21 Oct

Getting the hang of hanging out (part 2)

A couple of days ago I experienced some some difficulties using YouTube Live Events. So today, I was all prepared:

  • Had my phone with me for 2-factor auth so I could log into my account on a second computer in order to paste links into the chat;
  • Prepared a document with all the links I wanted to paste;
  • Had the Hangout on my presenter computer running well ahead of time.

Indeed, I was done with my prep so much in advance that I had heaps of time and thus wanted to pause the broadcast as it looked like it was not actually broadcasting since I couldn’t see anything on the screen. So I thought I needed to adjust the broadcast’s start time.

Hence why I stopped the broadcast and as soon as I hit the button I knew I shouldn’t have. Stopping the broadcast doesn’t pause it, but stops it and kicks off the publishing process.

Yep, I panicked. I had about 10 minutes to go to my session and nobody could actually join it. Scrambling for a solution, I quickly set up another live event, tweeted the link and also sent it out to the Google+ group.

Then I changed the title of the just ended broadcast to something along the lines of “Go to description for new link”, put the link to the new stream into the description field and also in the chat as I had no other way of letting people know where I had gone and how they could join me.

I was so relieved when people showed up in the new event. That’s when the panic subsided, and I still had about 3 minutes to spare to the start of the session.

The good news? We released Mahara 16.10 and Mahara Mobile today (though actually, we soft-launched the app on the Google Play store already yesterday to ensure that it was live for today).

19 Oct

Getting the hang of hanging out (part 1)

Living in New Zealand, far, far away from the rest of the world (except maybe Australia), means that I’m doing a lot of online conference presentations, demonstrations, and meetings. I’ve become well-versed in a multitude of online meeting and conferencing software and know what works on Linux and what doesn’t.

The latter always give me a fright as I have to start up my VM and hope for the best that it will not die on me unexpectedly. Usually, closing Thunderbird and any browsers helps free some resources in order to let Windows start up. I can only dream of a world in which every conferencing software also runs on Linux.

Lately, some providers have gotten better and make use of WebRTC technology, which only requires a browser but no fancy additional software or flash. Only when I want to do screensharing do I need to install a plugin, which is done quickly.

So for meetings of fewer than 10 people, I’m usually set and can propose a nice solution like Jitsi, which works well. In the past, my go-to option was Firefox Hello for simple meetings, but that was taken off the market.

But what to do when there may be more than 10 people wanting to attend a session? Then it gets tough very quickly. So I have been trialling Google Hangouts on Air recently after I’ve seen David Bell use them successfully. It looked easy enough, but boy, was I in for a surprise.

Finding the dashboard

At some point, my YouTube account was switched to a “Creator Studio” one and so I can do live events. Google Hangouts on Air are now YouTube Live Events and need to be scheduled in YouTube.

There is no link from the YouTube homepage to the dashboard for uploading or managing content. I’d have thought that by clicking on “My channel” that I’d get somewhere, but far from it. There is nothing in the navigation.

The best choice is to click the “Video Manager” to get to a subpage of the creator area. Or, as I just found out, click your profile icon and then click the “Creator Studio” button.

Finding the creator dashboard

Getting to the creator dashboard either via the “Video Manager” on your channel or via the button under your profile picture.

Scheduling an event

Setting up an event is pretty straight forward as it’s like filling in the information for a video upload just with the added fields for event times.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found yet where I can change the placeholder for the video that is shown in the preview of the event on social media. It seems to set it to my channel’s banner image rather than allowing me to upload an event-specific image.

So once you have your event, you are good to go and can send people the link to it. The links that you get are only for the stream. They do not allow your viewers to actually join your hangout and communicate with you in there and that’s where it gets a bit bizarre and what prompted me to write this blog post so I can refer back to it in the future.

Different links for different hangouts

There is the hangout link and the YouTube event link

Streaming vs. Hangout

There are actually two components to the YouTube Live event (formerly known as Google Hangout on Air):

  1. The Hangout from which the presenter streams;
  2. The YouTube video stream that people watch.

In order to get into the Hangout, you click the “Start Hangout on Air” button on your YouTube events page. That takes you into a Google Hangout with the added buttons for the live event. You are supposed to see how many people joined in, but the count may be a bit off at times.

