(For more resources on Moodle 1.9, see here.)
Exploring the Exabis portfolio
The Exabis portfolio is a third-party add-on that can be placed in your courses to allow students to store and organize their work and allow them to share it with others, for example, external verifiers. The code can be downloaded from the Modules and plugins section at the Moodle website (http://moodle.org/mod/data/view.php?d=13&rid=1142&filter=1).
Once the code has been installed, the site administrator will need to check the settings of the block for all users.
The first job, for an administrator, is to make sure the settings meet the institution's needs. These settings are available on the administration panel. You may need your site administrator to adjust these for you if you do not have these permissions. The following screenshot shows the two options available:
The settings will be determined by what version you have installed on your system, and in this case, the options relate to how the portfolio looks. The key feature of recent portfolios is the ability to create views that are customized web pages. Most students will be familiar with this activity through social networking sites.
Installing the Exabis block into a course
To use the Exabis block, you first need to enable editing within the course you are responsible for. To do this, you need to click on the Turn editing on button, as shown in the following screenshot:
This will change the view of your course, and a block will now be visible on the right-hand column to add further blocks to your course.
The Add button, as shown in the previous screenshot, is a drop-down list and will list all available blocks in alphabetical order. You need to scroll down until you find the Exabis E-Portfolio listing and then click to add this block.
Once the block has been added to your course area, you can make some more localized adjustments.
In the staff view, there are three options. However, the two lower options merely point to different tabs on the same menu as the MyPortfolio link. Once you open the portfolio, you can see the layout of the block and the functions that it supports, as shown in the following screenshot:
The personal information tab
The first tab allows students to build up some personal information so that they have a sort of limited resume or CV. Once students click on the Information tab, they will see one button (Edit), which will open an edit window to allow them to add some notes and details.
The Categories tab
After students have entered some basic information about themselves, they need to organize their material. This is achieved initially by establishing some categories under which the information they gather can be structured. In this example, using the Product Design course, the student may need to create categories for each section they are working with. In the UK, for example, this would be: Materials and Components, Design and Market Influence, and Process and Manufacture.
By clicking on the Categories tab, there will, as with the Information tab, be an edit button visible. Clicking on this button will open a window to create the required categories, as shown in the following screenshot:
By clicking on the New button, as shown in the previous screenshot, the category will be created and you will then have the choice to add sub-categories or new categories as required. The layout of this edit window is as shown in the following screenshot:
These can be further broken down into sub-categories that match the course specification. The process is the same as creating categories, and with each new category created, an additional field appears to add sub-categories, as seen in the previous screenshot. The resulting structure could look similar to the following screenshot, where each part of the specification has a corresponding category and sub-category.
These categories will now be available in drop-down menus for the students to add various resources, such as files and notes, as shown in the following screenshot:
In the previous screenshot, you can see that students have a drop-down box under Categories, which lists categories and sub-categories for them to link their resources too.
Building up the portfolio content
Students can now build up their portfolio of evidence and can share this information, if they need to, with staff, other students, or external examiners. The information is organized through the main My Portfolio tab, as shown in the following screenshot:
Under this tab, there are sub-tabs that allow the students to link to websites, upload files, and also make notes about some of the material they have gathered. Each of these can now be associated with a category or sub-category to give some clear definition to their research work. The following screenshot shows a student adding some files to a sub-category related to design:
In the previous screenshot, students could attach a file which may be some notes they made on a factory visit that they have scanned.
Gradually, they can start building up a detailed folder of information and links to other useful resources. The following screenshot shows the MyPortfolio view as a student builds up some of their reference material and notes.
Each of the resources is clearly categorized and time stamped and the type of resources is easy to see.
In the release under discussion here (version 3.2.3 release 168) there is a tab to create views. This is still under development and not fully functional, but may well be functional by the time you install it.
Clicking on the Views tab will show a button to add a view. Clicking on the Add View button will open an edit window to allow the student to organize their views, as shown in the following screenshot:
The views are quite basic at present, but will allow students to build up a portfolio of evidence in an easy and organized way.
Sharing their work and thoughts
If students would like to share some of their work with each other, then they can via the Views tab. This tab, on the latest version, has a link to allow sharing.
