Mahara!

A few months ago we installed Mahara, an open-source ePortfolio platform that integrates extremely well with Moodle (colloquially known as Mahoodle – and yes, we are quite sad).

I’ve had a bit of a play and found it initially a little hard to grasp. I looked at it and thought “now what?”. But with a bit of time to see how it works it is actually very, very useful. The trick, IMO, is to introduce it steadily, one area at a time.

So, my Year 8 students have been working through a series of graphics tutorials and the plan was to put them somewhere public (within school) for some peer review before moving on to their asessed task. The approach I took was this:

  • Files and folders
    Login, go into the filing system within Mahara, create a folder and upload the graphics work completed. So we were starting with something fairly familiar – a filing system. Students always find it frustrating that you can’t simply drag and drop files in the same way you can with most operating systems, and it is a chore to have to upload your files. But such is life – at least the task is easy to comprehend. It also brought up the issue of tags, and tagging data. Although I haven’t gone into great detail about the semantic web, it’s still a useful talking point.
  • Create a view
    This waqs the part I was most concerned about. I can describe and even demonstrate how to do this, but it requires a little bit of thought and common sense – something that Year 8 students are not always renowned for! We stuck with the defaulot 3 column view and just added the images we had uploaded, adding a title and setting the width to 250 pixels. Those who picked it up quickly could then experiment with using different widths to create a more dynamic layout and adding text boxes to describe how their work was completed (leading to discussions about how the ‘Description’ field for each image would be a more efficient way of us achieving this.
  • Setting view access
    This is a fairly straightforward task and I simply set up group names before the lesson and had students share their work with a specific group. Then they had to go and join that group so that they could see others’ work.
  • Feedback
    This, inevitably, was the bit the students found most engaging – and rightly so! The ability to leave comments and feedback, and then go and see what has been said about your work really had the classes enthused. One thing that would be nice is a front page notification of comments, much as you get in blog systems. I’ll have to investigate that one!

By guiding the students through one step at a time they found it quite manageable and now seem to understand what the system is for. Some described it as ‘a bit like Facebook’ and I had to agree in part. We talked about the social network aspects of it and I told students that I wasn’t going to be pushing that aspect in lessons (as making it compulsory negates the point IMO), but that they were free to use any aspect of the software that they came across. Take-up across the school has been positive, considering we simply put a rather cryptic link up on the Moodle homepage and just left the system open for the early adopters.

Overall, I had a good time, and can see a lot of benefit to Mahara – especially once the next version comes out with better exporting capabilities.

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