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Educational Technology at Columbia College

Tech Tips Tuesdays: Wordcounts in Canvas Discussions

by Jesika Brooks on 2024-03-19T12:00:00-04:00 | 0 Comments

Good afternoon,

Happy first day of Spring! 🌷 I recently got an ask regarding wordcounts in Canvas discussions, which is a great question: how can you see the number of words in a student’s posts?

With Canvas discussions, there is a word counter on the bottom of each text box that allows students to see how many words they’ve written as they write a reply:

Canvas discussion reply, which the instructions showing that the post must be at least 100 words and the word counter on the reply showing 3

Note that the response must be 100 words, and the student has written three so far.

While this is helpful for students as they work, you can take advantage of this feature as well. If you want to check a post’s wordcount when replying to students on the thread itself, one method is to copy the student’s post into your reply, check the word counter, and then delete what you’ve copied to type your own response.

A copy and paste of a student's response in the reply field of a Canvas discussion, with the wordcount at the bottom-right corner

Note that this post shows as 83 words when copied and pasted into the reply field. You’d then erase this copy-paste and respond to the student.

This method works great for random checks, or if you are going through posts to do replies before grading. While you can’t grade from the discussion page itself, you can jot down grades on scratch paper and then transfer those grades. If you have a default grade, you can write down those who didn’t reach the threshold.

Checking wordcount from Discussions doesn’t help if you use SpeedGrader. If you’ve never used SpeedGrader for grading discussions, it’s very handy! You can access it by clicking the three dots at the top of a graded discussion, then selecting “SpeedGrader” from the menu:

SpeedGrader shown on discussion menu via the three dots at the top-right corner

The SpeedGrader page will show a student’s initial post, as well as all replies they’ve made throughout the discussion:

SpeedGrader page for a discussion post

While you won’t have the same context as going through the discussion itself, it’s great for spot-checking the total posts and adding in grades. Unfortunately, however, the wordcount isn’t visible from the SpeedGrader page.

In this case, I usually verify wordcounts by copying text into Word, then checking the word counter at the bottom of the screen. (So, for a Windows user, Ctrl+C to copy, Ctrl-V to paste, then highlight to count words.)

83 of 576 words, with 83 highlighted in yellow

Note that the wordcount, when the post is highlighted, shows the same as the Canvas word counter.

Although a bit tedious, copying into Word—or in Google Docs, if you have it open in another tab—is the most secure method I can recommend outside of checking on the Discussions page itself. There are some Chrome extensions available for checking wordcounts, but I have concerns about recommending any due to how they may store student data. As always, technology is a balancing act of security and convenience, and when it comes to student work, it’s best to consider how these tools work and what permissions are truly being granted.

If you have any questions, please reach out! 🌸

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