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

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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.


Community Coach
Community Coach

Hi @jpoulos,

Thanks for the great explanation of things here!

As a higher-ed institution admin, the concept of temporary enrollments interests me for things like an annual review or tenure processes...  We'd want to give someone access for a few weeks, then basically haver that access revoked.  As I read the release description, enrollments are concluded at the end of the temporary time period, but because we let users continue to have read-only access to concluded courses, that would mean the temporary folks would retain read-only access too.  I wish we (whoever has permission to do the temporary enrollment) could choose what status to move the user to at the end of the temporary timeframe.  Making the enrollment inactive would work well for our current setup, but I could also see some institutions wanting to just have the enrollment deleted too.

I can certainly submit a feature idea for this, but I wondered if this was something you had already heard from others and may be on an internal radar or something?


Community Participant

I really like this idea.

The annual review/tenure process is an interesting aspect I hadn't considered. Sounds like a potentially great fit for this workflow.

I also agree that I can see some instances in which you would not want the individual to have any access to the course after the temporary enrollment period had expired.

I did wonder what the experience would be if a temporary enrollment and an SIS enrollment overlapped.

I'm sure we've all had instances where instructors had to unexpectedly take time off or passed away mid-semester. Departments scramble to cover the most immediate class periods and needs while still coming up with a longer term plan.

In the immediate term, to just get the substitute access to the course I can see using a temporary enrollment as opposed to an admin manually adding the instructor to the course. But what would happen if the substitute instructor is actually added to the course by the registrar? I would hope/assume the SIS enrollment takes precedence but that should probably be on the testing plan (if it isn't already).

Community Contributor


I am also concerned about the concluded state for the same reason.  To ensure the user only has access to the course during the set window of time, it would be better if we could set it to inactive after the end date.  Otherwise, we will still need to monitor for these enrollments and change their status again after the end date.

Nonetheless, I am looking forward to this feature and using it to make improvements to some of our workflows.

Community Champion

We are one of the larger institutions that have implemented solutions for long-term temporary substitute coverage through our SIS but I'll be interested to look into this feature for our short-term (we call them daily) substitutes, who currently do not get any access to Canvas courses because it's just not manageable. 

I am also very interested in this point you lifted up above:

"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."

We currently have staff who have dual roles in Canvas courses (teacher and observer) in order to provide the access they need to support our special education students, and other students who needs additional staff support. This causes permission issues (C4E broke for us a few weeks ago) and support's blanket response is that we shouldn't use dual roles and that we should create a second Canvas account for that other role. As an institution of 60K students we have 100s of case managers who are observers and teachers, creating and managing 2 login accounts to Canvas simply isn't an option. These staff members have permissions to see data for students on their case load apply across Canvas, our SIS, and Hoonuit, and we are not creating one login account for the teacher role in those systems and one for their case manager role. I'm more than happy to speak to someone on your team about use cases around special education and other interventionists, and the potential for other configurations outside the observer role that we've had to resort to for the 10 years we've been with Canvas.


@chriscas @Charles_Barbour @JamesSekcienski @audra_agnelly I really appreciate this feedback so far! The point raised is great and it my teams and I agree; concluding the enrollment does not fit the spirit of this change and we think is more of an oversight than an intentional design. Because of this, we are planning to switch the default state for expired temporary enrollment pairings to deleted before the production release. There will be a short period in beta where they continue to be concluded after expiry, so bear that in mind as you test. As we continue development, we agree that letting the user choose what state to end the enrollment in is important, so we will be considering that as the roadmap matures. 

We're very excited to see that this feature is already getting the gears turning on how this can be used to solve day to day problems in ways that we haven't thought of. We are also interested in knowing its shortcoming in that regard.

Community Contributor



I am liking the sound of this new feature. I have already thought of a few situations (some of which have already been mentioned) where it will be very helpful. I do have two things that I would like to bring up.


1. At my institution, when I do a manual enrollment for someone that is either (a) substitute teacher (whether short-term or long-term) or (b) conducting a course review, when they no longer need that access I set their status to inactive.

I use inactive instead of deleted because I want there to be a record of the previous enrollment in the "People" area of the course and the ability to use the "Access Report" for that person within the course.

For this new functionality and the clarification/adjustment that you provided, if the default status becomes deleted when the temporary enrollment has ended, it will not be possible to see the enrollment in the "People" area of the course or refer to the "Access Report".

I would encourage you and your team to reconsider and to have the default status be inactive when the temporary enrollment has finished.


2. How will this relate to data feeds coming from an SIS? For example, if the substitute is added to our SIS after I have done a temporary enrollment, which enrollment will (for lack of a better term) "win"? The temporary enrollment or the data feed enrollment?


- Doug