I've spent a lot of time talking with teachers in my school district about apps and services for communication with parents. Our school district is not a 1:1 district, so our Canvas rollout has been slow and the adoption rate is not particularly high, especially in elementary schools. We expect to see a much higher adoption rate as we provide devices to students and, for the sake of consistency, we would like to steer teachers to using Canvas as their primary tool for student and parent communication. Unfortunately, it's really hard to recommend the Parent App over having the parents just download the student app and login as the student. I really am not trying to bash the Parent App or anything because I really think the Mobile team has done an amazing job constructing these apps. I just see some room for improvement and constructive criticism.
So here is something like a mock user story for using the Canvas Parent App:
- Parent hears about the app from teachers or school communications. Maybe they are asked by the parent or school to download the app.
- Parent downloads the app and must create an account using a student pairing code.
- Students can't generate that code from the student app so they have to try to navigate to the pairing code generator button through a mobile browser or use a computer (which many of ours do not have at home). Teachers can also generate the pairing code but only one student at a time and it's quite a number of clicks per student to get there.
- Parent is able to eventually get the code, sign up for an account, and view their student's courses.
- By default, no notifications are enabled on this new account. So the parent has to be told by someone to go enable the alerts for things like Announcements. Parents are able to see the calendar and click on assignments, but viewing the syllabus is not very intuitive with that paper icon.
- Parent can click the hamburger icon and select Manage Children, click on a student, and then turn on notifications. None of these notifications are enabled by default.
- The parent elects to receive announcements. When the teacher makes an announcement, the parent does not receive a notification. The app must be opened periodically and the parent must go to the Alerts section to see the announcement.
- The Parent App could do push notifications by default. At the very least for announcements. The observer can sign up for text notifications from the web interface, but only if they don't have Verizon since the Verizon option doesn't work. So having push notifications of course announcements and institution announcements is definitely my number one request. The parent can't even see announcements under Alerts unless they actively go turn on announcements for each student. I would be very curious to see how many parent app accounts have announcements enabled. I would guess the number is pretty low, which means they don't even see the announcements when they open the app.
- It would be very useful if students could generate a pairing code from the student app. Or even better, a QR code that the parent can scan to sign into the parent app as Peyton Craighill has suggested before.
- It would be amazing if teachers could generate some handouts with pairing codes for parents at the beginning of the year. It's pretty tedious to generate these one at a time. Heck, if they made an API endpoint for this then I bet we could write something ourselves to generate the handouts.
- I'm betting that few schools are using the Canvas grade book as the grade book of record. Most districts seem to have a separate SIS grade book that does not match the grade in Canvas. Giving districts the ability to turn off the Total grade that appears on the course card in the parent app would be an ideal solution. Parents would still want to know assignment grades, but that Total grade can be misleading. I don't even know if that grade on the course takes grading periods into account.
- This one exceeds the realm of mobile but definitely ties back to the Parent App. If teachers could have the option to exclude observers from announcements, that would give the teacher some control in deciding whether or not the announcement is worth bringing to the attention of observers. For instance, a teacher may want to announce "Go straight to the lab instead of the classroom today!" and that doesn't necessarily need to be seen by the observers in the Parent App.