What is the Observer role?

Document created by Canvas Doc Team Employee on Apr 19, 2017Last modified by Canvas Doc Team Employee on Apr 22, 2017
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In Canvas, the Observer role can be used to enroll parents, mentors, and guests who would like to participate in a Canvas course but do not need to earn course credit. Observers have limited permissions that allow them to see what is going on in a course without interrupting the flow of daily course communication. Like students, Observers cannot view a course until it is published and the course has started.

To learn more about the observer role, view the Parent Registration and Student Observation video.

Observers may be able to view assignments, course events, and grades for a student in the Canvas Parent app.

Observer Role Use

Observers can view course data but cannot participate in all Canvas areas. Observers may be added to a course to observe course data. For instance, instructors sometimes invite guests to join their courses, such as for a web conference. Enrolling the guest with an observer role allows access to the course without being able to affect any course data or participation.

The main use of the observer role is to link a user to a student. Observers can be linked to a student or multiple students and view the student's data in the course. Parents are often enrolled as observers and linked to students, especially in K12 environments. Observers cannot submit work on behalf of the students they observe, but they can see student grades, assignments and events, and course interactions.

Observer Access in Canvas

To learn more about observer participation, view the Observers Visibility and Participation PDF.

Observers can

  • View and read announcements
  • View assignments index page
  • View the calendar
  • Join conferences, if invited
  • Join collaborations, if invited
  • View personal inbox
  • Send conversation messages to instructor and student they are observing
  • View the dashboard
  • View and read discussions
  • View files unless they are locked
  • View grades of student they are observing and filter, view scores and dates, and print grades
  • View modules and see due dates, point values, etc.
  • View pages and contribute if the instructor enables the Anyone can edit it setting
  • View profile pictures, if available
  • View syllabus
  • View outcomes
  • View quizzes index page


Observers cannot

  • Comment on announcements or discussions
  • Submit assignments or quizzes
  • View course rosters
  • Send conversation messages to students in the course they are not observing
  • View locked files or folders
  • Join groups
  • View unpublished courses
  • Access the Chat tool
  • Reserve appointment slots in the Scheduler

Observer Limitations

  • Observers are bound to the same prerequisites, requirements, lock dates, etc. as the student they are observing.
  • Observers can only view the content the student they are observing has access to.
  • Observers can view assignments even if the student they are observing has not completed them unless the assignments are locked.
  • Each Instructor can customize the links in the Course Navigation and limit the number of features that Students and Observers can see. Observers may or may not see links to certain features.
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