VoiceThread, Relay Conversations and Canvas Discussions with Video: What Makes Them Different?

If you have been following Online Learning Services over the course of the year, you may have noticed the variety of tools we provide for online discussion. It is understandable that you might be confused about what each one does.

Here is a handy summary of each tool and in what teaching context it can shine:


VoiceThread is a great tool that can bring student and instructor presence to an online or a face-to-face class. It has a user-friendly interface that allows instructors to upload video, audio and text documents on which students and instructors can comment. It also allows people to reply to each other’s comments. When VoiceThread is integrated as an assignment, it allows students to record video or audio comments or type text comments directly through Canvas. Students can even add audio comments to a thread using their phones! However, students cannot upload text documents. VoiceThread is best used when the instructor wants to create dialog around and about some other piece(s) of media or content – but not in real-time. It is good for flex classes in which students work on coursework in the evening and on weekends. They can still contribute to class discussions even though they could not attend the lecture.

Learn more about how to create VoiceThreads in your Canvas course.

VoiceThread timeline

VoiceThread comment timeline and response panel.

VoiceThread reply panel

The VoiceThread response panel showing video, audio, telephone, text and upload features.

Canvas Discussions with Text, Video and Audio comments

Canvas Discussions with Text, Video and Audio comments does many of the same things as VoiceThread. Instructors can still upload text documents and record video or audio prompts. However, students can write longer text responses and it allows students to upload images and create links to text documents. This a great feature if you require students to cite sources during a class discussion. The added bonus is that Discussions is already part of Canvas and there is no need to integrate a third-party tool. The interface looks like a forum of stacked comments instead of comments along a timeline of presentation content, as in VoiceThread. However, if a timeline is what you are looking for, the new Relay Conversations tool also provides that.

Learn how to create Canvas Discussions.

Learn more about how to create media posts in Canvas Discussions.

Media Recorder in Canvas Discussions

The Canvas Discussions reply panel allows for video, audio and text comments. It also has upload, hyperlink and video embed capabilities.

Relay Conversations

The Conversations tool within Relay allows students and instructors to make text comments along the timeline of an uploaded video. Instructors can still create quiz questions along the video timeline and now they can require students to type separate comments about the video in between the quiz questions. It also integrates into Canvas and can report quiz or viewing percentage scores back to the gradebook. Currently, Conversations does not support video or audio comments or uploads. This tool works very well with a class that is already using Canvas Discussions with Video and Audio comments. The Conversations tool focuses the text discussion on one video assignment while the Discussions forum is a space where “bigger picture” discussions can happen. Canvas Discussions and Relay Conversations are great tools for completely online and flex classes as students can contribute to the conversation at any time during the day.

Learn more about how to add Relay Conversations to Relay videos.

Relay Conversations response panel

Relay Conversations allows text comments to be placed along a video timeline.

It is important to remember that all of the above-mentioned tools work well with face-to-face classes because it starts the class discussion before the students get there. Instead of using class time for the instructor to present the topic, students can dive right into the discussion once they arrive. These online tools can also encourage participation from shy students who feel intimidated by speaking up in class.