In that Google Hangout, you have all the usual functionality available of chats, screensharing, effects etc. You can also invite other people to join you in there. That will allow them to use the microphone. The interesting thing is that you can simply invite them via the regular Hangout invite. You can’t give them the link to the stream as they would not find the actual hangout. And if you only give people the link to the Hangout but not the stream, nobody will be in the stream.

Finding the relevant links in the hangout

You can also get the two different links from the hangout. Just make sure you get the correct one.

The YouTube video stream page only shows the content of the Hangout that is displayed in the video area, but not the chat. The live event has its separate chat that you can’t see in the Hangout! In order to see any comments your viewers make, you need to have the streaming page open and read the comments there.

In a way, it’s nice to keep the Hangout chat private because if you have other people join you in there as co-presenters, you can use that space to chat to each other without other viewers seeing what you type. However, it’s pretty inconvenient as you have to remember to check the other chat. Dealing with separate windows during a presentation can be daunting. It would be nicer to see the online chat also in the hangout window.

Today I even just fired up another computer and had the stream show there, which taught me another thing.

Having the stream on another computer also showed me how slow the connection was. The live event was at least 5 seconds behind if not more. That is something to consider when taking questions.

The stream was also very grainy. I was on a fast connection, but the default speed was on the lowest setting nevertheless. Fortunately, once I increased the resolution on the finished video, the video did get better. I don’t know if you could increase the setting during the stream.

Last but not least, I couldn’t present in full-screen mode as the window wouldn’t be recognized. I’ll have to try again and see if it works if I screenshare my entire desktop as it would be nicer not to show the browser toolbars.

Not sharing of links

When you are not the owner of the stream, you cannot post URLs. I’m pretty sure that is to prevent trolls misusing public YouTube events to post links. However, it’s pretty inconvenient for the rest who want to hold meetings and webinars and share content. You can’t post a single link. Only I as organizer could post links. Unfortunately, I found that out only after the event as I was logged in under a different account.

Being used to many other web conferencing software, I’ve come to like the backchannel and the possibility to post additional material, which are in many cases links, so people can simply click on them. This was impossible in the YouTube live event as I was only a regular user. And even had I logged in with my creator account, which I’ll certainly do during the next session on Friday, nobody else would have been able to post a link. That is very limiting. I wish it were possible to determine whether links were allowed or not.

Editing the stream

Once the event was over today, I went back to the video, but couldn’t find any editing tools. I started being discouraged as I had hoped to simply trim the front and the back a bit from non-essential chatter and then just keep the rest of the video online rather than trimming my local recording that I had done on top of the online recording, encoding that and uploading it. Before I could get sadder, I had to do some other work, and once I came back to the recording, I suddenly had all my regular editing tools available and rejoiced. Apparently, it takes a bit until all functionality is at your disposal.

So I trimmed the video, which was not easy, but I managed. And then it did its encoding online. After some time, the shortened recording was available and I didn’t have to send out a new link to the video. ūüôā

Summing up

What does that mean for the next live event with YouTube events?

  1. Click the “Creator Studio” button under my Google / YouTube profile to get to the editor dashboard easily.
  2. Invite people who should have audio privileges through the Hangout rather than giving them the YouTube Live link, which is displayed more prominently.
    • Co-presenters are invited via Hangout.
    • Viewers get the YouTube live link.
  3. Open the YouTube Live event with the event creator account in order to be able to post links in the chat on YouTube. Have both the Hangout and the YouTube Live event open so you can see the online chat of those who aren’t in the Hangout.
  4. Take into account that there is a delay until the content is shown on YouTube.
  5. Once finished, wait a bit until all editing features are available and then go into post-production.

Remembering all these things will put me into a better position for the next webinar, which is a repeat session of today’s and showcases the new features of Mahara 16.10.

Update: Learn some more about YouTube Live events from my second webinar.

11 Oct

Mahara Hui @ AUT recap

I’m playing catch-up and working my way backwards of my events. Yesterday, I wrote a bit about the NZ MoodleMoot¬†on 5 October 2016. Just a day before that, AUT organized a local half-day Mahara Hui, Mahara Hui @ AUT 2016. Lisa Ransom and Shen Zhang from CfLAT (Centre for Learning and Teaching) were responsible for the event and did well wrangling everything and made all attendees feel welcome.

It was great to catch up with lecturers and learning technology support staff from AUT, Unitec and University of Waikato, and with a user from Nurseportfolio. We started the day out with introductions and examples of how people use Mahara.

