  • Follow-up on a conversation or questions that began in a face-to-face classroom.
  • Test student understanding about a discussion/conversation made in class.
  • Allow students to debate over ideas presented in class amongst themselves, while still in a supervised setting.
  • Use student input on the discussion boards to enhance and improve the effectiveness of class sessions.


Conferences can be used primarily for conducting virtual lectures and virtual office hours. You can use conferences to conduct presentations to a large online audience using webcams, audio, and desktop sharing abilities. Conferences also allow you to conduct a live chat session with the audience present in the conference room. Conference rooms can also be used by students to conduct group study sessions.

Use Conferences to:

  • Conduct a live lecture or session to the students that can’t be onsite.
  • Connect with your students for online office hours or special study sessions.
  • Use the meeting room for one-on-one sessions with students in a virtual environment.
  • Invite special guests to your classroom by adding them as a student or observer to your course.

Conversations/Canvas inbox

Canvas Conversations uses the Inbox/Messages within the Global Navigation area to deliver and send messages in multiple formats between instructors and students. You can view and reply to conversations and sort them by course. You can communicate with an individual student or all the students in a course. Students can retrieve messages sent to their Canvas Inbox via an alternative email address, text message or social media, depending on how students choose to configure notification settings in Canvas. Canvas users can also retrieve messages sent to the Canvas Inbox on their mobile devices. Students do not need to sign into Canvas in order to retrieve messages sent to their Inbox.

While classes are being conducted remotely, you can help students work together using any of these solutions:

  • Canvas Collaborations: Multiple users can work together on the same document at the same time. Collaborative documents are saved in real-time, meaning a change made by any of its users will be immediately visible to everyone. Students must log into the UW Google accounts, not their personal account to use Canvas Collaborations.
  • Canvas Groups: You can set up groups for your students or allow them to set up their own groups. Canvas Groups allow students to have a discussion board, to meet via Big Blue Button conferencing, and to collaborate on files. Learn how to set up Groups.
  • Zoom videoconferencing: Through the Zoom app in Canvas, students and instructors have access to Zoom for meetings of unlimited duration, with up to 300 participants. Students can use Zoom outside of Canvas to set up study groups.