Once students enable the sharing function by clicking on the Change link, they can then choose what type of sharing they require and with whom.
In the case shown here, the student can elect to share his/her work externally by creating a link to his/her folder from an external or an internal link. The Internal Access option allows them to further specify who can see their portfolio. In this case, they can share it with all of the staff who teach them in the design and technology faculty, or just some of the staff. In this case, when the product design teacher logs in and checks for shared portfolios, they will see this student's work.
Importing and exporting portfolios
Increasingly with e-portfolios there is the need to be able to take the entire portfolio with the students to other places of study or work. With the Exabis system, there is the ability to export the student's work in a number of formats. The two formats, currently available are Shareable Content Object Reference Module (SCORM) and Extensible Markup Language (XML). Both of these are file structures used to import and export groups of files from web-based systems such as Moodle. The import facility in Exabis will import a SCORM file, which is usually in a zipped format. The options shown for Export/Import are shown in the following screenshot:
In both cases shown here, the export will allow students to save their work as a ZIP file, and depending on how they have structured their portfolio, they will have a range of choices regarding what to include in the export. The following screenshot shows the options for a SCORM export.
The student, as shown in the previous screenshot, has chosen to save his/her Product Development material in a SCORM file. Clicking on the Create SCORM-File button will open a download dialog window where the student can chose where on his/her computer to save the zipped file.
An additional feature shown in the previous Export your portfolio screenshot is the ability to include Moodle assignments in the portfolio of evidence. This would be useful if students take the portfolio to a new job. Clicking on the Import from Moodle-Assignments link results in a screen where students can add their assignments, as shown in the following screenshot:
Under the Action column shown in this screenshot, the student can click on the add this file link. Clicking this link will open the MyPortfolio:Add window and the student can link this assignment to a category. The resulting link will then appear in their MyPortfolio: Files view. The assignment itself will be a hyperlink, which will open the word-processed assignment when clicked.
Opening the assignment link will create a full URL to where the assignment can be located so that external examiners or employers can also view the work. It allows additional notes to be added by the student, such as follow up comments, as shown in the following screenshot:
The additional commentary shows how the student has used the portfolio to track their learning process and to reflect on their earlier work. The whole process is therefore contained in an organized structure that the student controls and can be modified as their greater understanding dictates.
Future developments in Exabis
As mentioned, the views in this portfolio are not yet fully developed, but the current version is very usable. In order to have more flexibility and functionality, it is necessary to install a more fully featured e-portfolio such as MyStuff, which we will investigate in the next section.
(For more resources on Moodle 1.9, see here.)
Exploring the MyStuff portfolio
Like most e-portfolios, as they are quite a new feature, the Open University (OU) e-portfolio called MyStuff is heavily under development, though very feature-rich and usable. The latest download (currently codenamed Longmorn) can be found at: http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/MyStuff-info/?page_id=39. At this address, you will find installation tips as well as support forums.
One of the key limitations with Exabis is that there is no real way to restrict how much students can upload and therefore there is a danger that they might fill up your web server very quickly. With MyStuff, the administrator user can set a limit on the amount of space that can be used as well as give the students some warning messages to alert them to this fact. This gives students more focus as they need to be more aware of what materials they are saving and why.
Configuring system-wide settings (Storage)
The settings, which control how MyStuff is used, are located under the Modules section of the administration block (Site Administration | Modules | Manage Activities), as shown in the following screenshot:
Clicking on the Settings link in the previous screenshot will open a configuration window. The configuration options are broken down into three tabs: mystuffconfig, mystuffexport, and mystuffimport.
The first configuration tab relates to storage and usage parameters. There are also settings here which relate to the Open University's system called eMTA (electronicaly Marked Tutor Assignments), which do not relate to our system and so do not require any modifications. The settings we do require relate to the amount and type of storage we wish to allow. The following screenshot shows some suggested quantities for the maximum size of the portfolio per student, as well as warning levels.
The main settings here are how much space should students be allowed and when should they be warned about it so that they can deal with the problem. Here we have settled for 15 MB, though we will allow up to 20 MB before they are frozen out. You may also wish to restrict the types of files allowed to be uploaded—portfolio_fileuploadtypestorestrict. As this is a student-controlled portfolio, the chances are that they may upload material that would be illegal under most country laws, such as MP3 music files, which they have not purchased.