Mahara in New Zealand tertiaries

At AUT, the CfLAT team trained about 630 students this academic year, in particular Public Policy, Tourism and Midwifery. Paramedics are also starting to use ePortfolios and can benefit from the long experience that Lisa and Shen have supporting other departments at AUT.

Linda reported that Mahara is now also being used in culinary studies in elective courses as well as degree papers. They use templates to help students get started, but then let them run with it. Portfolios are well suited for culinary students as they can showcase their work as well as document their creation progress and improve their work.

She also showcased a portfolio from a new lecturer who became a student in her area of expertise, going through a portfolio assignment with her students to see for herself how the portfolios worked and what she could and wanted to expect from her students. By going through the activity herself, she became an expert and now has a better understanding of the portfolio work.

John, an¬†AUT practicum leader, who was new to AUT, came along to the hui and said that they were starting to use portfolios for their lesson plans and goals. Reflections are expected from the future teachers and form an important aspect. I’m sure we’ll hear more from him.

Sally from Nursing at AUT is looking at Mahara again, and the instructor could form connections directly with Unitec and Nurseportfolio, which is fantastic, because that’s what these hui are about: Connecting people.

JJ updated the group on the activities at Unitec. Medical imaging is going digital and looking into portfolios, and they also created a self-paced Moodle course on how to teach with Mahara effectively so that lecturers at Unitec can get a good overview.

Stephen from the University of Waikato gave an overview of the portfolio activities ¬†at his university. Waikato still works with two systems, MyPortfolio.school.nz for education students becoming teachers, and the new Waikato-hosted Mahara site. Numerous faculties at Waikato now work with portfolios. If you’d like to find out more directly, you can watch recordings from the last WCELfest, in particular the presentations by Richard Edwards, Sue McCurdy and Stephen Bright. Portfolios will be used even more in the future as evidence from general papers will need to be collected in them by every student.

We also discussed a couple of ideas from a lecturer and are interested in other people’s opinion on them. One idea was to be able to share portfolios more easily in social networks and then see directly when the portfolio was updated and share those news again. The other idea was to show people who are interested in the portfolios when new content has been added. The latter is already possible to a degree with the watchlist. However, there students or lecturers still need to put specific pages on the watchlist first rather than the changes coming to them. The enhancements that Gregor is planning for the watchlist goes more in that direction.

Mahara 16.10

In a second part of the hui, I presented the new features of Mahara 16.10, and we spent a bit of time on taking a closer look at SmartEvidence.

I’m very excited that this new version will be live very soon and look forward to the feedback by users on how SmartEvidence works out for them. It’s the initial implementation. While it doesn’t contain all the bells and whistles, I think it is a great beginning to get the conversations started around use cases besides the ones we had and see how flexible it is.

Next hui and online meetings

If you want to share how you are using Mahara, you’ll have the opportunity to do so in Wellington on 27 October 2016 when we’ll have another local Mahara Hui,¬†Mahara Hui @ Catalyst. From 5 to 7 April 2017, we are planning a bigger Mahara Hui again in Auckland. More information will be shared soon on the Mahara Hui website.

There will also be two MUGOZ online meetings on 19 and 21 October 2016 in which I’ll be presenting the new Mahara 16.10 features. You are welcome to attend either of these 1-hour sessions organized by the Australian Mahara User Group. Since the sessions are online, anybody can tune in.

10 Oct

One-day of Moodling

Last week, the 10th New Zealand MoodleMoot took place at NorthTec in Whangarei. After a night of torrential rain, the community day, the one that I attended on 5 October 2016, brought bright sunshine and warm temperatures. That was a good start to the day. After a short walk and sinking one of my shoes almost ankle-deep into mud on the way to NorthTec, we found the venue, the Interactive Learning Centre, but nobody was there.

Everything was very quiet, not what I had expected from a conference that was to start in about 30 minutes. Fortunately, we did meet a few other conference attendees. An attendee from NorthTec showed us the way to the registration desk, which was half-way across campus in another building. That’s where all the pre-moot activity was. Lots of smiling faces, and Moodlers I hadn’t seen in a while. I must admit that my last MoodleMoot had been a few years ago. It was nice to be back in the fold and catch up with a number of people throughout the day.

Once everyone was settled in the lecture theater, the short presentations could start. Stuart Mealor, the co-organizer from HRDNZ, was the MC and did a wonderful job introducing every single speaker with a personal note.

