Finding Your Way: The Observer Adventure

Community Coach
Community Coach
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Observers, family members, and academic coaches, you’re amazing. Let’s start there. For the last several months, you’ve balanced work, different schooling scenarios, and so many other challenging changes. When life feels like everything that could change actually has, we’re experiencing a time that of course just brings - you guessed it - more change. Yet, here you are. You’re collaborating, trying to learn more about one more *new* thing that you’re openly adding to your list of responsibilities.

I find that feeling to be comparable to a long walk in the woods during which you realize you don’t have LTE coverage and that you failed to pack your compass. Unless you’re a master woodsman, scout, or passionate expeditionist, you’re not comfortable, and because there’s so much going through your mind, you don’t recognize where to go or where to start retracing your steps.

Now, take in that visual. ...and take a breath. That’s what we’re going to try to replicate here, but with your Observer role - both in the web browser and in the Canvas Parent app. Let’s build your map so you can walk the same path multiple times and get to the destination you set. With that, you’ll begin to recognize familiar landmarks when things don’t quite go to plan. Ultimately, your confidence goes up, and you’ll start to explore some of the amazing features of your (learning) environment.


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Getting Started with Canvas as an Observer

 

Creating an Account

This is the most important part! Before creating an account, first double-check that you are at the correct domain. Canvas.instructure.com is for instructors using the Free For Teacher version while individual districts have a unique URL, so it’s important to verify you’re in the right place before you click the “create an account” button.

 

Pairing Code

The Pairing Code is the magical key that will connect you to your student. This is something that your student or your student’s teacher/school will provide. Unfortunately, there’s not a universal method by which these are distributed as it varies by school. If families are self-enrolling, you can do this at any time.

 

Adding an Additional Student

Whether you are linking your Observer account to multiple students at once or you’re adding a new student to your existing account, you follow the same process.

 

Seeing Students/Courses

At the beginning of a term, don’t be surprised if your dashboard is missing a course or two. Many times, schools choose not to allow Students and their Observers to view content before a term begins. Additionally, there’s a small chance that a course is waiting to be published. If you’re you'd like to check if a course is available, you can always do so under All Courses.

 

Organizing Multiple Students

Observing one student who has multiple classes is a challenge. Observing more is quite the task! Consider color-coding your courses, adjusting nicknames to the classes, or reordering the course cards to help you stay organized. You can even add student names in your notifications.

 

Adjusting Notifications

Email notifications are very helpful. However, the “just right” settings are specific to each Observer. These can be adjusted to make your life easier and to help you keep track of the information you find the most valuable.

 

Canvas Observer vs. Canvas Parent

While the Canvas Observer credentials that you created work also in Canvas Parent, the app is a different experience! The streamlined interface helps you get to key features quickly. It doesn’t have all of the same functions as the browser, but the Canvas Parent app is specially designed to keep check-ins efficient and to help you remember important items. 

 

QR Code to Sign-In

There’s a very simple way to sign-in to the Canvas Parent app. If you click the account button in the global navigation, you’ll see “sign-in with QR Code”. After opening the Canvas Parent app, scan that code! You will be instantly signed-in, without having to worry about connecting to your school and retyping your information.

 

Switching Between Students

Unlike what Observers experience in the browser, the Canvas Parent app clearly separates students. It’s easy to switch between students and see what their week entails, check on assignments, and monitor grades.



Custom Alerts

One of the most popular features of the Canvas Parent app is the ability to customize alerts. Observers can set when they receive push notifications for grades, missing work, announcements etc. Additionally, this is done on a student-by-student basis because what works for one student doesn’t necessarily always work for another!


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No matter where your Canvas adventure brings you this school year, know that the Canvas Community is full of passionate Canvas users who have traveled your path many times. When everything around you is changing, know that the Canvas Community is a constant resource. Reach out, ask for clarification, and remember you’re supported. The more comfortable you become with your Observer role and what you can do with Canvas, the more you’ll be able to coach your student as they reach their academic goals.

Keep exploring and keep learning!

About the Author
I hold an M.Ed in Curriculum & Instruction - Learning Technologies from the University of Minnesota and a B.S. Teaching degree in Art Teaching from Winona State University. Currently, I have multiple roles at DeLasalle High School - Teacher & Canvas Engagement Specialist. I teach a variety of visual arts classes, and I prioritize problem-solving and reflection within my student-centered environments. It is my goal to blend traditional studio experiences with technology applications for communication, collaboration, and organization. In addition to teaching, I actively participate on the Technology Committee, am a Canvas Co-Admin, am the lead in-house Canvas trainer, and as the Canvas Engagement Specialist, I work with faculty to advance pedagogy and student engagement through thoughtful course design using visual design and Canvas's tools. Twitter: @kblundstrum
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