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Mahara is a user-centric environment with a permission framework that enables different views of an ePortfolio to be easily managed. These views help you display your artefacts in a way you choose and to the people you want. You can also create online communities and social networks through groups, blogs, and forums.
In this article, we find answers to the frequently asked questions on Mahara 1.2 ePortfolios.
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Q: What will you need to install Mahara?
A: Before you can install Mahara, you will need to have access to a Linux server. It may be that you run Linux on a laptop or desktop at home or that your company or institution has its own Linux servers, in which case, great! If not, there are many hosting services available on the Internet, which will enable you to access a Linux server and therefore run Mahara.
It is important that you get a server to which you have root access. It is also important that you set your server up with the following features:
- Database: Mahara must have a database to work. The databases supported are PostgreSQL Version 8.1 or later and MySQL Version 5.0.25 or later. The Mahara developers recommend that you use PostgreSQL, if possible, but for most installations, MySQL will work just as well.
- PHP: Mahara requires PHP Version 5.1.3 or later.
- Web Server: The preferred web server is Apache.
- PHP extensions:
- Compulsory Extensions: GD, JSON, cURL, libxml, SimpleXML, Session, pgSQL or Mysqli, EXIF, OpenSSL or XML-RCP (for networking support)
- Optional Extension: Imagick
Q: Can Mahara be installed on Windows?
A: At the moment, the Mahara developers offer no support for running Mahara on Windows Servers. It is designed to primarily work with Linux, Apache, PHP, and open source SQL databases.
Q: What are Views in Mahara? How are they different from Blogs?
A: They are one of the stand-out features of Mahara and we think you are really going to enjoy learning to use them. Views, like blogs, are an excellent tool for reflection. The difference between the two is that a blog is very text orientated with a user reflecting on a topic in writing (with usually an odd image or video to supplement the text), but Views allow you to express your ideas in more of a "web page" type format using lots of different blocks. Also, Views are flexible; you can very easily add and remove whichever blocks you want.
Q: What are some of the things you can do with Views in Mahara?
A: Let's think about some of the things you can do with Views in Mahara:
- You could present all of your ideas related to one of the topics in a qualification you are taking. This could be for your own reference or you may choose to share access to this View with your tutor or classmates.
- You could use a View to take notes on all of the thoughts, ideas, links, and so on, that you gather while you are attending a conference (if you have a wireless connection). You can then share the View with your colleagues after the event to show them what you have learned.
- You could use a View to explore and express your thoughts on a particular aspect of your social or family life, such as a family holiday. This is likely to be private, and something you would only share with other members of your family.
- You could use a View as a tutor to present all of the important materials your learners need to read, watch, listen to, and think about in preparation for a particular topic they are going to study with you. Lots of lecturers prefer to use Mahara to present their work instead of doing so in a Virtual Learning Environment such as Moodle. This may be partly because the lecturer's name (and avatar) will continue to be associated with the work presented in the Mahara View even after they retire or move on to another academic institution.
- You could use a View to present an ongoing progress report on a project you are doing at work. You might make a blog post an element of this View as well as make important files related to your project available for sharing.
Q: What is a secret URL?
A: It is used if you would like to give some people who aren't already members of the Mahara site access to your View. The URL is simply a link to the View, which you can set up as a hyperlink in another web page, in a blog, or e-mail so that others can open it. The URL that is created is difficult to guess so that the general public can't see your View. Rather than use it as a hyperlink, you could just send the whole link to the people you would like to give access to the View by pasting it into an e-mail, for example.
Q: When can the View feedback be useful?
A: This might be useful in the following situations:
- You might have asked a peer for feedback on some work you are doing on a particular course in exchange for feedback you can give on their work.
- A tutor may have added your View to their Watchlist. You may then get some informal feedback from your tutor on your work before you submit it for formal assessment.
- You could be using the feedback functionality as a communication vehicle. You may raise a topic for discussion with your workmates, for example, and get them to answer the core question(s) posed in your View by using the feedback option.
