Canvas - Paired Observers and the Parent App

Instructors may encounter situations where they notice an observer in their Canvas course roster who is paired to a student in the course.

There are two scenarios in which this type of observer/student pairing could have been made:

  • The student has chosen to pair their Canvas account with an outside observer, such as a parent, guardian, mentor, or other individual. UW-Madison has enabled Canvas Parent, a separate application designed to work with Canvas, which gives parents/guardians or others the ability to see all courses in which the paired student is enrolled and to view some of their course activity as well as their grades. 


  • UW-Madison Athletics Advising can perform an observer pairing with the student for advising purposes. In these situations, however, the instructor has been alerted before the observer is enrolled and the instructor has been given the ability to opt out of the Observer enrollment/pairing in their course.


What can a paired Observer do in Canvas, and what can’t they do?

Within a particular course, a paired observer can:

  • See all events and assignments on the calendar
  • View and read course announcements
  • See how a teacher has organized course content in Modules. They can also see the point values for individual assignments.
  • View grades for the paired student and set grade alerts.
  • See quiz titles. (The actual quiz content is not available.)
  • View course content. Observers can view the same content as the student they are observing unless the content is unpublished or restricted by locked dates. Observers can view module content locked by prerequisites or requirements, as module progression is not measured for observers.
  • View assignments even if the student they are observing has not completed them unless the assignments are locked.
  • Access student Conversations if the teacher or student copied them on the message. Paired Observers can also message the instructor.

Paired Observers cannot: 

  • Submit assignments
  • Take quizzes 
  • Join course groups
  • See course discussions 
  • Send messages to students (only to instructors).
  • See course rosters
  • See unpublished courses

Who has access to the Canvas Parent app?

Canvas Parent can be used by anyone who creates an account and has been “paired” with a student user. To be paired, the student needs to log into their Canvas account and provide the Canvas Parent user with a unique pairing code or QR code. The observer is linked only to the paired student and will be enrolled in each student's past, current, and future courses automatically as an Observer. The accounts cannot be paired without the student taking action to grant the pairing.

Can an instructor decide to unenroll an observer from their course?

UW-Madison instructors have discretion to remove an observer from their course at any time. This is because instructors have the ability to decide whether or not to grant visibility to their students’ activity–and to course materials–to individuals not officially enrolled in the course. It is strongly encouraged that instructors talk to students to understand their rationale for putting the observer pairing in place before removing it.

Principal Instructor and Supervisory Instructor roles have the functional capability in Canvas to remove observers from their course; Auxiliary Instructors do not.

Again, instructors also have the choice to opt out of observer pairings in their courses that have been put in place for Athletics advising purposes.

For questions about an observer in your course or for technical assistance, please contact the DoIT Help Desk.

What about FERPA?

This page on the Office of the Registrar’s website states that for university students, regardless of age, FERPA rights apply to the student alone. As such, parents and guardians do not have a legal right to access a student’s education records without written consent. Students can choose on their own, however, to share their Student Record, grades, enrollment verifications, and more with parents or guardians. Again, student/Canvas Parent observer pairing can not take place without the student taking action to grant the pairing.

Keywords:supervise ita observer parent app athletics advising athletes canvas guardian roster pair paired QR code pairing advisor advisee canvas learn learn@UW   Doc ID:79666
Owner:Learn@UW Madison .Group:Learn@UW-Madison
Created:2018-01-25 16:28 CDTUpdated:2022-09-01 15:07 CDT
Sites:DoIT Help Desk, Learn@UW-Madison
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