Mahara ePortfolios: Beginner's Guide

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By Richard Hand , Thomas Bell , Derrin Kent
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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 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.

 

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. I want to use my creative skills to design web pages that I feel fit with my personal and professional style. I cannot do these things with Facebook or Bebo, I need the enhanced functionality and privacy that a socially interactive ePortfolio such as Mahara uses.

For both Salvador's needs and my own, I am going to use Mahara.

 

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 is, therefore, a platform for personalized, reflective, and collaborative learning.

Personalized learning

Twenty-first century learning no longer needs to be delivered on somebody else's agenda. Mahara concerns itself with the personalization of the learning process:

  • Personalized self-presentation: Mahara offers an easy-to-use web interface that allows you to design your own web pages, or simply pages, so that you can organize and present your own learning data precisely in the way you would like to present it. You are clearly able to demonstrate that you fully understand a subject.

    Note

    What is a Mahara page?

    Page is the Mahara word for a web page that you create by yourself in order to display your information, ideas, opinions, and personality. We will find out more about pages in Chapter 2, Getting Started with Mahara and Chapter 4,Organize and Showcase your Portfolio.

  • Privacy: If you want somewhere to collect your thoughts and files, you probably want these to remain private until you decide that you are ready to show them to someone else. In Mahara, you now have a fairly private (only you and the administrator(s) can access your files) area on the Internet where you can keep your stuff, such as files (documents, videos, audio clips, images, and so on). You can also use this private space to write a journal as well as your ever-changing profile and résumé information.

  • Accessible: You can access your private stuff whenever you like from wherever you can log into the Internet. Wow! This beats carrying your data around on a USB stick, doesn't it? No more forgotten or lost files. Access your files at work, at school, at the library, or even when you are sitting on the beach in Barbados. Mahara gives you freedom!

  • Transfer your data: What about when you move schools and change companies? What happens to your data then? Many ePortfolios "lock you in" in such a way that you won't be able to transfer your data when the time comes to move. Who wants that? Mahara allows you to export your data as HTML and to create a LEAP2A object for moving your portfolio to other Mahara sites and other portfolio systems that support the format.

  • Access control: In Mahara you — the user — retain the right to control who gets access over your own artefacts. You do this by setting up pages of your digital data artefacts and then deciding who gets to see them. You are also able to create groups to allow different groups of people to access different portfolio pages. Well, you wouldn't want your boss to see that picture of the office party, would you? This is another reason why Mahara is better than so many of those Web 2.0 social networking sites. You might want to work with your suppliers on a joint marketing campaign, but do you really want to share your company's sensitive financial reports with them, too? Mahara lets you satisfy all of these different needs neatly and easily. One warning though: if you pull in images, videos, and files from other web sites, it is only on these sites that you control access to those files. Mahara only has access control over content that is uploaded to your Mahara portfolio. If that photo is hosted on Flickr, for example, then the boss may still be able to see it if they can access your Flickr profile.

    Note

    What is a Mahara artefact?

    Artefact is the Mahara word for a bit of digital stuff, such as files, journals, plans, and profile or résumé information. You control other people's access to your stuff by deciding for yourself who can see the artefacts that you choose to display in your own pages. You won't see the term artefact used as you build your portfolio, but you might see it mentioned on the Mahara community website or in the Mahara documentation.

Reflective learning

But Mahara offers more than just being a way to store and to show off your stuff to others. Mahara encourages you to grow as a learner by reflecting on your own learning journey.

  • Developing your own goals and skills: Mahara encourages you to record, reflect on and update your personal, academic, and work/career-related goals and skills. It has even created special sections just to facilitate this. Life is a journey, our dreams and objectives are in constant flux. If you've misplaced that notebook or scrap of paper with "New Year Resolutions" on it, how can you know if you've kept them? Now with Mahara you can easily check back to see that you are still on the right learning pathway. Everything is all in one place!

  • Keeping journals: Ever kept a diary or a journal? Ever made notes to yourself? Keeping a journal can be a very useful way of encouraging you to stop and think about the things you have been doing, to reflect on, and to learn from your experience, and to process the things you have been studying. Taking some time out to reflect and compose thoughts is a highly useful exercise. You can now keep as many journals as you like, all in one place, stored together with your goals, skills, and files. You keep the journals for yourself, not necessarily publishing them for others to view. You can, of course, move on to put your journals into portfolio pages for others to access if you want to, or if you are asked to! You can keep a personal journal, a work journal, a project journal, and a journal to share with your friends!