It is worth noting that the school is legally responsible for these files and the fines in the UK, for example, are huge. So it may be worth preventing them appearing, unless students can be trusted.
MyStuff export settings
The next settings tab deals with the type and nature of allowed exports from portfolios. The first settings deal with the option to upload a list of users to be allowed to export material, assuming they are not currently in the list available. The list itself allows some choice between the available students. By default, they will all be selected since they are all part of the course.
MyStuff Export Settings: File Export Type
The final settings determine the style of export allowed, such as files, Information Management System (IMS) structures, or no files at all. Once this has been set, the whole series of portfolios can be exported to another site. This may be useful when students are moving to another institution and would like to take their portfolio with them. Likewise with the import feature, though it is unlikely that most institutions will use these features, so they can be explored as and when required.
The portfolio is designed by the Open University to work with their customized version of Moodle, so many of the features here are specifically for their system and will not be applicable.
Using MyStuff in courses
Now that the settings have been applied, especially the folder size limits, the students can start using the portfolio for themselves.
With the editing switched on, choose the HTML option from the blocks drop-down menu. This will create an empty block on the course page. You can then click on editing to change the block and add the link you require.
Select a word, in this example, the word here, and then click on the hyperlink icon to make it a link.
MyStuff is a module and is called portfolio, so the link needs to reflect this, as shown in the following screenshot:
If you choose to open the module in a new page, it might make it tidier for students and easier to navigate. Either way, when students click on the link, the module will load and present them with their working interface.
The layout is quite similar to the Exabis portfolio reviewed earlier, but there is more detail and options. There is also a clear indicator of just how much space is available, as shown in the following screenshot:
This feature will help students manage their space more efficiently. It could also be used as a discussion point in terms of storage and work towards some credit for students in the IT component.
Guiding students to use MyStuff
As the name of the module suggests, this portfolio is very much centered on the student's own ideas and resources. Over time, they will build up a digital portfolio very much akin to what would have been, in the "old days", their school bag contents. With this in mind, the students will need to be guided as to where to start and roughly what needs to be done.
Creating and using forms
A good starting point for this portfolio is the section describing the various forms and areas they need to compile. This is situated under the /Items/Forms directory and presents the students with an overview of all the areas they will need to use.
The first of these areas is information-specific to the student themselves and incorporates elements that will eventually lead to them creating an online resume or CV. The main components of this form can be seen in the following screenshot:
This module, as already mentioned, is developed and maintained by the Open University (OU), so some of the forms are geared towards this tertiary level of education. However, the basic details are relevant to students at all levels, and since the portfolio is mobile, it can be taken to higher educational institutions or jobs.
The forms are quite straightforward to fill in and students can soon build up a clear profile of themselves. Each form will vary depending on what information is required, but all forms can use tags, which will allow easy searching and reference at a later date.
Building a catalogue of information
In the forms section, there is also a personal library that students can use to build a catalogue of information to help them with their studies.
Each page gives some clear instructions about what is required to reference, but it will help students gain some good habits in organizing the material that they use in their studies and tie it to their courses in a very effective way. Information can be created and modified using the three main steps, as shown in the following screenshot:
The first item that will probably be generated will be some kind of lesson note. It is assumed here that a student has taken notes during a lesson or a construction workshop on a notepad and needs to transfer them to their portfolio for electronic storage, perhaps as homework. They first need to create a note.
The form that opens is very much as any other form, which means that it becomes easy for students to get used to the way the system works. The form has five fields to complete:
- Title (name of the file or note)
- Notes (any notes about the item)
- Upload link (a browser to find and attach files)
- Alternative Text (an additional field for extra details)
- Tags (a field to tag the item for easy search and reference at a later date)
The student will need to create a title and then make some notes about the subject. In this example, it is lesson notes from a lesson on the evolution of plastics and their effect on changing design production.
The key element to remember is to associate a tag with the item.
