• Resources
  • Blog
  • 4 Ways to Improve Online Discussions in Canvas Using Harmonize

4 Ways to Improve Online Discussions in Canvas Using Harmonize

Here are the four ways that institutions, like the University of Michigan, Brown University, Meridian Community College, Fayetteville State University, and the Virginia Community College System, are boosting the quality and frequency of student participation in online discussions.


With Canvas already core to your students’ learning, we know it’s important to create a cohesive digital experience for students if you want to continue boosting engagement. That means finding tools that integrate with and enrich the learning experience in Canvas. The online discussion board is proving to be one of the most powerful digital learning tools. In fact, thoughtful online class discussions encourage more peer-to-peer interaction, which studies show drastically improves engagement and student achievement.

Institutions using Harmonize’s discussion tool in Canvas have seen significant increases in student engagement, participation, and the quality of interactions. In this article, we’re sharing the four best ways that institutions, like the University of Michigan, Brown University, Meridian Community College, Fayetteville State University, and the Virginia Community College System, are boosting the quality and frequency of student participation in online discussions. Let’s see how they’re doing it!

Watch the video below or keep scrolling to read:

1. Multiple Due Dates

Multiple due dates, or what we call ‘Milestones’ in Harmonize, let an instructor set clear expectations for student participation. By setting milestones with notifications, students are reminded of approaching deadlines — pulling them back into the conversation on an ongoing basis AND eliminating the onslaught of eleventh-hour posts that often inundate instructors.

How it Works:

Milestones allow an instructor to set multiple due dates for an assignment, requiring a certain number of discussion posts, comments, and reactions by specific due dates. This provides students with clear instructions and sets baseline expectations for how often students should be interacting.

Students can easily view their progress and due dates on each post as well as in the calendar/to-do list within Canvas. Best of all, milestones encourage more meaningful contributions from students, encouraging them to post beyond the surface-level comments that often accompany last-minute submissions. And when you enable Harmonize’s auto-grading with your milestones, you can save time by automatically evaluating student participation.

When Meridian Community College started using milestones to power ongoing course discussions in Canvas, the institution experienced a 56% increase in student engagement. With students required to comment on a classmate’s post, create a response to a discussion prompt, and add reactions throughout discussions, MCC saw 4x the increase in discussion board participation.

The Result: See ongoing participation from students and no longer drown in a flurry of last-minute posts.

2. A Mobile-first, Familiar-Feeling Interface

You know as well as anyone that today’s students are digital natives and accustomed to communicating with one another online and building community virtually. Because of that, they naturally expect this to bubble over into their online learning experiences — and that includes online discussions. So if you want to increase engagement in discussions, you’ll want to be sure your discussion board is something they’d want to use.

How it Works:

Harmonize’s intuitive, user-friendly design looks similar to social media apps, which makes it naturally easier for students and instructors to use. With familiar features like tagging, notifications, and in-app & email notifications, students can complete assignments without any training, which increases the likelihood they’ll continue using it. It’s also available 24/7 and made for mobile devices — perfect for students on the go and allowing all students to connect and participate at any time.

When Brown University implemented Harmonize, conversations became better and more frequent. With features familiar to students, like the ability to post and reply with in-line media, tagging, and social-media reactions, students felt comfortable and began participating voluntarily — often without being prompted. James Foley, Director for Digital Learning & Design, adds, “Harmonize elevated our course discussion experiences for students. With features that keep students engaged, it’s flexible for all users and has the kind of built-in social engagement that increases student participation.”

The Result: An easy-to-access, social media-inspired interface encourages student activity.

An Engaging online discussion board includes multimedia, polls, and ongoing interaction. An Engaging online discussion board includes multimedia, polls, and ongoing interaction.

3. Multimedia & Annotation

The more traditional discussion approach to discussion forums only gives students one way to contribute, and that’s limiting for many. What results are long, text-heavy discussions, a lack of interactivity, and a recipe for total student disengagement.

