Observer roles notifications

  This idea has been developed and deployed to Canvas

Can we enable the 'notifications' for oberservers. Currently these are very limited. Observers will get 'annoucements' notifications but not 'course content' or 'file' etc... This makes it very difficult to manage expectations when they are asked to set their notifications and then it doesn't apply to them.



  Comments from Instructure


For more information, please read through the Notifications section of the Canvas Production Release Notes (2016-04-23)

Instructure Alumni
Instructure Alumni

It might help if you could provide a use case for this idea so we can get a better understanding of its context, since schools and organizations may leverage the observer role differently. Can you be specific as to which notifications you would like observers to receive?

Community Novice

Currently when a teacher changes content on a wiki page and then selects 'Notify users that this content has changed' the teacher and the students will get a notification (if selected) that content has changed. However a parent/observer will not get this notification even if they have selected in 'notifications' that they want to be notified.

This would also be very effective if you would have a policies/documents page or a co-curricular page and a change needed to be done. Parents/observers would then be notified of said change.

Instructure Alumni
Instructure Alumni

Thanks for your clarification, Eric. I'll move your idea forward to the next phase. Smiley Happy

Community Contributor

I think this may be a version of a (more heavily-up-voted) feature request:

Instructure Alumni
Instructure Alumni

Please be sure to consider the insight's of  @mlattke ​'s idea which is another important extension to this idea.

Smiley Happy


The default notifications request is a very worthy and votable one,  @SethBattis , but I think this is different, because it isn't so much about observers not setting up their profile correctly, it is about the fact that observers don't get notifications even if they setup their profile.  If they are an observer in a course, several of the notifications don't apply to them, so they get nothing.  As noted above, they will get announcement notification if they have them turned on, but they won't get course change notifications, even if they have them turned on, b/c observers aren't allowed to get certain things, I guess. 

We have come across this as well when dealing with linked observers (parents).  The linked observers can see their student's grades, but don't get notified when their student's work is graded, even if they have grading notifications set to ASAP.  Canvas doesn't consider it a notification that an observer should get.  But I would argue that a linked observer is quite different than an unlinked observer.


Although, I don't have strong feelings on unlinked observers getting notifications of course content changes, my organization does have strong feeling about notifications for linked observers.  My feature request has been grouped with this one, and so I hope folks will take time to read the additional rationale, which is that currently, when an observer is linked to a student in a course (like a parent), the observer does not get a notification email when the teacher grades their linked student's work, even if their notification preferences are set to get grading notifications ASAP.  They can see their linked student's work and the subsequent grade; they are just not notified about it, which is counter-intuitive to their expectations given that they have set their preferences to ASAP.

Our parents want the option to get a notification when work is graded so that they know to go look at their student's work.

Community Contributor

Blergh.  @mlattke ​, I see exactly what you're talking about and you're right, this is different. ( @biray ​, I just went on a tear and documented exactly what I think this request is addressing in excrutiating detail.)

I've seen this cut both directions -- I have a ticket open on the fact that, even when disabled, observers still receive course enrollment notifications​ (or they have, sporadically -- more sporadically than consistently in the last semester or so).

However, I got curious about exactly what does and doesn't come through the observer notification pipeline, so I just did a little test (you may already know this, but I share it for the benefit of others who don't). I created a sample course and set up an observer user in it, linked to the student. The observer had the following notification settings:

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 7.50.42 AM.png

Having made sure that everyone had accepted their course invitations and that the course was published, as the teacher in that course, I methodically went through the types of notifications I would have expected to receive:

Due Date
  • Changed due date of an assignment via calendar drag
  • Changed due date of an assignment via "more options" detailed view
No notification to observer
Grading Policies
  • Created grading policies (dropping lowest/highest grades)
  • Changed grading policies
No notification to observer
Course Content
  • Created assignments
  • Modified assignments
  • Created wiki page
  • Modified wiki page
  • (Didn't bother with quizzes because they're a hassle and I was seeing a pattern)
Observer notified only about assignment creation and (after significant delay -- almost an hour) assignment modification.
  • Uploaded a new file
No notification to observer
  • Created an announcement
Observer notified
Announcement Created by You


  • Turned in work as the student (via file upload)
  • Graded student work as the teacher
  • Changed grades as the teacher
  • Muted an assignment as the teacher
  • Unmuted an assignment as the teacher
  • Changed the grade weight (aka points possible) for an assignment
No notification to observer
  • Established observer-student connection via User Observees API
Observer invited to the course for which the student had an outstanding invitation
Course Enrollment (hidden in GUI)


Observer notified individually of each existing enrollment of the student after the API connection established
Submission Comment
  • Posted a comment on a submission as the teacher
  • Responded to a comment on a submission as the student
No notification to observer
  • Created a discussion topic as teacher
  • Created a discussion topic as a teacher
No notification to observer
Discussion Post
  • Responded to teacher discussion topic as student
  • Responded to student post as teacher
  • Responded to teacher topic as teacher
  • Responded to student topic as teacher
No notification to observer
Added to Conversation
  • Started conversation with student as teacher
  • Started conversation with observer as teacher
  • Started group conversation with observer and student as teacher
  • Started individual conversation with observer and student as teacher
Observer only notified when included as recipient (so, 3/4 of the tests)
Conversation Message
  • Reply-all to group message as student
  • Reply-sender to group message as student
No notification to observer
Conversation Created by MeN/A
Student Appointment SignupsN/A
Appointment Signups
  • Signed up for an appointment as student
  • Rescheduled signup as student
No notification to observer
Appointment Cancelations
  • Unreserved appointment as student
No notification to observer
Appointment AvailabilityN/A
  • Created an event after today's date in the calendar as teacher
  • Created an event before today's date in the calendar as teacher
No notification to observer
Membership Update
  • Created a new group set and group
  • Enrolled student in the group
No notification to observer AND the observer can't see the student's groups (ticket submitted)
Administrative NotificationsN/A

Reasonable people might argue that the last hour could have been better spent, but this was an eye-opening series of tests for me. Essentially it underscores  @Eric_Roussel ​'s original request and  @mlattke ​'s push-back to me as an indication that the User Observees API is still pretty broken. Which is frustrating, because I had thought that much more of it had been fixed over the course of this year.

Community Contributor

Yes. My organization has strong feelings about linked observers being able to opt-in notifications, too -- and, particularly, being presented with an "honest" list of notifications to which they can opt-in. Right now, observers (in our case, advisors) can opt-in to notifications and then receive a false sense of normalcy through a total lack of notifications. Not. Good.


 @SethBattis ​, I just started a slow clap in your honor!