    Note

    What is a Mahara journal?

    The Mahara journal feature is similar to a blog or online diary. You can use it to take note of things you have been doing or to reflect on your work progress. You can share these thoughts with others by publishing them in Mahara pages.

  • Integration with other platforms (including Web 2.0): Mahara is set up to allow for integrations with other online spaces. At the moment you can call in RSS feeds from your blog (outside of Mahara) or CMS. You are also able to call in content from a wide range of Web 2.0 tools including Twitter, Slideshare, YouTube, TeacherTube, and many more! Mahara can be seen as a personalized, reflective learning space where you can gather together all of your learning artefacts and store them internally within Mahara or externally within other locations on the World Wide Web.

Collaborative learning

While Mahara is a self-oriented learning platform — many call it a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) — it also facilitates informal learning activities amongst friends and groups:

  • Making friends: Many of us learn best when we are working together with other people. For this reason, Mahara encourages social collaboration. You can present your pages with a different profile picture to different people and communities. You can find members who have similar interests to yourself and by contacting them from their profile pages, start to build a network of friends. You can then add some of your friends' pages to a watchlist that will let you know when they have been updated with new information. You are able to place feedback on other people's pages and to allow others to place feedback on yours, giving each other advice and support, and in this way, act as both teacher and learner. With Mahara's social networking features, social learning can take place — the teacher-student division is broken down and everyone can be involved in the learning process. Before long, your online learning community is born!

  • Working and learning in groups: Life is more fun when shared with others! It's time to get down to some learning and working together in groups! You can join and set up for yourself different types of groups for different types of learning communities (for more detail refer to Chapter 5, Share and Network in Groups). In your groups you can share common files, you can share your own pages for others to see or work together on pages that you create as a group. You can also engage in group discussion forums to really get your reflective learning into gear!

    Note

    What is a Mahara group?

    This is Mahara's word for an online community that users can either:

    • Join

    • Request membership of

    • Be invited to

    • Or (sometimes) be selected into in a more controlled way

    You can use groups in a variety of ways, but they are predominately used in Mahara to develop, stimulate, and support both social and learning activities in a social networking context.

  • Using groups for assessment of learning: Mahara staff members working within the controlled Mahara groups can encourage learners to submit pages to the group for formal assessment. This is an excellent way of tracking progress on formal and evidence-based qualifications.

  • Integration with Moodle: Sometimes, it is useful for a teacher to take learners through a staged sequence of learning objectives using quizzes and other formal learning activities, on which performance can be assessed and reported on in a grade book. Mahara doesn't provide this as its core functionality, although it is increasingly being used to achieve this. Mahara is a place for informal learning, not a taught Course Management System. Luckily, Mahara's "sister" program steps in here — Moodle (http://moodle.org). Where Mahara is about demonstrating learning, Moodle is about delivering it. It is a Course Management System, which can be set up to run in the background of Mahara, sharing single sign-on access.

    Mahara users can set up and follow links within Mahara from which you can seamlessly migrate directly over to a course that is running on a Moodle platform (you can refer Moodle Administration, Alex Büchner, Packt Publishing). You are also able to submit pages for assessment from Mahara to Moodle. With Moodle 2.0, you are able to bring good work that you did in your Moodle course over to your portfolio platform. Your informal, ongoing, and never-ending reflective learning experience isn't over once your taught course is done and dusted. Viva Mahara!

Pop quiz — what is important to you in an ePortfolio?

What do you need from an ePortfolio?

Grade the following ePortfolio criteria with a number on a scale of 1-5:

  • 5: Vitally important

  • 4: Very important

  • 3: Important

  • 2: Not very important

  • 1: Not important at all

The criteria (in no particular order):

  • _____ You own your own data and can control who has access to it.

  • _____ You get your own file storage area (like you have on your own computer, for example, My Documents), which you can access, modify, and control via the Internet.

  • _____ Your ePortfolio is portable, allowing you to migrate your data from provider to provider on your lifelong learning journey.

  • _____ You have opportunities for reflective learning via blogs/journals, learning/career goal-setting, group projects, and so on.

  • _____ You have the opportunity for social networking in interest groups with forum discussions.

  • _____ You have creative freedom over the personalized presentation of your own learning. You can stylize your portfolio pages according to your own preferences/needs.

  • _____ You get the chance to show off your stuff to other people, for example, you can show your learning achievements, résumé details, and so on to potential employers.

  • _____ The ePortfolio allows you to link in your stuff from Web 2.0 social networking sites such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.

