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Clarity for Canvas Observers

Community Team
Community Team
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Last updated 08.03.2022


Observers have an incredibly unique perspective of a Canvas course. Imagine the feeling you would have as you stand on an observation deck. You're above the action, essentially on the outside, watching everything happen from a distance. You can't participate directly, but yet your involvement and engagement is so important! As you watch all of the activity from a distance, you need to also need to understand what's happening so you can coach your student who is busily learning "on the ground" on a daily basis. 

During particular times of the year, the Canvas Community notices an increase in Observer- or Canvas Parent-related questions. To help bring all of those questions, answers, and resources together for families of students who use Canvas for their coursework and school-related activities, I did my best to collect information from around the Canvas Community and group it by theme. I hope that this all-inclusive resource for Canvas Observers will provide some clarity to this role.

If you have more questions or ideas on how to improve the Observer experience, please contribute to the Question Forum and the Idea Exchange.  

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About the Observer Role

  • An Observer is the name that describes the users in a course who can view the content and follow a particular student's progress. They can not interact with or participate in the course's content or materials. 
  • As an Observer, a family member (or coach, guidance counselor, mentor, etc.) has the ability to learn a lot about a student's day.


Creating an Account


Adding Multiple Students

  • It's simple and convenient to follow multiple students under a single Observer account.
  • The best place to link additional children is through the browser. Have the students' pairing codes ready, and then repeat the process completed during the initial account creation. 


Managing Multiple Students

  • Depending on how many students an Observer follows and how many courses are included in the students' enrollments, the dashboard can become overwhelming.
  • Observers can adjust the nicknames for each course, and it will not affect the students' dashboards or Canvas experience. One option for this is to include the student's first initial or name ahead of the course name (ie: K Biology). Another thing that Observers can do is change the color of the course cards so each student has their own color for their courses. (How do I view my favorite courses in the Card View Dashboard?)
    • In early 2020, Observer course cards include the name of the student being observed in that class. 
  • In July 2022, Observers can view specific a student's dashboard. This makes it possible to review classwork for one student at a time. @dashboard observer
  • Canvas Parent also has a simple interface that allows Observers to easily switch between students. If an Observer wishes to have a quick overview of student progress or the week's assignments, the mobile app is perfect for keeping track of multiple students' academics.


Viewing Courses

  • Sometimes courses don't populate on the dashboard. Depending on the district, there may be restrictions in place that prevent users from accessing course content outside of the term dates. Another reason may be that the teacher has not yet published the course.
  • If the term has started, a good place to double-check the course availability is under Courses. After clicking Courses then All Courses, a list of current and past enrollments will appear. Any item at the top of the page can be favorited. (How do I customize my Courses list?) These will be included in the list of course cards on the dashboard.
  • It's important to note that if Observers plan to use the Calendar, a maximum of 10 courses can be viewed at a time. That can be adjusted by filtering the Calendar view by course.


Canvas Parent App

  • There is a role-specific Canvas mobile app available for Observers called Canvas Parent. It's free to download from the Apple Store and on Google Play.
  • It's important to note that the app does not have the same functionality as the Observer role does on the web, but it's an amazing tool for families. Canvas Parent is a great way to simplify the Observer experience as it provides at-a-glance digests of each student's school day and custom notifications or assignment reminders on a student-by-student basis.
  • To toggle between students, click the name displayed in the top-center of the screen. A short drop-down menu will appear, which will include a list of the students linked to your observer account. (How do I use the Canvas Parent app?‌)
  • If for some reason the Observer credentials do not work with Canvas Parent or the institution is not listed, manually type the domain/web address of the district (ie: If that still does not work, contact local Canvas support. It's important to note here that not all institutions have enabled Canvas Support and/or support it. Each school district is unique and makes choices based on their needs.


Deleting an Account

  • The Canvas Community receives emails from time-to-time, requesting that their Canvas account is deleted. No matter how or why the account was created, the friendly faces in the Canvas Community cannot help with accounts. Good news: local Canvas support can!
  • To delete an account, an Observer can click the Help menu (How do I get help with Canvas?‌ or How do I get help with the Canvas Parent app?‌) and initiate a conversation by clicking "Report a Problem". This help ticket will go directly to the institution's Canvas administrator, and they'll be able to collaborate until the issue is resolved.


Observers Need Help Too!