Monday, 25 April 2016

Canvas and the Honeycomb Framework

At some point last year I was printing in OGGB. This is pretty normal. I spend a lot of my time printing in OGGB because I have readings we have to print ourselves and assignments that are nearly all typed. What is also fairly normal is finding other peoples' discarded off-prints. One of those was about The Honeycomb Framework (Kietzmann, Hermkens, McCarthy, Sylvestre, 2011). I suspect this was a marketing paper's tutorial (maybe even assignment) sheet. I don't know. It could be Infosys or something else. The simple reality is that quite a few business courses have cause to discuss advertising and social media and the piece of paper, which now lives in my folder, says nothing about the course of origin.

The point? In a moment of boredom (madness?) I decided to try and analyse Canvas through the Honeycomb Framework... or, at least, what I could understand of it from this single sheet of paper. Most of the below was written in late January based on my experiences in summer school. The concluding remarks are from the time of publication on this blog. If you're confused, Canvas is an online course management system in the vein of CECIL... well, it replaced CECIL.


As far as I can tell, it is impossible to know who is online (whether staff or student).


Several features enable relationships -- I don't think they are used or will be.

  • There's a PM thing, however that works. (Even now, this was written during summer school, I've had no interaction with this functionality.)
  • In fact, I think that only works on a course level (i.e. I couldn't use it to PM with friends of mine doing none of the same papers as me.)

Well, we know who is staff and who is student and the implications thereof.
  • Also possible to get something akin to provenance re: content.

Highly stratified -- default is ordering into "groups" (i.e. courses). Limited inter-group potential (none? prob. vis a vis History 2XX/3XX?).
  • Further potential to create groups (incl. by students, I doubt it will be used).

User communication seems limited based on experience of Stats 301 and the relative popularity of the Facebook page (and, indeed, we've gone off platform with Piazza for three of my courses this semester; although, to be fair, Piazza is integrated with Canvas).


Exchange/distribution in a one-to-many fashion related to the reputation and group functionalities (i.e. staff to students).
  • I don't really expect much student to student sharing.
  • Canvas appears to theoretically allow for this.

Real names and course details (insofar as "you know X as a fellow student in Y" = course details) are revealed by default (and based on some remarks I heard from a staff member, this may well be something the University/that Department would like gone).
  • Opportunity for more revelation exists (e.g. profile picture or bio).
  • Based on casual observation - use of profile images is largely extended to "images not of self" and other opportunities are not taken up.
  • And most courses don't reveal (but cannot block access to) the People tab (blah blah /users in the url) the list of students and staff in the course anyway (probably another likely candidate for what said staff member said they wanted to get rid of).

Concluding Remarks:

Lecturers often talk about how Canvas was designed for students, by students. If that is the case, it was not by students very similar to Auckland's. The People Tab mentioned above is cool and stuff but the general view is that it is "creepy" (based on conversation with two, male, friends of mine). There are also too many different ways of doing the same thing... discussions, embedded Piazza and, to an extent, chat (which I have never seen used: and may be a way of seeing who is online).

It is this last feature which seems to be causing the largest number of issues. None of my current courses (or Stats 301) have had online quiz components so maybe that works better than was the case in CECIL (the old in house system), but if it is true, that would simply be because the staff have a handle on things. As things stand, I have several well organised courses, one not so organised one and another utterly disorganised course. The trouble is that the well organised courses are organised differently... the same features do different things or use different things to do the same thing. The less said about the other two (it seems departmental: and possibly an issue of support for one course's teaching team) the better.

There are several things which are straight out inferior to CECIL. For instance, marks are purely classified by course (unless they appear in the grades window until they're read and I read them too diligently?). CECIL used to release new marks into a separate joint folder: one didn't have to keep checking individual courses to see the marks. Likewise with announcements... except when you do use the list view (which has them all in one place) it doesn't auto delete on reading (which is how I have 57 in there, despite having not read, on Canvas, only 6... I read them as emails). It's possible that CECIL had this issue too but I just never noticed.

Most irritatingly, the stats aren't so good. Min, Max and Mean: no median, LQ or UQ. Just a box and whisker plot... so no density information. Useless.

Bring back CECIL.

