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A Letter To Canvas Observers

Community Coach
Community Coach
21 10 4,425

Dear Canvas Observer*,


First of all, as a teacher, I want to say “thank you” for being a student’s or students’ personal academic cheerleader. Classrooms are not the same without you. I know I can plan, accommodate, collaborate, and differentiate with my greatest efforts, but you are incredibly valuable to the learning process. You help fill in gaps in understanding and sometimes you re-explain tough topics. You are another amazing caring adult who can assist a student - or two or three...or more - become strong, intrinsically motivated, and self-advocating learners. Again, thank you for being involved and bravo for using Canvas to make the process more efficient!


From here, let’s take a look at the Observer role. Observer is a generic name for anyone who can view course material and follow a student’s or students’ progress in their active courses. However, an observer cannot interact with course content.


As an Observer, you have access to a lot of great information, and it can be challenging to navigate the information efficiently, especially if you are actively monitoring the progress of more than one student.


From a web browser, after you set up your Observer account, you need to connect to your student or students (How do I link a student to my user account?). It is possible to follow all of your students under a single Observer sign-in. I have just a small note about how to link multiple accounts to a single observer: the best place to link additional children is through the browser. Have your pairing codes ready, and then repeat the process you completed for your first student. The resulting connections will work seamlessly wherever you sign-in. However, depending on how many students you follow and how many courses your students are enrolled, the dashboard can become overwhelming.


You have a few options to streamline this experience though!

  • You may adjust the nickname for each course. That way, you can include each child's first initial or name ahead of the course name (ie: K US History).
  • Another option is to color code the course cards so all of child #1's courses is one color, all of child #2's courses is a second, etc...


If you have time to explore more in the Canvas Community, there are two Feature Ideas which are open for voting that I'd like to share with you: Parents: toggle view between children and If either or both of these ideas are relevant to your Canvas experience, it would be really valuable if you voted and/or added a comment!

As you seek to simplify your Observer experience, there may be another option for you. With the Canvas Parent App, you are able to follow all of your students and keep their courses separate. You can even create customized  notifications and assignment reminders on a student-by-student basis. The app is free in the Apple Store and on Google Play. While the app doesn't have all of the features as web, it's awesome for keeping track of progress, a list upcoming assignments, and initiating conversations at home. Just be sure to check with your institution to make sure this is enabled before diving in. This is because each school district can decide whether or not to make the app available for their observers.


As an Observer*, you have a unique perspective of the learning that occurs within the Canvas-based classrooms of your student or students! If you have more questions or ideas on how to improve the Observer experience, please contribute to Q & A‌ and Canvas Studio‌ to keep the conversation going. 

All the best,



*Parent, Family Member, Counselor, Mentor, Coach, Learning Specialist...etc.

This blog was originally published on August 24, 2017 and was updated on August 25, 2018.

Learner II

Thanks  @klundstrum ‌. This is great. To help our parents link into Canvas (via our Sentral Parent Portal) we also put an office mix on our website to assist them Callaghan College Wallsend Campus Parent. It has also saved many questions and emails between our IT people,  @david_summervi1 ‌ and the school office. I like the open letter format you have - might use this idea for our FaceBook page and our newsletters. #callaghancollegewallsendcampus

Thank you.


Community Coach
Community Coach

What a great idea Kristin.

Involving the parents in the learning community is so important in K-12.

And good tips too from  @stacy_lambert On to it!

Thanks to both of you.


This is absolutely outstanding. Thank you for sharing this with us. Smiley Happy 

Adventurer III

We also have our administrative assistants include piped text in an email to parents, so they have access to their child's email and student ID. This is our direction set that is sent with that email.

Parents as Observers Directions

Learner II

Great advice  @klundstrum  !  

Here's a visual slide guide I made for our parents on How to Sign Up & Use a Canvas Parent Account.

It also includes how to get started using the canvas parent app.  Looking at the user reviews for the App it seems like parents are really having a heard time getting on board with it so it has been getting a very poor rating. When I was working with a room full of parents trying to use the app for the first time, I learned a lot and hope the guide helps them avoid some of the common pitfalls.

Community Coach
Community Coach

Thanks Chris. What were the parents struggling with the most?

Learner II

1) Log Ins - It's not clear to them that if they already have a Canvas Observer/Parent account that putting in their login credentials on the Apps's Login Screen won't work. They need to use the "Sign in with Canvas" option (which is smaller) or create a new account.

2) Associating their students with their account-  Even if they have done this already using the website observer account, they have to do it again. Watching them do this on (Androids especially) their phones, many of them had a hard time selecting the correct school district becuase their keyboard window got in the way of the list of schools that comes up.

Community Coach
Community Coach

Chris is this something that could be suggested for an improvement?

Thanks for observing so carefully. I'm sure it will help us all.

Learner II

I'm sure it could be suggested via How do I create a new feature idea? and also through your Customer Success Manager. 

I haven't found either of those too effective lately. It seems to be taking 2-3 years for the ideas I've submitted (that had a large # of up votes on them). But it's always good to document things and ask. 😃 


Hi  @clong .  Parents at my school found similar frustrations with the parent app.  We've created something to filter the calendar for parents with many children at the school and we're looking to expand it to the dashboard.  If you want to try it out...