The tags will generate a searchable library of the student's information, which will make it far easier for them once they begin to revise for public examinations. The tags will also be more visible in terms of the amount of information, so the more the information, the larger the tag that will be shown. This will act as a visual guide to show students that these areas have been covered far more comprehensively and so are more likely to be key topics to revise. The overview page will keep track of the tags, as shown in the following screenshot:
Once the note is properly filled in, including any attachments, such as scanned notes from lessons or sketches, it can then be further edited and referenced.
Any file attachments are also stored with the note, as shown, and likewise if it is shared with others. In addition, the note can store comments from the student themselves or from other people such as peers or staff.
Sharing the material with others
The key feature here is the ability to share the material with others. This can be view only, as with people in the group, or view and comment as for staff.
In the previous screenshot, you can see that there is an icon to show the ability to share this item. By clicking on the linking icon, you will be presented with an interface to set the options for sharing. The first part of this option screen, as shown in the following screenshot, allows you to select a whole group to share your material with.
As you can see in the previous screenshot, you can select an entire group to view or write comments on your items or you can select individuals. This would be useful if you have a sub-group in a class such as four students working on furniture design. This group could share details with each other on their specialized subject, but more general materials with other students in Product Design.
One useful feature for staff is the ability to see what and when revisions to the notes were made.
If they are used for formative assessment, this can be useful for tracking development and to make sure that students are meeting agreed upon deadlines with clear visual evidence to support it. If the note is to be shared, then it will appear on another user's system with the appropriate notes and status.
The people on the course will be listed in the share dialog, as shown in the following screenshot:
The student or staff can then select from the list of users the particular share permissions for this piece of work. As you can see in the following screenshot, the choices are: Not sharing, view only, and view & comment.
In the example over here, the teacher is allowed to make some comments on the work but others, such as students or a teaching assistant, can only view them.
Attaching a message to the submission
If the student needs to notify staff of the work, then they can choose to send a message, as shown in the following screenshot:
As shown in the previous screenshot, you can also set the item so that if any changes are made as to who can see the material, they will be notified. This could be useful as part of an external verification process where students can share their material with an examiner for a set period of time.
Setting a time limit on shared material
There is also the ability to limit the time that it is shared for. This may be incorporated into the lesson plans and practices. It will now be shared and available to other members of that group, such as the class teacher. The following screenshot shows the date setting options available:
Commentary on shared work
The work can be commented on by staff once shared, as shown in the following screenshot:
This will allow some form of feedback and informal assessment, which could then be transferred back to the gradebook for tracking. The student will see the same comments when they log in to their portfolio.
Over time, the student will build up a detailed selection of items in their portfolio and can then export the portfolio when they move on to a job or higher education. The portfolio is fully LEAP2A-compliant, which means that it will be easier to transport between institutions and allow students to maintain throughout their professional lives. The LEAP2A specifications can be found here: http://wiki.cetis.ac.uk/LEAP2A_specification
MyStuff development and limitations
The MyStuff e-portfolio continues to be developed and modified to meet student and staff needs, and new features are added as required. It is very usable and will allow students to develop a more holistic approach to their learning as well as make them more organized with their digital artifacts. One limitation of the current version of MyStuff is that it cannot be tied into assignments in Moodle. The next level of portfolio is to use an external one such as Mahara, as this can be used to assess a student's electronic work.
(For more resources on Moodle 1.9, see here.)
Mahara is an e-portfolio developed and maintained by a New Zealand Moodle partner. It is designed to allow institutions to share information and best practices. It works through a method of Single Sign On (SSO) and is therefore seamless with Moodle. It is very powerful with a great many options, but will give students and staff a greater level of collaboration and design flexibility.
The installation of Mahara is a similar process to the installation of Moodle. There are many excellent tutorials on the Mahara website, www.mahara.org. There is also an excellent book on the portfolio.
It is assumed that you have successfully installed Mahara and have integrated it with Moodle. This will create a new login box on the site for Mahara.
Students, when they click on the icon, will be taken to the Mahara site and automatically logged in with the same details as their Moodle account. Once they log out, they will be returned to Moodle. The layout they will see will be quite similar to other portfolios we have reviewed in this article, as they are attempting to achieve the same sorts of end results. The following screenshot shows a student's view once they have logged in to Mahara.