  • _____ Your personal ePortfolio integrates seamlessly with the learning programs you pursue on your institution or company Moodle virtual learning environment (http://moodle.org).

  • _____ The ePortfolio grants you your right to know that nothing untoward is happening to your data by opening the software source code to public view and scrutiny.

  • _____ The ePortfolio allows the learning provider organization to avoid locking in its own and your personal data into a proprietary data format, which belongs to a particular software company.

  • _____ The ePortfolio is a community-supported open source platform, which is modular and open to modification, meaning that providers can work collaboratively to make the platform work better for their common (and also for their very particular) ePortfolio needs.

  • _____ The ePortfolio can be configured to offer controlled groups a "submit for assessment" process — allowing an assessor (or external verifier) to easily verify that you have done your work — in the same way that they would do with a paper-based or USB-stick-based portfolio assessment process.

  • _____ While using the ePortfolio for formal assessment via accrediting bodies, the ePortfolio can be integrated with sophisticated open source Individual Learning Plan (ILP) and assessment manager tools (such as The ULCC Personalisation of Learning Framework at http://moodle.ulcc.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=139).

As you have probably already guessed, Mahara is capable of satisfying all of the preceding criteria.

 

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 of its members.

  • A private training provider might use Mahara as a way for learners to collate and submit their work for assessment as part of their qualification.

  • A group of friends may wish to use Mahara to communicate and collaborate in a much more controlled way than Facebook.

  • A group of professionals from different organizations/locations may wish to work together on sharing best practice ideas, and to support each other through a variety of challenging situations, for example, a group of social workers. See the following screenshot of a Mahara page example, Web 2.0 Tools & Video Gaming in Physical Therapy:

  • A large organization or corporation could use Mahara for their informal knowledge management processes, encouraging people in similar roles in different branches to work together in online communities of practice.

The list goes on...

The example screenshots in the previous section can be found by visiting http://groups.diigo.com/group/everything-mahara and filtering by the mahara_portfolio_example tag. There are plenty of other examples to look at there.

In this book, we want you to look at the many ways in which you can use Mahara to fit your own specific situation. To help you to do this, we will often be illustrating the different things that you can do with Mahara by using any of the following four imaginary case studies.

Case study one: Punam from Pennytown Primary

Punam is a teacher at Pennytown Primary and she is taking her nine-year old students through a project on the Tudors. She is working with an institutional-themed Mahara, which is set up on "Schools Online", a large, county-wide Mahara implementation for school teachers who are working in an English county called Rurishire:

Punam will be helping her students to work as a class group in order to gather files and discuss their learning. She doesn't just want them to upload a whole load of files, she wants them to organize files and data in a meaningful way, just like a paper-based project. This will mean that she wants her students to create pages in smaller working groups for their class project. She likes the idea of smaller working groups as this will allow her students to start working collaboratively. She likes the fact that Mahara facilitates this by allowing you to set up different groups and to create a collaboratively created group page.

Some of her students' parents have come up to her and expressed concerns about online safety; one of their children has been the victim of cyber-bullying. However, Punam is satisfied that Mahara addresses this concern as, unlike Facebook, the only people that have access to the site are those that have been given permission by the school. The local education authority has set a policy that any adult that has access to this site must have passed a police check. If there are any concerns regarding cyber-bullying of the children, she can request that the administrator accesses all the pages and forum posts so that she can find out who was responsible, and request suspension of the user if appropriate. She can happily reassure the parents that this is a walled garden site where their children are safe. There is even a facility for the learners to report objectionable material to the administrators, should they stumble upon any.

Finally, Punam has heard that there are a few Google Android mobile phone applications and an iPhone application available for Mahara. Now her students will be able to capture video and images from school field trips and upload them instantly to their personal portfolios saving the time taken in putting them onto a USB stick and uploading them to the Internet.

Case study two: Janet Norman from Pharmaceuticals International Inc. (PI Inc.)

Janet is a learning technologist who holds overarching responsibility for PI Inc.'s International Corporate University. Each country, indeed, each and every branch that she represents, has its own local learning agenda:

As a learning technologist she wants to encourage informal, personalized, and reflective learning. She knows that spending time in encouraging reflection and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) helps to:

  • Develop staff skills - creating a better workforce.

  • Increase staff morale.

  • Encourage the development of professionalism.

  • Increase staff retention as staff feel more valued.

  • Encourage innovation, which will help give PI Inc. an edge over their competitors.

  • Give out a strong corporate message about investment in people.

