Mahara ePortfolios: Beginner's Guide

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By Derrin Kent , Richard William Hand , Derrin Michael Kent and 2 more
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  1. What can Mahara do for you?

About this book

Mahara ePortfolios helps you to use software as you follow an experiential learning cycle. In Mahara you can:

Plan your learning.

Do what you do and gather evidence of your competence as you do those things.

View and organize your work by structuring your data in easy-to-make (web)pages and (mini-website) collections of those pages.

Reflect on your learning by use of professional journals, engaging feedback on your pages and establishing and engaging in online communities who share a similar interest.

Mahara ePortfolios: Beginner's Guide is a step-by-step guide to develop a feature-rich and highly personal electronic portfolio. Form a digital repository of reflective journals, action learning plans, presentations, reports, images and videos. Easily share this with your friends, family, tutors, students, project team and others using this step-by-step guide written in a clear and easy to learn manner.This book guides you to build an impressive e-Portfolio and to work in professional communities of interest within a Mahara walled garden. It brings to life the key features of Mahara which will help thoughtful people to display their artefacts coherently and to engage with like-minded peers professionally.This book introduces you to exciting features of Mahara framework and helps you develop a feature-rich e-portfolio for yourself. You will see how easily you can create folders, upload multiple files like project documents, pictures and videos and share them with your friends. You will learn to set up single pages and collections of pages which organize these files, making these visible only to your own chosen peers, supervisors or friends. Then, you will allow people to give their inputs.You will learn to create journals, learning plans, your professional resume, group spaces and forums which help you get connected to the rest of the world. Customization and administration of your Mahara site will be easy after you have gone through this book. Imagine how good you will feel when you will see your knowledge, success, and ideas going live and available to your chosen audiences for their inputs.Mahara ePortfolios: Beginner's Guide is a step-by-step guide to building an impressive professional e-portfolio using Mahara. It covers the key features of Mahara that will help you set up your customized digital portfolio and display the artefacts in your preferred way allowing contribution from selected users only.

Publication date:
July 2012
Publisher
Packt
Pages
328
ISBN
9781849517768

 

Chapter 1. What can Mahara do for you?

So you're interested in Mahara? Maybe you are already using it, but you are wondering if you are using it well. Maybe you've recently heard of Mahara and you are wondering if this is actually the ePortfolio solution you were looking for? Or, maybe you have been told to use it and you just need to get a sense of what Mahara is all about?

In subsequent chapters of this book, you will be digging into the nitty-gritty of getting your Mahara up and running, and then making it work for you as a learner or as a Mahara staff member. This particular book is not specifically pitched at helping Mahara site administrators. Before you start getting down to the basics of Mahara, you need to understand the big picture of what Mahara is about.

In this chapter you will:

  • Be introduced to the concept of ePortfolios

  • Learn why Mahara is almost certainly the best option out there for ePortfolio building and reflective learning

  • Look at some of the different ways in which you can use Mahara

  • See the four fictional case studies used as examples in this book

  • Find out how to become a member of the online Mahara community at http://mahara.org

  • Look at some other Mahara sites that are freely available on the Internet

So let's get on with it!

Portfolios go electronic

You have been learning things since the day you were born. I remember my little boy's first ever picture of a cowboy riding on a horse (it's great) that he made when he was four years old, and I will always remember the wooden toy truck that I made in my woodwork class when I was a teenager. I also proudly remember the written design paper that I had to write for my exam, which was about how I actually made that wooden truck, but now I have lost that design paper and I have no idea where it has gone. Today, I am heavily involved in online distance learning, more specifically ePortfolios, and rarely a day goes by when I don't learn something new.

Now, the thing is, all I now have are memories of my wooden truck, but if I had access back then to a digital ePortfolio, I could have kept a copy of that design paper. I could have scanned it into my computer and stored it as an image (if I hadn't created it digitally in the first place). I could have also stored a video of the 16-year old me showing off my wooden truck and I could have taken digital snapshots of the truck from all angles. If I was feeling really adventurous, I could have combined all these elements together and written about, or videoed myself speaking about how I conceived the idea and how I actually made it.

Maybe my friends would have been really impressed with my wooden truck and wanted to know how to make it, so they could have made one too. So, maybe I would have created a web page to show them. I could add all these videos, pictures, and commentaries to create a really useful and detailed resource page for my friends. Perhaps I didn't (yet) want the world to know about my new carpentry skills — especially not Barry down the road from the rival school. In this case, I could have set up a special group so only the people I selected would be able to view my wooden truck page. Maybe one of my friends would have really liked the truck, and showed his Dad, who was an engineer. Suppose they made one using my web page too, but with some tips from his Dad, they made one that went faster. He then started a forum discussing the improvements they had made. Then perhaps another couple of my friends joined in and got really excited. They shared with the group their own modifications which they had researched on the internet, uploaded a picture of an improved version to the group, and suggested we all got together once a week to work on one together and enter it in the county wooden truck championship.