The left-hand column will give details about who else is online, so that students can interact with each other on topics. It also allows some account modifications through the Settings button. The settings or preferences are related to messaging and how the portfolio is presented to you, as shown in the following screenshot.
The five settings available here are as follows:
- Friends control: It controls whether or not you can be added by people as a friend
- HTML editor: It controls whether or not you wish to use the built-in HTML editor
- Messages from other users: It has control over whether or not other users who see your profile can message you
- Show controls to add and remove columns when editing a view: It controls whether or not to display options to add extra columns to your view layouts
- Maximum tags in cloud: It specifies the number of tags to be displayed in your main area
The main functions are located on tabs on the top left of the login screen, as shown in the following screenshot:
Adding details to your profile
The Profile tab allows for some detailed descriptions about the person to build up a digital application form for jobs.
All of the sub-elements are highly customizable through dragging and dropping custom fields in, such as blog entries or text boxes. Every section that can be filled in is controlled through an HTML editor, which means that students can be as creative as they wish. In Design and Technology, this allows them to reflect their design skills and understanding of presentation and can act as a powerful employment record when submitting applications to employers. During the course of a student's education, they can gather a great deal of information such as useful web links, personal reviews of equipment they have used, or digital images of their work from conception to production. All of this digital information can be organized and stored with their electronic portfolio. When they go for a job interview at a local manufacturing company, they can simply log onto their e-portfolio and show exactly what work they have achieved and how they feel about the world of design technology. They can share some of the material and their most impressive work directly with potential employers. Even if they don't achieve formal qualifications, but are very competent in key areas of design, they should not be excluded from the opportunity of being employed.
Views in MyPortfolio
The central element of Mahara is views. These are very similar to notes in MyStuff. They are collections of web pages that contain links and files and are associated through groups and tags. They are created through the My Portfolio tab.
Each view can be composed with any number of elements from the selection, which constitutes all areas of the portfolio. For example, you may take some elements from the personal profile, some specific blogs, as well as from uploaded work of specific groups. As you can see in the previous screenshot, there are six tabs: Blogs, External feeds, Files, images and video, General, Profile, and Resume. Each of these tabs has elements that can be dragged into a view. For example, in the preceding example, we used the Blogs tab. We can select to add Recent Blog Posts to our view. This means that each time we add a new blog to our overall site, it will be updated and viewed in the view we created in this example.
Each item that is dragged into the lower box will require some basic configuration. For example, in the previous view, we added a textbox to store our lesson notes. To achieve this:
- Click on the General tab.
- Click and drag the Text Box element to the lower screen and place it where you would like it to appear. The configuration box, as shown in the following screenshot, appears:
- Save the configuration by clicking on the Save button.
Using live website feeds in views
There is a wide range of artifacts that your students can use to build up their portfolio. They may wish to incorporate their own live feeds from a design magazine website.
Inserting multimedia into views
They may use the multimedia tab to insert some links to some videos that they have found.
The feeds do not have to be the usual YouTube feeds as feeds can be brought in from TeacherTube (http://www.teachertube.com/) and other sites as well.
The range of media inserts should be enough to meet most student needs, as shown in the following screenshot:
Once the view has been constructed, the students can then decide how and when the view will be available and if it needs to be shared with others. The other aspect is whether it can be copied. This will need to be discussed quite carefully in terms of plagiarism and legal issues such as the Data Protection Act and Copyright. The following screenshot shows the options available when sharing digital media and views with other people in the system.
Students can share the material with people on the site in different groups. They can also use the Secret URL feature to allow external verifiers to see the work without logging in to the site, though for security purposes, it might be better to enroll external examiners on the site.
The view now becomes part of the student's portfolio and can be viewed by others in the site if so desired. The following screenshot shows one student's shared view incorporating a feed from a design magazine and a video of a robot running.
Using the MyFiles tab for file management
If students maintain digital images of their work as it develops, they can manage this under My Files. These digital files can then be managed in the views. The file manager allows them to create folders and sub-folders to organize their files, whether these are word processed documents or videos that they have recorded during work experience placements.