However, Janet's main focus is on implementing Mahara to facilitate informal international knowledge transfer processes. She wants to spend some time setting up different types of groups. She can see the benefit of setting up groups to work on a variety of research projects being carried out throughout the organization. She is hopeful that the group members are going to make use of Mahara's journaling features to keep everyone up-to-date with their particular projects.

There are currently three pilot studies being carried out in England, Peru, and Spain for a new cancer drug, and she wants these three research groups to collaborate and discuss early findings. She also wants to set up some international groups of practice and collaborate in the hope that this will lead to some useful organizational innovations. Finally, she wants to set up some groups that a few selected individuals can access from outside the company to bring in some fresh ideas and perspectives, whilst also contributing to the wider pharmaceutical community.

PI Inc. is, therefore, running their own large international Mahara implementation with a range of their own institutions. Janet's people will be sharing their knowledge. PI Inc. will be capturing their knowledge before they leave. And, by engaging in this process, Janet's staff members will be creating new and innovative knowledge, which PI Inc. can make use of as they move into the future.

Note

What is a Mahara institution?

An institution in Mahara is a subdivision of the site, which can have its own theme, users, and administrators. There is more on Mahara institutions in Chapter 6, Course Groups and Other Roles in Mahara.

Case study three: Neil from Training for Work

Neil trains and assesses learners who are taking national vocational qualifications with a private training provider called Training for Work. He is helping sixteen to nineteen-year olds to gain their vocational qualifications in Electrical Engineering. Although Training for Work only has about fifteen people on its staff, they have installed their own organizational Mahara because they like to have control over their own site:

Neil is keen to use the Résumé Builder feature of Mahara. He has a number of links with local businesses for work placements, and he prides himself on the high percentage of learners who go on to full time positions. He knows if he can get all his learners to input all of their information into the résumé builder and create an online résumé, not only will this make matching his learners to work placements easier, but also really impress prospective employers.

Neil knows that at the moment his learners' files and evidences are stored all over the place in a variety of locations. Some of the homework is currently handed in as paper assignments. Some assessors have video and audio evidences stored in their video cameras, smart phones, or on their laptops, with handwritten notes. Some other parts of the work that his learners have done are stored on the Training for Work desktops up in the computer room. His inbox is always full of e-mails from students sending him files with huge attachments to check. New students want to submit evidence in an ePortfolio as they did at Uppertown Secondary School. Finally, when he makes on-site visits he finds that his students have often forgotten to bring their evidence with them, leading to yet another wasted trip! Assessing has become a complete nightmare! He spends more time actually trying to find the evidence than he does teaching and supporting his students.

Neil says he will make extensive use of Mahara's artefacts feature. This will allow him to get the students to organize their digital stuff (artefacts) into one central location where they can then share them with him, verifiers, and also other students easily, using pages. As it will be accessible anywhere, anytime there is Internet access, students can no longer forget or lose their work. He has also been set up as a Mahara staff member (more on this in Chapter 6, Course Groups and Other Roles in Mahara), which will allow him to assign his learners to a controlled group — it is into this that the learners will submit pages evidencing their learning, enabling their formal assessment. Neil will, of course, set up a template page for learners to copy and build their evidence upon. The learners will not be able to edit their submitted pages again until Neil releases them with his feedback. Neil needs this sort of control because his accrediting body and external verifiers require him to have it.

Neil is also excited by the fact that his learners are able to make plans.

Note

What is a Mahara plan?

Plans in Mahara allow you to create task lists. These can be used to organize your time and to help you to meet important deadlines.

Neil can't wait to start using Mahara! It will make his life so much easier. He can give online coaching as and when needed, there will be no more forgotten files and wasted trips, and most importantly his students will learn more — and learn to reflect more — as this will help them not only to gain their all important qualifications, but also to become more valuable employees.

Case study four: Christophe from Silverworks University

Silverworks University has recently decided that they would like to offer an online ePortfolio building system for their fine arts students alongside the traditional artist's portfolio. They can see the benefit of having a single location where students can access all their videos, images, and inspirations from anywhere, as opposed to the traditional carry-folder approach. The system they have chosen to work with is Mahara.

Christophe is a tutor of fine arts at the Silverworks University and is responsible for mentoring 10 students.

He is the person in the department with the most interest in technology and has excitedly offered himself and his tutor group as the test bed for the new system. He's really interested in the potential of Mahara to allow his students to quickly add their work, sketches, and developments to their online portfolios. No longer will work that is being developed at the students' home be inaccessible for tutorials.

