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Best Practices | Using Canvas Tools to Promote a Community of Inquiry

One of the most challenging aspects of teaching online is finding ways to encourage student collaboration and build a sense community. Since instructors and students do not see each other in person, the community aspect of online courses can often be lost. For an online course to effectively engage students, the instructor must intentionally construct most of the interactions that will take place. The Community of Inquiry model offers a useful framework for building strong learning communities in online courses. An educational community of inquiry is a group of individuals who collaboratively engage in purposeful critical discourse and reflection to construct personal meaning and confirm mutual understanding (Athabasca University, n.d). The Community of Inquiry model aims to create collaborative groups of learners through the advancement of three interconnected components - social, cognitive, and teaching presence. This article will discuss how tools in Canvas can be utilized to promote the model's three elements.

Social Presence

Social presence is "the ability of participants to identify with the community (e.g., course of study), communicate purposefully in a trusting environment, and develop inter- personal relationships by way of projecting their individual personalities" (Akyol, Garrison, & Ozden, 2009).

Setting the Climate

Syllabus Tool

This Canvas feature can be used to outline guidelines for how students will be expected to engage with each other and to encourage a climate of mutual respect. Stating netiquette standards for student communication are also useful in explaining how students are to interact sensitive topics that may be discussed during the course.

Fostering a Sense of Belonging

Profile Tool

This tool allows students to share a personal biography and links to other online resources such as a personal website or blog.

Rich Content Editor

Encourage students to use this feature to record a personal summary and share it in an introductory discussion. Students will form distinct impressions of each other and will develop a deeper personal connection with their peers.


This tool can be used to create a two-way conversation between students and an instructor regarding assignments and feedback.

Peer Review

This student to student communication device opens up a channel of discussion where students can communicate about assignments and clarify each other's feedback.

Communication between Students


This Canvas tool can be used to create conversations around a topic or prompt that can be mediated by an instructor.



Instructors can use this tool to create collaborative mini-sites where students can work together on projects.

Cognitive Presence

Cognitive Presence is the extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 1999).

Constructing Meaning

Embedding Video in Discussions

Embed videos in a discussion board prompt to trigger prior knowledge and give students with divergent views a starting point for discussion.

Canvas Studio

This discussion tool that gives instructors and students the ability to discuss course content using video. In Canvas Studio’s interface, students and instructors interact with media by commenting on specific points on a recording's timeline. Students can learn from each other's observations as well as from their instructor's guidance and feedback.


Instructors and students can use pages to collect resources related to course topics. Pages can also be used for modeling assignment expectations for students.


This tool can be used for work revision as students submit different versions of an assignment. In addition, ePortfolios can be used to gauge student understanding of course topics, give opportunities to use critical thinking skills, and stimulate reflection of essential concepts.


Students have the opportunity to reflect on feedback provided to them by their instructor; they can then use this feedback to improve their work products. This tool also allows instructors to see growth over time as students submit revised versions of an assignment.

Teaching Presence

Teaching Presence is the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001).

Organization of Content and Direction throughout the Learning Process


This tool allows instructors to create a linear work path and moderate when students are accessing content, activities, and assignments. The Modules feature gives instructors the ability to aggregate different tools into one module. By setting prerequisites and requirements, students access material in a path that was purposely constructed for them by their instructor. In addition, students become aware of the course's structure and learn which tools they will use during the course.

Evaulation and Reflection

Surveys and Ungraded Quizzes

Instructors can gather valuable student feedback using surveys; this information can be used to improve future iterations of courses. Ungraded quizzes such as a Student Orientation Quiz can be used to clarify and reinforce an instructor's expectations and emphasize important course-related information.

If you would like more information about how to use Canvas tools to cultivate a community of inquiry in your online or hybrid course, please contact a member of the instructional design team.


Akyol, Z., Garrison, D. R., & Ozden, M. Y. (2009). Development of a community of inquiry in online and blended learning contexts. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 1(1), 1834-1838.

Anderson, T., Archer, W., Garrison, D., Rourke, L. (2001). Assessing Teaching Presence in a Computer Conferencing Context. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5(2), 1-17.

Athabasca University. (n.d.) An Introduction to the Community of Inquiry. Retrieved March 2, 2018, from

Garrison, D., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (1999). Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.