Canvas is the Enemy – v1

For many SMC students, Canvas is a convenient one-stop home where we can attend to the many aspects of our semester classes. For me, Canvas is less of an aid and more of a roadblock in the pursuit of knowledge. For me, Canvas is the opposite of education.

By 2019 most of us understand that with Social Media, we gain easy sharing with friends and relatives, but we pay the price of having to stand by and watch as they package our lives and identity for sale to marketers, governments, or anybody else who has an interest in us as a commodity.

Some protest that the price of Social Media is the loss of privacy. I argue that the price of Learning Management Systems (LMS) like Canvas is freedom. I don’t want to lose my privacy or my freedom. If the values we claim to hold as a nation and a people mean anything, then freedom must be at least as important as privacy.

From the point of view of a student, Canvas is a convenient place to find course content, view the calendar, turn in assignments, and so on. But that’s like saying that social media is just a way to share family photos and pretending that we’ve never heard of the practice of marketing personal data or Cambridge Analytica.

This semester I’m enrolled in Journalism 22 at SMC. Therefore I have access to all the rich content of that course’s Canvas pages. It also means that I have no access to the rich content of all the other thousands of courses being taught at SMC this semester. After paying the course fees and doing the course work this semester, I won’t even have access to the J22 resources next semester.

In part, the problem is that Canvas conflates privacy and freedom in unhelpful ways. Clearly, things relating to individual students should default to privacy. It makes sense for grades and assignments turned in to be private materials. But the rich course content has no such requirement. Why can’t materials produced to educate the citizens of California be as widely disseminated as possible? By sweeping all knowledge into narrow silos Canvas inverts and defeats the traditional role of college as a fountain of knowledge.

Colleges like SMC must first and foremost be about sharing knowledge as widely as possible. If education is power, why should it be denied to anyone? Eighteen years ago the Massassachusets Institute of Technology (MIT) launched the MIT OpenCourseWare initiative, a project to publish all of the materials from MIT’s undergraduate and graduate courses online, freely and openly available to anyone, anywhere. Since then over 250 other colleges have chosen to make their course materials available to anyone, anywhere, thirsty for knowledge. Sadly, SMC is not one of those colleges.

I believe that access to knowledge is a basic right that belongs to every member of humakind. The United Nations has declared "the ability to participate in culture" as a basic human right. But you can’t participate in culture if you lack access to knowledge. It’s time for SMC to dump the restricted access model of knowledge as emblemized by knowledge trapped in silos like Canvas.

Published by Glenn Zucman

Artist & Arts Educator based in Los Angeles.