- You may have used a View to share highlights of a recent holiday experience with your friends in Mahara. They could then use the feedback option to tell you how jealous they are of your rich experiences or at least of your suntan!
Q: How can the Mahara partners help you?
A: Mahara partners can help you with hosting, theming, training, coding, tweaking, extending, bug-fixing, problem-resolving, implementation consultancies, and, well, just about anything to do with Mahara, if you ask them nicely enough. All Mahara partners are excellent support agencies and, if you ARE really keen on using Mahara, you really should give one of the partners a shout.
Q: What are the steps to join the Mahara Community?
A: The steps to join the Mahara Community are as follows:
- Go and register: The very first thing that anyone will do on your Mahara site is log in. Head on over to http://mahara.org and click the option to Register, a small link, which you will find in the pale blue Login butt on in the top right-hand part of the screen. Once you've registered you can log in.
- Respond to your e-mail: You will need to confirm your registration by clicking the link that has been sent to your e-mail address. Once you have done this, you will find yourself at http://mahara.org, which is itself a Mahara site.
- Let's find some people!: Click on the Community tab, and then on the Members tab. Now let's see if you can find the authors! Can you see the Query box? Type in my name Derrin and see if you can find me?
- Let's look at some views: Now you've found me, click on my name and why not click on one of my views? Here's another example of Mahara in action.
- Join a forum: Click on the Community tab again, and now on the Forums tab. Can you see the Support forum? Its description is Need help using or installing Mahara? Ask your questions here. That's going to be useful to you, I bet! Why not subscribe to this forum by clicking on the Subscribe button. You will now be e-mailed with all the updates to this forum. Maybe there are other forums you might want to subscribe to. If you just want to browse a forum, just click on the name of the forum and you will be taken to a list of the posts.
- Have a look at the Mahara partners: Click on the Partners tab.
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Q: How many profile icons can you upload to your profile?
A: You are allowed to upload up to five profile icons and you can delete any icon at any point. You will need to choose one of your icons as your default profile icon which should probably be a fairly sensible one.
Q: How can you upload more than one file?
A: It can be done with the help of the following steps:
- Start by putting all the files you want to upload to Mahara into one folder.
- Then compress or zip the folder. The resulting zipped folder will end in .zip, .tar, or .tar.gz. How you zip a folder will depend on which operating system you are using but there is plenty of online help to show you how to do this.
- Upload your newly created zipped folder to a relevant place in your Mahara Portfolios as you would with any other file. You should now see it in your files area.
- You will see that an Unzip button has appeared. Click on it to begin unzipping the folder:
- The next page will show you the details of your zipped folder, including where the new files will appear in your Portfolio and which files are included in the zipped folder. Click Unzip again:
- The final page shows the unzipping in progress. When it's finished, you will see how many files/folders have been created. Click Continue to finish:
- You will now see that the new folder(s) and files have been added to your Portfolio.
Q: How are tags a useful feature in Mahara?
A: "Tags" are a really useful feature and are being increasingly used in modern web technologies. When you tag something, you are giving it a label, which describes something about it. Each tag is a single descriptive "keyword" Tags become useful later on when it comes to searching for items. All files tagged with a certain keyword are grouped together, so they become much easier to locate.
Q: What is a blog?
A: The word "blog" derives from the combined words "web" and "log"; that is, "web + "log" = "weBLOG". In Mahara we create a variety of blogs and then we use those blogs as a way of collecting our reflective thought processes on different topics. Actually writing things down is a useful process for helping us to understand our thoughts more clearly than we would understand them otherwise. It obviously helps to use different topics, which can organize our thoughts and learning in a neat and ordered way.
Q: Apart from using simple text blogs what can you do to make your Mahara blogs more attractive?