And all along, without us being aware, let's imagine our teachers looking on smiling. They were watching us develop our IT skills and start off down the path of lifelong learning and collaborative working. They were watching us record our new-found learning and skills whilst developing complex social networking skills. The woodwork teacher sat back in his chair with a warm smile on his face. He knew he had taught me something of much greater worth than how to make a wooden truck.

However, this is all purely fantasy. I did not have access to an ePortfolio that had all this functionality, and the Internet back then was not much more than a concept.

 

Portfolios go electronic


You have been learning things since the day you were born. I remember my little boy's first ever picture of a cowboy riding on a horse (it's great) that he made when he was four years old, and I will always remember the wooden toy truck that I made in my woodwork class when I was a teenager. I also proudly remember the written design paper that I had to write for my exam, which was about how I actually made that wooden truck, but now I have lost that design paper and I have no idea where it has gone. Today, I am heavily involved in online distance learning, more specifically ePortfolios, and rarely a day goes by when I don't learn something new.

Now, the thing is, all I now have are memories of my wooden truck, but if I had access back then to a digital ePortfolio, I could have kept a copy of that design paper. I could have scanned it into my computer and stored it as an image (if I hadn't created it digitally in the first place). I could have also stored a video...

 

Towards an ePortfolio-enabled future


I am now, however, a fully ePortfolio-enabled dad and I therefore helped my son (Salvador) to upload that picture of a cowboy on a horse. In the future, he can share it with his friends, and possibly with some other junior artistic talents, online. He is about to embark upon a lifelong learning journey, and now he (with a little help from Dad) can keep a record of his learning into posterity.

I, myself, also see the need to store and share the knowledge I am gathering about my professional life online. I want to work in a community of professionals (like yourself) using ePortfolios, who I can buzz with, share ideas with, and grow with. I want to engage with a professional community who I can give to and learn from. I want to keep my personal reflections and files to myself sometimes, to share some with my colleagues, and some to share with the rest of the world. I wish to create web pages as I see fit, not according to some predesigned fixed template....

 

Why Mahara?


While they are not as old as the three-ring-binder and the artist's portfolio folder, digital ePortfolios have, nevertheless, actually been around for a long, long time. Have you ever stored your learning data on floppy disks, USB sticks, CDs, or DVDs? Maybe you've even created your own, personal Dreamweaver-produced or HTML/CSS website. Perhaps you've used a blogging engine such as WordPress, a content management system such as Drupal or Joomla!, or maybe a course management system such as Moodle. If you have, these are all types of ePortfolio, really.

None of these, however, were ever conceived to act as ePortfolio platforms in their own right. Mahara now gives us an ePortfolio system, which is thoughtfully and specifically designed for the job in hand. It allows us access to our own personalized learning environment. Mahara seeks to go beyond a basic ePortfolio and gives us a variety of other useful features to help us to learn reflectively and to work collaboratively.

Mahara...

 

Ways of using Mahara


Mahara can be used in lots of different ways towards lots of different ends. Here are just a few different examples:

  • A recruitment agency might use Mahara to forge links between jobseekers and employers, employers with other employers, and jobseekers with other jobseekers.

  • A university or college might use Mahara as a reflective learning platform for all of their students, following all different types of learning programs. You can refer to the following example of a Mahara ePortfolio, created by Joanne DeMarco at Pace University:

  • A students' union might use Mahara as a vehicle for members of its clubs and societies to share their knowledge and their passions. For example, football, canoeing, the darts team, political groups, and so on.

  • A school teacher might use Mahara to get his/her small group of students to work together on a curriculum-related topic.

  • A professional body may wish to set up Mahara for communicating with members and for the continuous professional development...

 

Join the Mahara community


There is already a vibrant and active international Mahara community working together over at http://mahara.org. Mahara is all about collaborative learning and it's a great idea for you to come and join in. Not only is it exciting to become part of this active community, but you can also receive help and support, and as you become more confident, start giving your own suggestions to the Mahara team and complete the circle, fully engaging in the collaborative spirit!

The community site is itself based on the Mahara platform, that's to say, it has some of the same features as a standard Mahara instance (profiles, friends, forums, and so on). This is great because just by using the community site you get a feel of many of the Mahara features! It's important to note though, you should not use this site to try and build your own free ePortfolio; in fact, the Mahara terms and conditions prevent it. Luckily there are many other sites out there that serve this purpose;...

 

Time for action — join mahara.org and explore


Let's register to mahara.org:

  1. 1. Head on over to http://mahara.org and click on the option to register, a small link that you will find near the login box in the top right-hand part of the screen. On the resulting page, fill in your details, agree to the terms and conditions (read them first), and click on Register to finish:

  2. 2. You will need to confirm your registration by clicking on the link that has been sent to your e-mail address. You must do this within 24 hours, otherwise you will have to register again. Once you have done that, you will find yourself logged in to http://mahara.org.