I liked that we had a single stream. That made the decision very easy, which presentations to attend, and allowed everyone to talk about them during the breaks knowing that we had all been listening to the same.

Moodle in New Zealand and other places

What follows are some insights from the presenters on the day. If you want to see what others had to say, check out Twitter #mootnzx.

Chris Gaul from NMIT talked about online exams using Moodle and what NMIT has learned by trial and error. While the exams worked really well on laptop and desktop computers, students working on iPads had quite a lot of problems as pages froze. In future, they would need to do more testing on mobile especially when they want to allow students to use their own devices for the exams. The exams take place on Moodle, but students still sit them in a room at NMIT and are supervised.

Tip from Tabitha Roder: Don’t have all exam questions on one page as the page will time out at some point. Break the questions up over multiple pages.

Scott Huntley from Pukunui Technology¬†over in Australia, a¬†Canadian working for an Australian company with a Kiwi name, shared his love for all things Pi, Raspberry Pi. He brought along a bag full of different Pis and shared, which ones can run Moodle well, and which ones were an experiment. It was incredible to see the $5 computer, the Pi Zero. Did you know that it was shipped on the cover of a magazine in the UK? Talk about disposable technology. Granted, Moodle only ran very slowly on it, but if you take a Pi 3, it’ll be a pretty decent experience.

Justin Hunt, the maker of PoodLL, talked about his journey as independent developer of Moodle plugins. While Justin is most well-known for PoodLL, the way to do audio and video recordings in Moodle, he’s actually developed over 40 plugins and maintains a good bunch of them. It was interesting to learn that Japan is still far behind in eLearning in his opinion and that it’s mostly foreign teachers who are¬†enthusiastic about it. Justin predicts though that Japan will take off at some point and when it does, it’ll be doing great innovative things and in a well-designed way as so many other things are done in Japan. Watch out for the Japanese eLearning wave.

Pete Jones from New Zealand Language Centres (NZLC) talked about the transformative effect that Moodle had on delivering a better experience for all his clients, not just the students learning languages, but also centre instructors and administrative staff. NZLC took its placement test online. In doing so, staff reviewed the then existing test and its deficiencies and improved it to work better for students and also to yield better results for placing students into the appropriate groups.

By going online, NZLC examined a number of processes¬†closely and took the plunge to change them. For example, students now fill in the registration form online preventing admins to decipher bad handwriting. Lecturers can more quickly grade the placement test and are not as rushed when it comes to giving the students their results. They also start classes on Tuesday morning rather than Monday afternoon after the Monday morning placement test giving students the opportunity to get to know each other a bit more before classes start. By taking the placement test online, students now sit comfortably in front of a computer screen rather than on tables of 4 to 5 people getting into each other’s way with the papers.

Yvonne Hamilton from EIT discussed how EIT uses groups in Moodle for teaching. Instead of selecting a group or grouping for each activity in Moodle, they figured out that sections can be set to be visible for certain groups and that those permissions propagated through to all activities within that section. Now they create all the sections, place the activities for each group in to their respective section and then set the group permissions. That is much less work than doing that on an activity level. EIT also uses the One Topic format to reduce the number of tabs and scrolling that students and instructors have to do.

Chad Outten from My Learning Space in Australia talked about gamification in Moodle and its benefits. There are a few aspects of games that we humans like: flow, resilience, progression, motivation, goals, rules, choices, feedback, status, access, power, and rewards. He did mention that gamification improves engagement and motivation, but there are not clear indications for better learning. More research is still needed. Chad likes a few plugins that can be used to bring more gamification into Moodle, amongst them Level up and Stash. I think Stash could be used for individual activities that then cumulate in a course badge.

Tip from Tabitha: Use Stash in group activities where individual members’ actions contribute to the group stash and everyone needs to contribute before certain other activities are unlocked so as to engage all group members.

Barbara Stokes from¬†EIT¬†presented a moving example of how she came to love teaching again by transforming it and taking it online with Moodle allowing her to increase student engagement and make her teaching and the learning for students more interesting. For example, she uses the Q&A forum to encourage students to post their answers without seeing other students’ answers already. It is also a good place to give students feedback on their answers.

Yong Liu from Unitec¬†had everyone sitting on their seat’s edge during his fast-paced presentation on the ingredients for a good Moodle course. Moodle is not a repository for files, but should be used with its interactive capabilities in order for learners to be active. Take a look at his slides to see for yourself.