Friday, 1 April 2016


Democracy is one of those ideas that this blog has, from time to time, brought up. However, its treatment has been rather assertive. That is to say, while I believe I have substantiated my arguments, if those arguments have built themselves on democracy I tend to assume that everyone agrees that democracy is a good thing. So, why is democracy a good thing?

For the most part, the reason why I think that democracy matters is that people should have a say in the societal structures that they live under. I came close to this idea in Flag Change: Who Should Vote?
If you have to live with something and a reasonable person would consider that you have the awareness and knowledge to make a reasonable decision in the course of that something, you should have a say. This is, basically, the principle underlying democracy... rule by the people (reign by the people is somewhat different mind).
One notes that this appears to be advocating qualified suffrage when removed from its context. I do not favour qualified suffrage except on the basis of age: everyone over eighteen should be allowed to vote. In fact, I personally favour everyone over the age of sixteen or, at the very least, a tethered age. Naturally, that was explained in the aforementioned post:
This is why some people have proposed a tethered voting age... you can vote if you turn 18 within x period of time after the date of the election (18 is also variable, of course). There is also the issue that if we have a mandatory schooling age of 16, we are pretty much saying that we expect people to be doing adult things and having adult lives from an age two years younger than that of the voting age. 
Adultness is also something to be wary of. The point being made is not that independence (i.e. having flown the nest: no longer being strictly a dependent) should determine that one can vote but rather participation. By the nature of our society, we assume that persons over the age of 18 participate. In fact, for almost all intents and purposes it is 17 because one is up in front of adult courts at 17. The problem identified above is that the way we have structured our school system, as a society, means that we acknowledge that people participate at an age younger than 18.

If you are wondering, this is why the age of eighteen is not so arbitrary as it first appears. While I am at a loss to explain why society chooses eighteen, of all possible ages, the point is that it understands eighteen as this moment of participation. It's still not completely non-arbitrary (e.g. plenty of fifteen year olds participate in political/philosophical discussion) but there is some non-whim based line of reasoning in there.

Which brings us back to the point quite nicely. I've just explained that we ought to vote (er, have democracy) because we should have a say in the societal structures we live under/with. I don't really know why that should be so. After all, while this is something a bit like the right to self-determination I don't know the philosophy underpinning (and, I daresay, nor do most people), provided you don't count "it seems right".

I could say that democracy is a guarantor of rights more generally. The issue with this is twofold. Firstly, why do those rights matter? (It gets a bit recursive for me because my major response is: people want them.) Secondly, is democracy really a guarantor of rights? It seems to me that this is not necessarily so. After all, it's very easy to have rights. It's a lot more difficult to have access to those rights: to actually be able to utilise them. Democracy follows from a situation where people can enjoy their theoretical rights (even if these are few in number), not the other way around. Democracy is, though, definitely a good way of preserving rights in a stable, non-corrupt democracy (and this is not a trivial thing to say).

On the other hand, perhaps it is sufficient that people want to have democracy. That is, the philosophy of utilitarianism is a justification. Basically, I am saying that when democracy doesn't harm anyone, if people want it, then the way to maximise benefits is to give people democracy. This is pretty easy to apply in practice. Why? Well, basically democracy is only harmful in specific circumstances.

Strange as it may seem, it's not a good idea to try and adopt what is inherently divisive if continuity and stability do not exist. If you do try this, then the inevitable outcome is that the divisions created by voting provide more destabilising momentum to the structure. Not good. Also, don't try to impose democracy: democracy is about groundswell, if people don't really accept it then there is a good chance it provides further destabilisations. Impositions can work with continuity (see: Japan after WWII as an example) but it is the continuity that matters, not the democracy. In practice, democracy requires a strong state structure that survives different leaders otherwise it falls down. It also requires trust -- trust that people will do what they are meant to -- in the sense that corruption can destabilise the stable (which is why strong democracies are also very transparent: but these aren't independent concepts).

However, I think, given how few people seriously reject democracy, it is not sufficient to move outside the democratic paradigm. That is, for all intents and purposes, the reason why democracy is good, why we should care when veneers are paraded as the real deal, is that the people ought to rule themselves. That is, people should have a meaningful say in the societal structures they live in. And yes, that means not just citizens should have the right to vote: permanent residents too.