Streamlining your site navigation

Whether you have imported a previous course or are starting from scratch, one of the first things you’ll want to do whenever you have a new Canvas site is to clean up the left side navigation.

You can add, remove, and hide items from the course navigation menu in the Navigation tab in Settings. Some tools can be completely removed while others can only be hidden from student view. Hidden tools will have the visibility icon ( an eye with a line across it ) next to them on the navigation menu. You, as the instructor, always have access to all tools even if they are hidden from student view.

Even though some tools start with the visibility icon to the right, this does not automatically mean the tool will remain hidden from students. Tools that are empty start out as hidden, until you add content. For example, until you post an announcement, the Announcement tool will have the visibility icon next to it.

This is also a good time to add or change the picture on your Canvas course card in your course settings. (The course card is the colored square you see on your canvas dashboard with your course name and semester on it.) See Changing your Canvas course card in this book for instructions.

What to disable

It’s generally a good idea to hide all the tools that you are not actively using as part of your course. Unused tools clutter up your navigation and lead to student questions about their use or purpose.

One tool that you may be using – but that you may not need on your navigation – is the Quizzes tool. Graded quizzes and tests that students complete in Canvas also automatically appear in the Assignments tool. Having them visible through both tools can cause confusion about which one is the “real” quiz or test.

Course Questionnaire and Questionnaire Responses are only used by certain schools and departments. If you are in one of those schools/departments, you should have received instructions about how to use the tool. If you are not in a school or department using these tools, they should be hidden to avoid confusion.

See the Canvas Guide “Add and remove items from the course navigation menu in course settings“for instructions.

What to keep

  • Home: You can choose what you would like to appear on the course home page, including your most recent announcements.
  • Announcements: Without this tool, students will not be able to review older announcements that have moved off the home page.
  • Assignments: Keep this tool unless you are organizing your course using Modules. In that case, all assignments would be found in the Modules tool, and you can hide the Assignments tool.
  • Syllabus: Placing the syllabus (either in text, or as a linked file) in the syllabus tool makes it easy for students to find.
  • Grades: Students need to have access to their grades throughout the semester. If you don’t want them to see the calculated final grade, see the Canvas Guide “How do I hide totals in my students’ grade summaries?
  • Name Coach

Additional Tools

There are some items that are not enabled in Canvas by default that you may wish to add.


If you are using modules to organize your course, the Modules tool will appear automatically once you publish a module. If you are teaching an online or hybrid course, it is very helpful to organize your course materials, activities, and assignments in the Modules tool so that students can easily find everything in one place and in chronological order. For more on the Modules tool, see Using Modules for organization in this book.

Please note that, even if you publish all the items in a module, the students will still not see the module until you publish the module itself. Modules and module items are only visible to students if the green “published” checkmark is showing to the right of the module and module item name.


If you are teaching an online or hybrid course where students will be interacting with each other , the Canvas Discussions tool is the easiest tool to use. Normally discussions will go in their appropriate Module so the Discussion tool is not needed on the Canvas navigation. Discussions can be graded or ungraded. It is strongly recommended to use graded discussions – especially if online discussion is replacing in-class discussion, participation, or attendance that you would grad in an in-person class. The “Effective Discussions” section in the Digital Course Design Resources Pressbook provides more information on discussion strategies.

Students can interact with one another as part of a whole-class discussion or in smaller groups. The maximum size for an effective, content-driven or problem-solving discussion is 10-12 students so breaking students into smaller groups is normally necessary. Introductions and frequently-asked-questions discussions usually include the entire class. The “Puzzle of Online Participation” section in the Digital Course Design Resources Pressbook provides more information on discussion strategies

For more on the Discussion tool, see the Canvas Guides “How do I create a discussion as an instructor?” and “How do I create a group discussion in a course?


If you are providing a large number of files to students and are not using Modules, you’ll want to keep the Files tool visible. If you do, create a folder structure so that files are grouped by topic or week so students can find them. If any of the files have non-descriptive file names, rename them so they can be identified by students.

See the Canvas Guide “Add and remove items from the course navigation menu in course settings” for instructions.

Other tools

If you’re using other tools, such as an IU eText, publisher tools (not through eText), Kaltura MyMedia or Media Gallery, Quick Check, etc., you’ll want those on your navigation as well. You can add those in your course Settings on the Navigation tab.

You can also add links to important websites using the Redirect tool. The Redirect tool is available in course Settings on the Apps tab. The button for it features a large blue arrow.

The tool will allow you to add a URL, give it a name, and add it to the Course Navigation.


Questions? Talk to your campus teaching and learning center!

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