Temporary Enrollment Pairing: A flexible workflow for scheduling ephemeral access to Canvas

Instructure Alumni
Instructure Alumni
2 7 1,352



Education Institutions are experiencing an unprecedented shortage of teachers across the globe (source). When teachers take leave, or get sick, giving “substitute” teachers (a United States centric term for temporary teachers) short-term/temporary access to Canvas so that they can better provide for student needs is either difficult or impossible for some institutions. It is so difficult that some are simply not giving Subs access to Canvas at all. Others are providing “loaner” accounts to their substitutes with limited Admin roles that allow them to access courses; doing so has difficult implications for privacy and security. More resource-empowered institutions are able to use API’s, SIS imports, or even 3rd party products to manage these situations, but doing so adds operational costs.  While Instructure cannot solve the teacher shortage, we can reduce the impact of temporary teacher absence on admins, teachers, substitutes, and students by removing barriers that prevent substitutes from teaching more effectively. To begin solving this, we have designed and implemented an entirely new enrollment workflow called “Temporary Enrollment Pairing”. We recognize that Canvas is the hub of teaching and learning, and giving easier access to the learning environment for temporary instruction helps broaden its impact on learners.

Feature Overview

Note: this feature is subject to change as we learn more about how Admins interact with it.


This feature allows authorized Admins to quickly share all or some enrollments from a “Provider” to a “Recipient”, with the ability to schedule when enrollment should begin and end, and what role the Recipient should receive. Once established, “Temporary Enrollment Pairings” can be viewed and managed (edited/deleted) as a group of enrollments.


For more detail on the specifics of the workflow, refer to the release notes.

User Research and Design Choices

When we initially explored this area for improvement, we interviewed numerous institutions to understand their daily challenges in managing access for short-term staff. These conversations involved Canvas administrators worldwide, across K-12 and Higher Education sectors. Our research led to some significant insights::

  • Regional Terminology Variation: How different regions refer to a short-term teacher varies by region. We found US based educators used the term “Substitute”, while other regions used terms like “supply teacher” and “relief teacher”.
  • Higher Education Practices: As we discussed this problem with groups outside of K-12, we learned that when a teacher is absent, other full-time staff members would sometimes be responsible for running lectures (this was particularly more common in Higher Education).
  • Diverse Ephemeral Needs: There were other needs for ephemeral access beyond simply short-term teachers. For example, student teachers (professionals learning to teach) would often need to “shadow” specific teachers for a specific duration of time. At-risk or special needs students would sometimes need their mentor/counselor to have access to their courses to help them.
  • Administrative Staff Responsibilities: A variety of different administrative staff were expected to enroll temporary instructors, and most of the time they were Admins of some type.
  • Staff Absence Volume: Some institutions/districts might have up to 10-15 staff missing in a single day.
  • Efficiency Requirement: If the process takes too long, it won’t be useful.
  • Permission Levels for Temporary Staff: Most admins wanted to give temporary staff read-only permission, but many others did not.


It became clear that while the core problem was getting coverage for absent teachers, our discoveries also included many other needs for temporary access within Canvas. The management approaches, assignment of roles to short-term participants, and the language to describe these processes show considerable variation.


 These findings all became factors in the design choices that we made when trying to solve this problem. Ultimately, we needed a flexible and simple workflow to make the most significant impact.

Roadmap and Future

As with any new feature or product, we are committed to ensuring that the user experiences that we deliver are the best they can be. We will continue to listen and observe as this new feature is used to identify improvements to make it even better. We encourage submissions to Feature Ideas related to this feature and any other product to help in this regard. We already have a short-list of smaller improvements (such as reporting and SIS import functionality) that we hope to roll out throughout the next year.