Students can build a view around their product development, which can include videos that inspired them, websites which they found useful for their ideas, or also their notes and ideas in development. The whole experience can be stored in an organized way, as shown in this section, which is meaningful for the students and can be shared for feedback and commentary. This gives students far more control over their learning and caters to students who are less traditional in their learning style, which tends to be many students who are more able in design and technology subjects.
Throughout the portfolio, there are suggestions and information relating to legal requirements and it is quite important to stress this as often as possible to prevent issues of legality arising. Some of these issues can be avoided by using more open resources and qualifications such as those offered by organizations such as The Learning Machine ( http://www.theingots.org)
Using Groups in Mahara
In Mahara, students have the ability to create groups, as with popular social networking sites, but they can also be assigned to groups by staff in their institution. The groups they are in can be checked on the Group tab, as shown in the following screenshot:
If no friends currently exist in their network (or if staff has not assigned specific ones), then requests can be made to build up a network. Students can see each other and can therefore send a request to join a group or to link with another user as a friend. The following screenshot shows the interface for requesting a friendship with another student.
It may be useful to have a set number of formal groups that students participate in, but allow them to set up some informal groups so that they can discuss issues outside of the subject area. Since this is their portfolio, they need some degree of freedom to explore ideas.
Settings in Mahara
The settings allow students to determine how people can contact them and how their site looks and feels. It also shows them which institutions they are part of and allows them to leave this once they are completed. This helps with overall management and ensures that students can remove themselves from institutions once they are no longer enrolled in them such as their old school. The settings also allow them to check for notifications to make sure that they are receiving important notices.
Students can now build up a detailed portfolio of views to share and interact with their colleagues and staff, as shown in the following screenshot:
Setting up features of Mahara from the administrator login
It will be necessary to set up some features of your Mahara system such as creating and assigning staff and groups. This is all achieved through the administrator login. If the site has been set up to authenticate with Moodle, then students and staff will be added to the site automatically, though they will all be assigned as students, so you may wish to elevate your staff to staff positions so that they can control some aspects of the learning better.
As an admin, you will have access to the User Management tab. You can use this to add users to staff roles. The following screenshot shows the users currently available in the system that can be added to the Current Staff column:
Next time, when Mr. F Whittle logs in, he will have extra rights and privileges to control his student groups more effectively. Once a group has been created, in this case, one which requires an invitation, students can join. The following screenshot shows the group created by the member of staff.
Requesting to join a group
All groups that are available to you as a student will be shown to you under your Groups tab. The following screenshot shows a group available and the link to Request to join this group.
Clicking on this request link will open a dialog so that you can say why you wish to join as reference to the group owner, as shown in the following screenshot:
An invitation will be sent by the student, as shown in the following screenshot, and if they are part of the group, they can be accepted and enrolled.
Any views created by staff as part of this group can then be built up as a complete interactive lesson with videos and links to other resources.
Using Multiple institutions with Mahara
One excellent feature of Mahara is the ability to share resources and best practice with several institutions. These can be other Moodle sites or Mahara sites and all can be controlled through a SSO. In the case of tertiary colleges, they can have several local schools from early years to pre-college in a pyramid and all can share material and ideas. This allows students to see how they fit into the bigger picture of education. In some cases, it might be possible to make an arrangement with local design and manufacturing companies, so that students can interact directly with potential employers. The following screenshot shows the administration screen and a number of institutions that are part of the Mahara system in this case. If these institutions allow sharing and SSO, students can jump between Moodle and Mahara and have a complex and rich learning experience.
Exporting their portfolio
The material that students create can then easily be migrated to their new employer with Mahara's export feature. The following screenshot shows the export options available.
As you can see from this screenshot, there is the option to export a standalone website that would be a series of linked HTML files, which could be uploaded to a web server. Alternatively, you can export as a LEAP2A ZIP file, which can then be imported into a system such as Mahara that is compliant with this standard. The final choice is how much data you wish to export. Some students may only want to export their views which relate to their employability or academic achievements, but not the groups and discussions they were part of socially.
In this article, we have reviewed some, though not all, of the available portfolio modules. We have looked at Exabis that allows some basic tracking and sharing of material, through the more integrated MyStuff that allows storage limits and more complex views.