Best Practices: Hiding Course Navigation Buttons

The Best Practices series focuses on what instructors and students can do to effectively use Canvas. You’re welcome to contact Courseware Support at if you have any questions about best practices.

Do You Know Where Your Students Are (in Canvas)?

Canvas’s navigation options prevent students from getting lost in your site.

Perhaps you’ve never asked this question, but it’s worth considering. While one of Canvas’s strengths is its numerous tools and features, a byproduct of these options, depending on how you’ve structured your site, are extraneous navigation buttons. Unused navigation buttons–just the ones with black text, not the ones with gray (more on this later)–divert students from the content you’ve added. For example, if you’ve ever wondered why you have a button called Collaborations and don’t intend to use it, then it’s probably safe to assume your students are wondering about it, too. For students, wondering may lead to wandering, as in clicking on this and other buttons and finding areas unpopulated with course materials but present and visible nonetheless. Retracing one’s steps in Canvas is easy (the course navigation bar appears in all areas of a course), but so is customizing your navigation bar to hide buttons to unused areas, and doing the latter can stop students from getting lost in your site.

How to Hide Course Navigation Buttons

You can hide Course Navigation Buttons by following these instructions:

How do I reorder and hide Course Navigation links?

Other Reasons to Edit Your Course’s Navigation Bar

  • Customize the default order to display buttons according to your preference.
  • Hide the Files button. The “Files” area can’t be organized–all files and folders automatically display alphabetically and, if numbered, ASCIIbetically (1, 11, 12, 2, 27, 3 . . .). We recommend using Modules or Pages to organize files and other course content and just treating files as a document repository for instructors, TAs, and course builders.

Why Some Buttons are Black and Others Are Gray

Upon first entering your Canvas site, before you’ve made any edits, the course navigation bar looks like:

Course navigation bar in a new Canvas site.

The black buttons are visible to your students, and the gray buttons aren’t (to see this for yourself, take at look a your site in Student View by following these instructions: How do I access Student View?).  As you add content to areas in your site, the corresponding navigation buttons go from gray to black. Here’s an example from a site with content in most areas:

Course navigation bar with content added.

When you hide a navigation button it goes from black to gray, indicating that it’s no longer visible to your students.  Here’s an example of the same course navigation bar pictured directly above with several buttons hidden:

Course navigation bar with hidden buttons.

Keep Track of Your Buttons

If you aren’t sure why a button is gray, first check to see if it’s hidden. If it’s not hidden, click on the button and verify that the area doesn’t have any content. If you’re working in a content area and notice a button is gray, or if a student says they can’t access an area that you know has content, check to see if it’s hidden and, if it is, make it visible if you want students to enter the area.

Please Note

You can’t change the text on a button. Also, you can’t add buttons to the navigation bar, neither to unlisted areas of a Canvas site (e.g., “Groups) nor for external web links.

Don’t Button Up–Please Share!

If you think you’re colleagues would benefit from this information, then please share it with them. If you have any questions, please contact Courseware Support at

Last Updated: 11 Nov 2014

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