He likes that with Mahara, students are able to control exactly who can see their work. In the run up to their degree show, Christophe is encouraging his students to use Mahara pages to show off their portfolios to the web. He really likes the collections feature, which enables his students to link sections of their portfolios together into a coherent story.

Note

What is a Mahara collection?

A collection in Mahara is simply a group of pages. If you think of a page like a web page, a collection is like a web site. A collection can be navigated via its menu bar, which has links to the different pages it contains.

He has even started to look into a few extensions that are available for Mahara, which will allow his tutor group to pull a wide range of content from external websites and to integrate with social media.

Not only that, but Christophe is himself a graphic artist. He will be using Mahara for his own personal use. He is keen on the journal feature, and has decided to keep a log of each day that he spends on a new comic. He is glad that he will no longer have to keep track of all those scraps of paper with ideas scribbled down in cafes — he can add them to his Mahara portfolio!

 

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; you will look at this later in the chapter:

Note

Have you ever seen a Maharan?

Some members of the Mahara community have started calling themselves Maharans.

Let's find out how to register as a user at mahara.org and explore the features available there.

 

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: click on the Members tab. Let's see if you can find one of the authors! Can you see the query box? Type in the name of one of the authors, Derrin, and see if you can find him:

  5. 5. Let's look at some pages. Now you've found Derrin, click on his name to view his profile page. Once you're there, click on a few of his pages listed there to see what he has been up to:

  6. 6. Now, let's 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 want to subscribe to. If you only want to browse the forum, just click on the name of the forum and you will be taken to a list of the posts:

  7. 7. Now, have a look at the Mahara partners. Click on the Partners tab. 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.

What just happened?

You have just become a Maharan! Does it feel strange? You have:

  • Registered on http://mahara.org

  • Been introduced to the Mahara Community

  • Found Derrin and his Mahara pages at mahara.org

  • Joined the support forum

  • Learned how to find a Mahara partner

Pop quiz — learning about http://mahara.org

The following questions will test what you have learned about mahara.org:

  1. 1. What's the value of registering at mahara.org?

  2. 2. How would you find another mahara.org member?

  3. 3. Why would you want to join a forum?

  4. 4. How would you find a Mahara partner?

 

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 yourself at foliofor.me. This is an example of a free ePortfolio solution that can be used by individuals who don't belong to any particular institution or who simply want their portfolio in its own space. This isn't the only example of one such solution, you could also have a look at:

Your decision about where you ultimately decide to create your portfolio is up to you. Is it going to be within an educational or professional institution where it may be obligatory for you to do so? Or, perhaps you would like to host your own Mahara site in the cloud or on a local machine for your individual use (if you have the technical know-how). If neither of those are an option, the above free solutions offer a very useful alternative.

And remember, with Mahara's export facility, you don't have to worry about making that decision as you will be able to move your portfolio around easily.

Note

Lookin' good...

One of the beauties of Mahara is that it is easy for a web designer to make some pretty significant changes to the theme. Notice that the http://mahara.org site looks really quite different to the foliofor.me site and different again to the default Mahara theme, which we will be working on throughout the rest of this book.

Have a go hero — pressing the buttons till it hurts

Some of us are inchworms who like information to be presented to us logically and sequentially. Inchworms like to be taken through a new process step-by-step. Others amongst us are grasshoppers who like to hop around bits of information wherever we find it and then gradually start piecing together the big picture of our understanding.

Inchworms are no better or worse than grasshoppers. We are just different.

This book is structured for inchworms, but we know you grasshoppers will easily be able to hop around our book and pick up on the useful bits.

Right now, though, be you an inchworm or a grasshopper, we want you to behave in grasshoppery sort-of-a-way as you engage in this task (take a deep breath, inchworms, you may just enjoy it!).

Once again, visit http://demo.mahara.org and log in. If it has been a day since you registered your account, it won't be there any more. If you don't feel like registering again you could just use one of the default accounts on offer. The details are all on the home page.

Remember, this is a test-bed site where you should feel free to go around and bang all of the buttons until it hurts. You really can't do any damage in there so just go in, explore, and experiment. Click the links and buttons, and follow wherever your mouse leads you. This will stand you in very good stead for when we walk you through Mahara's functionalities later on in this book.

 

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, and have a go at organizing your own profile page — which is the topic of the next chapter.

About the Authors

  • 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.

    Browse publications by this author
  • 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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  • 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

    Browse publications by this author

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