  3. 3. Lets look around! Click on the Community tab. This is the group where all the community members gather and, by default, you are a member now that you have signed up. Can you see all the latest forum posts listed on the group page? This is useful for keeping up-to-date with latest discussions related to the Mahara project:

  4. 4. Now let's find another Maharan...

 

Mahara sites in the wild


As Mahara is open source, and easily and freely downloadable, there are plenty of examples of Maharas grazing in the Safari that is, the Internet.

Most of these will be off limits to you as they are monitored by professional or educational institutions, there are however a few that you can sign up to.

We've already seen that mahara.org is one such Mahara, but remember this site isn't for ePortfolio building. There are a couple of other sites we would like to highlight as being useful for getting you going with Mahara — useful if you don't have your own site set up yet and would like to have a play around.

 

Time for action — looking at some real-life Maharas


Let's get going and have a look at a couple of real-life Maharas:

  1. 1. Visit http://demo.mahara.org. This is Mahara's demo site. You can register and have a play around with Mahara safely in here. The site gets reset every 24 hours, so your data isn't retained there.

  2. 2. Visit http://foliofor.me to have a look at a Mahara site in action. This is a Mahara site, which allows you to set up your own free ePortfolio. You can just go there and register by clicking on the link in the right-hand panel.

What just happened?

You just had a very quick look at a couple of Mahara sites that are out there on the web.

You saw the Mahara demonstration site. This is a great place to familiarize yourself with Mahara generally, as well as to explore the latest up-to date version of Mahara - which may be more advanced than your own instance. As with mahara.org, it isn't a place where you can create your own portfolio as it is reset every 24 hours.

You also registered...

 

Summary


We learned a lot in this chapter about why Mahara ePortfolios are useful.

Specifically, we understood what an ePortfolio is and looked at possible uses of Mahara. We discussed the importance of personalized, reflective, and collaborative learning and learned what is so special about the Mahara ePortfolio.

We also looked at some real-life Mahara sites. Hopefully, you became a member of the Mahara community by joining yourself up at http://mahara.org. If you did, you would have had a browse around mahara.org and looked at some of the useful features. Finally, some of you would have gotten an initial feel for Mahara by clicking around in the demo area http://demo.mahara.org and also in http://foliofor.me or one of the other free ePortfolio sites mentioned.

Now that we've seen the big picture as to why Mahara matters, you're probably keen to start working in your live Mahara environment. First of all, it's a good idea to get started by adding some of your information to your portfolio,...

About the Authors

  • Derrin Kent

    Derrin Kent (www.derr.in) loves personalized learning and open source software. Derrin has been working with Mahara since its version 0. He is MD of The Development Manager Ltd. (www.TDM.co). www.TDM.co is a company who speaks six European languages fluently and who proudly runs a range of symbiotic business operations including: ‹‹

    • www.OssServices.com: Professional Codeline Development, Web/Instructional Design, and Managed Services for open source softwares including Mahara and TotaraLMS ‹‹
    • www.WyreAcademy.com: ICT Professional Talent Management, Short Courses, and Apprenticeships—all via Blended Learning, using TotaraLMS for Apprenticeships (specialist distro) and Mahara ‹‹
    • www.FolioFor.Me: An online ePortfolio built upon Mahara ‹‹
    • www.UK-LPI.org: The Linux Professional Institute Master Affiliate for the UK and Ireland ‹‹
    • www.CloudNOVA.net: High availability open source software hosting

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  • Richard William Hand

    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).

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  • Derrin Michael Kent

    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.

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  • Richard Hand

    Richard Hand graduated with a first class honors degree in Computer Science from the University of Bristol in 2008 and now works full time as a frontend web developer and consultant.

    Richard has worked with Mahara since joining TDM (http://tdm/info) in 2008, being responsible for management, configuration, hosting, and training. He has also developed on a range of open source software solutions including Drupal, Joomla!, and Moodle.

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  • Thomas Bell

    Thomas W. Bell has completed higher education in Environmental Sciences and he has a passion and enthusiasm for IT. Thomas is all about getting involved with the latest tools to improve the use of resources, communication with one another, and our role in developing our earth sustainably. Thomas follows his Environmental education with a commitment to sustainability in all walks of life, both personal and business. He is actively thinking of ways to improve processes, procedures, software and so on, to improve efficiency and therefore, sustainability. He is currently developing efficient use of technology in the apprenticeship delivery of the Wyre Academy, including use of cutting-edge tablets, signature capture, and fully implemented cutting-edge LMS solutions. Thomas has been working with IT company TDM - which delivers e-Learning content, codeline development, training, and bespoke corporate branding - for over two years and is directly involved in the implementation and delivery of a new IT apprenticeships scheme through the TDM Wyre Academy. See http://opensourcesoftwareservices.com or http://www.wyreacademy.com. Thomas has been regularly training groups in Mahara ePortfolios, TotaraLMS, Joomla!, and Moodle for over two years.

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Mahara ePortfolios: Beginner's Guide
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