If It’s Called “Canvas,” Why Can’t I Paint?

George Orwell:  In Favor of Plain Language

Last weekend, as I read the Sunday paper (the actual dinosaur ink-and-print kind),  I ran across John Rodden’s recent column, which (kind of) contends that George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is the text that launched the Plain Language movement. 

I was excited. 

This was our rhetoric grad class on a page! 

Now, granted, Rodden compares Orwell’s style to journalistic prose rather than crediting the author with establishing the U.S. government’s Plain Language initiative; however, an assertion like “,,,[e]ven more notable than all this, [is] the authority his “clear, plain” prose style has indirectly exerted, as countless writers have attested” is close enough for me!

There may be critics out there who say that Orwell’s direct communication style was a misstep that has led to the 21st century’s writing woes: texting, abrupt statements, rude lyrics – I am talking about you, hip hop!; sad, self-indulgent posts with wordless images, but I say bring it on! Let’s hop on the Orwellian plain language bandwagon, requiring everybody to communicate clearly.  

Heaven knows this is what I want for my students.

I assert that all writing should be straight-shooting, easy to follow, and clear. And this leads me far from George Orwell and straight to the Canvas Learning Management Platform.


Canvas, the anti-Plain Language Learning Platform

In my daily teaching life, I saddle up and tilt the latest online educational platform foisted upon me by the frequently loathed Central Office. The blades of this latest mandated windmill threaten to lift me into the air, hurling all my Best Practice and Best Intentions into the nether-reaches.  

Canvas, the county’s adopted learning platform is neither good nor plain nor even sensible. 


Design Flaws

I am no proponent of social media time-sucks, but even I know our educational technology must resemble social media or our primary audience will be lost. Here are some examples:

  • Canvas uses words. Just words. So many words.
  • There are few image options (and I do love images)
  • There is no easy way to link information or resources to assignments and no way to present material to be user-friendly. 
  • The links that can be created don’t look like working links: they are grayed and have a sad box face. 
  • Creating lesson modules is painful and slow, but worse (!) there is no intuitive or easy way to copy a carefully crafted module to share in another class. 
  • Canvas’ Help resource is worse than useless. There are no answers there.
  • Finally, the platform  is frequently offline.

The teacher-designer is limited by the platform in every way, proving Canvas is antithetical to what Plain Language should be:  Canvas is neither trustworthy, clear, accurate, complete, nor attractive. 

And most notably, it is never, ever design-centered.


So Why?

Canvas is the Educational Learning Platform adopted by the community colleges of Virginia. 

Central Office claims all public universities will follow suit. (University of Richmond, are you listening?)

Therefore, the thinking seems to be, CCPS students are being prepared for their future academic success.

Poor things.


One thought on “If It’s Called “Canvas,” Why Can’t I Paint?

  • February 2, 2020 at 12:59 pm

    Good work adding the featured image, and nice work connecting your practical, daily life with the concepts and principles of technical communication.

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