Asynchronous Course Discussions

Asynchronous discussions can be used to extend classroom conversations and create space for students to ask questions. This article gives suggestions for how to leverage asynchronous discussions in your course and some tips for getting started.

Why Use Asynchronous Discussions?

  • Extend classroom conversations beyond limited in-class time, bringing more students into the discussion. For example:
    • Instructors can post articles, followed by specific questions to prompt conversation and reflection. Students can also share articles and links, highlighting examples or information related to course topics.
  • Create a space for students to ask questions.
    • Students can post questions before a lecture. You can check the questions before class and respond during the lecture.
    • Students can post questions about assignments or course materials in a discussion forum instead of email, so that responses to questions can be shared with other students who might have similar questions.
  • Provide additional opportunities for students to engage with you outside of class, in a less formal setting. 

Best Practices for Discussion Tools

  • Clarify how your course will use discussion tools alongside other communication channels and communicate this up front. For example, you might use Canvas announcements to share important course updates, while holding discussions about course content in Slack.
  • Let students know when they can expect a response. For example, provide a deadline for posting questions to a discussion board in order to have their questions answered in class, and/or let them know how often you will review or respond to students’ posts.
  • Make it clear what communication channel to use when, and make it the same every week. This way students begin to anticipate how and when to interact with course content.
  • Participating in discussions by replying to student posts or even just responding with a 👍  (thumbs up emoji) can invite more student participation by signaling that you are present and engaged.

Question Formulation Tips

When formulating your discussion prompts, we recommend asking questions that elicit deeper answers and relate to your teaching goals. Here are some question types for inspiration:


“Why do you think [the protagonist] made the choice they did?”
“How would you explain…” 
“What is the importance of…” 

Compare and Contrast

“What is the difference between…” 
“What is the similarity between…”

Cause and Effect

“What are the causes/results of…” 
“What connection is there between…” 

Get Started

Ready to start asynchronous discussions? Stanford has several tools that you can use that will integrate with Canvas.

Slack is a powerful tool for conversations and community building. It can be integrated with Canvas, making it a great fit for teaching and learning purposes. It’s also broadly used, and GSB students are the student group with the highest adoption of Slack across the Stanford campus. Learn more about using Slack.

Ed Discussion is a Q&A-style discussion tool that enables students to answer each other’s questions and allows teaching teams to designate a best answer or add answers themselves, integrated with Canvas. You can include LaTeX equations as well as embed and run snippets of code. Learn more about using Ed Discussion.

Canvas Discussions is a feature built into Canvas as an easy way to integrate asynchronous discussions into your course. Discussions can be graded as an assignment through Canvas, or simply serve as a forum for conversation. Learn more about using Canvas Discussions.

Learn more about integrating Slack and other asynchronous discussion tools into your course in this Stanford Teaching Commons series.

Contact us to discuss the best setup for your course.

Important Note:

Technology is changing at a rapid pace. While we make every attempt to ensure our content is updated to reflect changes to the interface and functionality, we can only guarantee the accuracy of the content on this resource page when it was written or recorded. Please be sure to check the software developer's website for the latest updates and release notes for the most up to date information. If you have questions or concerns, or need additional support, please contact us.