How it Works:

But with Harmonize, students can submit written responses, create snippets of audio, make and send videos, annotate images and video, as well as launch or respond to polls right from within discussion boards. Instructors can also use multimedia and annotate students’ work, providing a visual form of feedback to help students improve — important when you consider the role visuals play in improving students’ learning.

When the University of Michigan started incorporating multimedia into their discussions — expanding the ways in which students could express themselves — they began to see an increase in organic interaction among students. U-M faculty had a new level of instructional flexibility that could cater to students’ different learning styles, and students were able to start building stronger social connections among each other.

“Harmonize supports every learner. It allows my students to pause, observe, and reflect before entering the discussion with their peers, which is helping us create a stronger social learning community,” notes R. Bruno, English Professor at the University of Michigan.

The Result: Supporting diverse learning styles engages students more deeply in their learning.

4. SpeedGrader & Plagiarism Integrations for Easier Grading

In today’s day and age, instructors shouldn’t have to waste their time on manual tasks, transferring grades, or copy & pasting for plagiarism checks. By providing all of the information instructors need on one page, Harmonize makes it easy to evaluate student performance and provide feedback, auto-grade participation, and have those grades automatically passed back to Canvas.

How it Works:

Harmonize’s activity dashboards provide an at-a-glance view of everything an instructor needs to evaluate student work, with the ability to drill down into a student’s specific posts and responses. This provides a more holistic view of how well students are developing and mastering course material, as well as how engaged they are in the material. Instructors can:

  • Auto-grade student participation or use rubrics to assess student performance.
  • Automatically send feedback and grades back to Canvas through Harmonize’s SpeedGrader integration.
  • Automatically check for plagiarism through Harmonize’s integrations with Turnitin, Unicheck, an Ouriginal.

But don’t take our word for it. When the Virginia Community College System was looking for a solution to seamlessly integrate with Canvas, they saw that Harmonize would streamline the grading experience for instructors, allowing them to focus more of their time on feedback and instruction.

Now with Single Sign-On through Canvas and built-in plagiarism detection, instructors have a more holistic view of a student’s performance in discussions so they can more quickly provide feedback — no longer spending hours searching for posts. In a survey of faculty using Harmonize at Virginia’s Tidewater Community College:

  • 71% said using auto-grading made grading easier when compared to other discussion platforms, crediting the milestone multiple due date feature.
  • 86% found Harmonize effective for grading and giving feedback.
  • 100% said uploading, creating, and sharing content was easy.

Similarly, at Fayetteville State University, instructors felt better equipped to evaluate participation. By taking advantage of Harmonize’s activity dashboards, auto-grading, as well as SpeedGrader and plagiarism detection integrations, instructors saved valuable time. Added bonus…easing the administrative burden on instructors also helped increase adoption. After one term of use, a survey of FSU instructors showed that:

  • 9 out of 10 of instructors would recommend using Harmonize to their peers, and
  • 100% were satisfied with online discussions in Harmonize

“Harmonize gave our faculty all the extra things that they couldn’t do with previous tools and that made all the difference for student engagement. Better integrations, easier grading, and rich multimedia and video discussions got our instructors and students more engaged across the board,” says Dr. Claudette Fuller, Instructional Designer at FSU.

The Result: Streamlined grading, less clicks, and a more cohesive teaching experience saves instructors time so they can focus on providing feedback.

A Seamless Integration with Canvas – In Under 30 Minutes

You could integrate Harmonize’s suite of digital discussion and collaboration tools seamlessly with Canvas to facilitate a more engaging online learning experience. Harmonize’s full and seamless LTI 1.3 integration with Canvas means no additional logins for users and a streamlined, time-saving grading experience for instructors.

We invite you to try Harmonize for free for one semester. With our exclusive Canvas Pilot Program, you’ll gain full access to Harmonize’s discussion & collaboration tools, which have proven to:

  • Increase student engagement & participation in online courses
  • Create an inclusive and accessible learning environment for all students
  • Save instructors time

It’s everything instructors need to increase student engagement online. And in just 30 minutes, you could well be on your way to building a stronger, more engaged social learning community for students. If you’re interested in trying Harmonize in Canvas for free, sign up here.


Related Articles