Changing Canvas Terminology

Community Member
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Our school uses very specific terminology. (i.e. they do not use the term Courses, Assignments, or Grades)

We know how to change those terms in the Navigation, but they are also used throughout the platform. Has anyone had any luck with changing terminology throughout the platform? Canvas is suggesting our users adopt the more traditional terms, or be prepared for significant custom development costs because it likely will not be able to get done using css/javascript.  


Community Member

It would be very helpful to be able to customize the terminology used for button names, titles and tool directions. For instance, I would like to change the "Course Summary" name to "Course Schedule". I get that customized names can be taken to extreme and lead to confusion on the part of students so they must be used judiciously. Still, it shouldn't take too much from a programming perspective to make that possible in a limited way.

Community Champion

Yes, the challenge is knowing every other instance of where the reference to that tool is. I'm working on a project to manipulate the native Syllabus tab to something else since we're in the process of adopting a new syllabus management solution with an LTI navigation tab. The word Syllabus comes up in the following areas:

  • Navigation tab
  • Breadcrumbs across the top
  • Header on the Syllabus page
  • Navigation tab configuration on the course settings page
  • Screen reader HTML code
  • Front Page option dialog

The last one is a tricky one because the page text for Syllabus doesn't exist until the user clicks on the "Change Home Page" button on the home tab.

The challenge is you have to know what the elements are that contain the text and then use a JS theme override statement to replace them in ALL the known areas. There's a good chance that Instructure will update their methodology of how to identify the elements for their own purposes and break your code on any given release/update, so you have to stay on top of the release schedule

Community Contributor


Those are all excellent points and the dynamically generated content is definitely harder to customize.

In addition to find all of those places, there are a couple more things to keep in mind:

  • Mobile view in browser can result in different rendered content that would also need to be updated in case users are accessing Canvas on a smaller screen.  For example, the course navigation menu changes to a drop-down option rather than a side navigation.  I discovered this when I was doing debugging with Chrome Dev Tools and saw the layout change for a smaller width.
  • Mobile apps are also limited in what you can customize with the theme.  While you can change almost anything in the browser view with theme customizations, the theme customizations for mobile apps are limited to user generated content. 
Community Explorer

One way this could be achieved would be exposing the localization files in some fashion. 

For example, a "Localization Editor" tool could provide the ability to change localized strings like "Courses" to something else entirely.

You can see how these files are built here:

Community Member

Our College went through the same process. Our technical guys created some Javascript that changes the terms as they appear. Not a great solution but it worked for web based Canvas not the apps

In any case, the main reason for my reply is that whilst this works we have decided after 2 years to reverse this decision. The main reason is that our users find it difficult to get help from anything other than internal sources. By that, I mean that any existing training videos or materials all refer to different terms and they find it confusing. To accommodate this we created a lot of training resources in-house. This was/is time-consuming. 

Also whenever a user wants to search for a solution to a problem. eg we changed Modules to Units in the navigation. If a user googles "How do I create a new Unit in canvas" they don't get any useful results. Given we try to empower our users to be self-sufficient as much as possible in problem-solving renaming terminology was counterproductive and led to frustration and confusion.

There was a great deal of discussion on this topic for us but ultimately we decided on reverting the terminology back to the original.

Just thought you might appreciate the perspective of an organisation that has been there.