A: One great feature of Mahara is that you are able to add audio, video, and images to your blog posts. To do this, when creating your blog post, click on the Add file button at the bottom of the blog post creation screen. Then use the Select button to select the file to add it to your blog:
Now that the file has been added to your post, you can use the image upload icon in the body of your post to include the file you just added. Once you have added the image to your post, you are able to align it and resize it as you wish.
Q: When do you use a Sticky topic?
A: You can use this option if you have lots of forum topics, and you would like this particular one to stand out from the rest by staying 'glued' to the top of the forum.
Q: Which are the different messages you come across in Mahara?
A: These massages are follows:
- System message: These are messages that are automatically generated by the Mahara System or are sent to you by one of the system administrators.
- Messages from other users: These are automated messages that alert you or your group that access has been given to a new view that somebody has set up. They may also mean that you have now been awarded access to an existing non-public view.
- Feedback: These are messages sent to you by one of the administrators of an institution you belong to.
- Watchlist: These are messages sent to you by other users within the Mahara site.
- New view access: These are automated messages that tell you when a view you have added to a watchlist has been updated.
- Institution message: These are message postings that have been added to a forum set up in one of the groups you belong to.
- New forum post: These are feedback comments that are posted at the bottom of Mahara views (or blogs/files) you have produced. (Not all views have to allow feedback.)
Q: What is an institution? What are its advantages?
A: An Institution is a sub-division of a Mahara site, which can have its own administrators. The three main advantages of using Institutions are:
- Rather than having a number of separate Mahara installations, a consortium of different institutions can share a common user base on a single Mahara site. This allows users to network with others across institutional boundaries.
- A Mahara Site Administrator can devolve much of the responsibility for user management to Institutional Administrators.
- Each institution can be given its own theme.
Q: What is a course group? List few uses of the course group.
A: A group that can only be set up by Mahara Administrators (either Site Administrators or Institution Administrators) and/or by Mahara Staff Members allowing more formalized assessment processes and are known in Mahara as Course Groups.
Uses of the course group are as follows:
- Group owners can create Tutors for these groups.
- Users can submit work for assessment by the tutors in this group. This tutor's feedback can be restricted to the viewing of the view owner only.
Q: What can the Tutors do?
A: Tutors can only be set up within a course group; it is not a site-wide role. A Tutor within a controlled group has the ability to view all the work that has been submitt ed there for assessment. They are also able to release the work back to the learner once it has been assessed. They don't, however, have the ability to manage the group users or forums in the same way that the group administrator is able to.
eBook Price: $23.99
Book Price: $39.99
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Q: What are the implementation phases for Mahara?
A: Mahara implementation will essentially pass through three broadly distinct stages:
- Analysis and Specification
- Design and Implementation
- Evaluation and Continuation
To scaffold your Mahara implementation here, we will take you through the various phases that the above stages broadly define.
ANALYSIS AND SPECIFICATION
Phase 1: Decide if Mahara is right for you.
Phase 2: Understand your own specific needs and working conditions.
Phase 3: Choose between a Mahara-partner supported site or your own installation.
Phase 4: Scope out your implementation plan.
DESIGN AND IMPLEMENTATION
Phase 5: Create a Buzz!
Phase 6: Get some quick wins in first!
Phase 7: Continuously involve the users in your design process.
Phase 8: Keep going despite adversity!
EVALUATION AND CONTINUATION
Phase 9: Review and Re-evaluate.
Phase 10: Change and Embed.
Q: What are the steps for creating a Mahara database?
A: The steps are as follows:
- Open up your phpPgAdmin panel from your Internet browser and log in. The username is hopefully postgres. Contact your admin if you are unsure of the database password or how to locate the phyPgAdmin panel.
- On the front page there is a section that invites you to create database, click there. Give your database a relevant name such as mysite_Mahara. Make sure you select the UTF8 collation from the drop-down box. Finally, click Create.
- If you want to, it is a good idea to have a new user for each database you create. Use phpPgAdmin to create a new user.
- That's it, you're done!
