Mahara

One of our teachers came to me last year and asked about student portfolios. Currently, students use manilla folders to categorize and maintain examples of their writing as they move through high school. The folders get passed on from teacher to teacher, and items are added at several points throughout the year.

Since this teacher uses Moodle to manage assignments, he would like to have a way to take assignment submissions in Moodle and collect them into an electronic portfolio. This portfolio could then document the student’s writing growth. Potentially, these writing samples could also be shared with prospective employers, college admission officers, and scholarship committees.

Mahara doesn’t do all of that — yet — but it does a lot of it. It’s a stand-alone web application that also takes advantage of Moodle’s “networks” feature to provide single sign-on. So system administrators can set it up in a way that allows Moodle users to just click on a link to access Mahara without having to log in again. Their profile information is automatically carried over.

Once you’re logged in to Mahara, you can update your profile. This contains contact information, profile icons, resume, career goals, and skills.

The portfolio section of Mahara consists of views, files, and blogs. The files section allows you to upload files, highlighting your best work. You can add titles and descriptions to the files. The blog section allows you to create blogs and post in them. You can have as many blogs as you want, and you can post as many items in each one as you like. The blogs may be used as reflective journals, status reports for ongoing projects, tools for peer editing, or tools for sharing your best writing.

Once you’ve collected items into your portfolio, you can share them with others through “views.” This is the fun part. When you create a view, you’re given a number of different types of objects that you can place in your view. These include files, blog posts, entire blogs, images, video, text descriptions, resume elements, and profile information. You can also incorporate RSS feeds from any source, so you can include a feed from an external blog, or your Delicious links, for example.

You have some basic control over the layout of your view, including the number of columns, the relative widths of the columns, and where the various items go in relation to one another. Once you have finished your view, you can choose to keep it private or share it with the public, any logged on Mahara user, your friends, or specific people you specify. You can also set limits on when the view is accessible. For example, you might make a view accessible to the public through the end of this month, but only accessible to friends after that. If you’d like to see an example, this is my view.

Another interesting component of Mahara is the social networking aspect. You can identify friends and build groups of people. Currently, these features are pretty limited. There are plans for the ability to comment on friends’ profiles, though, and to better share resources with groups and friends.

The future holds tighter integration with Moodle. By next summer, students should be able to select their work in Moodle and send it to their Mahara profiles. This will substantially streamline the archiving process. They are also working on more customizable views, as well as the ability to export your profile in a format that can be used in other systems.

This year, we’re hoping to start a pilot with Mahara, getting some students and teachers using it at the high school level. After that, we’ll re-evaluate and hopefully roll it out to more staff and students next year. If you’re a Brecsville-Broadview Heights teacher and would like to get involved with Mahara, please let me know.

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Author: John Schinker

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  1. We went through a process of evaluating open-source course management solutions for one of our clients this year. We settled upon Edu 2.0 because of its intuitive interface, easy of use, and external hosting. If you want to hear more about this process, I encourage you to contact Abby Kelton who is administering it for us.

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