Q: What are the examples of 'Big Bombs' situation response tactic?
A: 'Big Bombs' situation response tactic discusses opportunities to promote and better utilize Mahara.
The examples for this include:
- Powerbroker support: Get an institutional authority figure to express support in a public meeting or in a public newsletter.
- Identify and provide missing information: Is there something people need to know about Mahara's usefulness that you haven't told them? One example is that Mahara can serve as an online file storage area—a USB stick on the Internet. While this is not what Mahara is actually for, it is a useful utility, which may start getting people to engage.
- Visiting expert: Bring in an external speaker, who can talk with expertise about Mahara and ePortfolios.
- Generic questionnaires: It is often a good idea to conduct a feedback survey, which picks up the mood of the crowd. The magic here lies in the public report-back stage in which you state what the crowd responded and go on to carefully and usefully explain where and why you agree and disagree.
- User guide promotions: Run events to promote your new user guides. Give out user guides at parties, in group meetings and events, in cafes, in induction programs, during training events, and so on.
- Poster campaign: Display posters all around your institution promoting use of your ePortfolio. For example, the Mahara logo with "Mahara means thinking" or "Mahara makes ME think!" written on it. (You may of course have a different institutional name for your own Mahara install and so will come up with better, more localized, poster ideas.)
- Competitions and celebrations: Best View awards, most "medals" awards, busiest user awards, most innovative online thought of the year, best online project.
- Mass emails, newsletters, SMS, news forums: Keep people up to date with the project. Give both the leaders and the users a clear and ongoing sense of project progress.
- Formal training event: Probably the best Big Bomb Tactic of all? Bring in internal or external experts (for example, from a Mahara partner) to run a few day courses, which will really get cohorts of users confidently up and running with your platform.
Q: What does Artefact mean?
A: Artefact is the Mahara word for a bit of digital "stuff "—such as files, blogs, and profile or resume information. We control other people's access to our stuff by deciding for ourselves who can see the artefacts we choose to display in our own views.
Q: Who is a Maharan?
A: Some members of the Mahara community are starting to call themselves Maharans.
In this article we have answered the frequently asked questions on Mahara 1.2 ePortfolios.
- Installing Mahara
- Set up your own Profile in Mahara: Part 2
- Set up your own Profile in Mahara: Part 1
About the Author :
Derrin Kent describes himself as a cross between a trainer, a manager, a linguist, and a geek. Managing Director of TDM (http://tdm.info), Derrin has a Master's level teaching qualification from the University of Cambridge (DTEFLA) and is also a Linux-Certified professional (LPIC). A jack-of-all-trades in open source software, Derrin has extensive Moodle experience (already a reviewer of two Packt books on Moodle) and speaks both Spanish and English at home with his Peruvian wife and two bilingual children.
Glenys Bradbury is a Prince2-qualified Project Manager who also works as a Mahara (and Moodle) learning-designer, site-administrator and end-user trainer for TDM (http://tdm.info). Glenys has extensive working experience as a trainer and manager in both educational and business environments. She is a friendly and sensitive change-manager who really, really knows how to make a personal development planning/knowledge management implementation process come to life.
Meg Kent has worked continuously as a corporate manager and director in a variety of Work-Based Learning contexts since the late 1980s. She is now a Mahara (and Moodle) learning-designer and end-user trainer for TDM (http://tdm.info). Also a Work-Based Learning assessor in her own right, Meg successfully blends support for individuals' achievement of government-funded qualifications alongside the development of their practical Web2.0 skills.
Richard Hand is a Mahara platform manager, module developer and theme/configuration designer for TDM (http://tdm.info), an official Mahara partner organization. Richard also supports and develops other Open Source Software platforms including Moodle, Drupal, and Joomla. He graduated with a first class honours degree in Computer Science from the University of Bristol in 2008 and won a national (UK) award for "Best Website Design" for one of his TDM Joomla! sites in 2009 (selected from 2000+ competitor sites).