Paul Devine¬†from NMIT¬†talked about making Moodle beautiful. He didn’t regard something as¬†“beautiful” in the typical sense of “pretty”. He said that “‘beautiful’ is less what it looks like but more how it makes you feel.” Paul showed results from research that showed how better design increases engagement and emotional attachment. Sometimes already very subtle changes can bring forward a better design that is more pleasing to the eye. NMIT experimented with colors and icons and differentiating individual sections of courses more easily to guide the learner through a course.

In order not to make the course to impersonal, they also have sections of “tutor notes” where a picture of the tutor and a speech bubble are displayed so that the tutor can provide more information, rephrase it or ask reflective questions. This makes the course more human than if there were only the activities.

Other speakers included Wendy Macaskill from the National Library’s Services to Schools¬†who creates courses in Moodle for a variety of adult learners in the role of library support at schools. In these courses, group activities as well as learning journals play a big role. Hazel Owen¬†from Ethos Consultancy talked about assessments in Moodle and the possibilities that are available there, and¬†George Horwath¬†and Dani Mao from Otago Polytechnic presented their way of using Moodle with international students. Martin Dougiamas from Moodle¬†sent a video message as he couldn’t be at the Moot in person.

If there were an award for most-referenced presentations during the moot, it would go to Pablo Guerrero from WIRIS. His graphs and maths impressed everyone although New Zealand did not always get the best results.

And what about ePortfolios?

What would a MoodleMoot be without some love from its friends? ūüėČ I would say that Mahara falls into that category because both go very well together. However, since this was not a Mahara Hui (Note: The next national one in NZ is going to be held in Auckland from 5 to 7 April 2017; more information soon on the hui website), I could not just talk about Mahara. I started talking about portfolios in more general terms and then illustrated the integration that is possible using Mahara.

Preparing for this presentation it was great to see how tightly Mahara and Moodle work together and that ePortfolios can really complement an LMS allowing learners to take control of their own learning and keeping the learning evidence they wish to keep independent of what they need for a particular course at this time in their learning journey.

The majority of the presentations on the community day could only be a maximum of 15 minutes long and that included questions and discussion. So I thought the best approach would be a pecha kucha with 20 slides and 20 seconds for each slide (I removed the timer now that the presentation is over to make it easier to move from one slide to the next). I do actually like pecha kucha quite a bit as I need to be very disciplined in what I can say as time is limited. It does require more preparation to get the timing right, and as I’ve seen in a pecha kucha earlier in the year, I do need to watch my speed and leave time for breathing.

Unfortunately, not all was smooth sailing.

I knew that Slides would support remote presentations, meaning that I could present from my computer and show the presentation on the big screen even though I could not connect¬†my computer to the projector itself. Everything went without a hitch during the preparation and testing in the room, but when I was about half-way through the presentation, I realized that the slides on the big screen were advancing slower than on my screen. I hadn’t noticed before because I had my back to the projector and didn’t check each slide as I thought I saw the correct slides on my computer screen and don’t like it when presenters talk to the screen rather than the audience.

Trying to speak and problem-solve is tricky, but I could get the projector to show the correct slides again and advanced them manually as I knew what I was saying and how much time I needed for each slide.

I did record the presentation afterwards again as I could not use the recording from the day.

In this session I learned that I would need more preparation time in the room with timed presentations. I’ve given a number of remote presentations with the live view of Slides before that didn’t have a problem at all. I just hadn’t done remote presentations with my computer being on a different network than the presenter computer. This will need some more testing.

I think, my next few presentations will not be timed ones though so that I don’t have to fret immediately about running into technical problems, but can be a bit more relaxed.

27 Jul

A very secure MUGSE meeting

MUGSE logoOn Monday, 25 July 2016, the latest MUGSE (Mahara User Group South England) meeting took place at the Defence Academy on its Shrivenham campus. I was fortunate to have been able to attend because I think it will be the most secure Mahara user group meeting ever. But of course, the attendees were also a big draw. ūüôā

So what about the security?

To get it out of the way because I’m sure you are wondering what’s it like to have a meeting on a military campus, let’s talk about it first.

Sam Taylor and Aur√©lie Owens from the Flexible Learning Support Centre at Cranfield Defence and Security hosted the meeting and did a great job explaining all the necessary details. We had to sign in at reception and received a badge that allowed us to wander around the campus without an escort (not that we attempted because it’s such a huge campus and you could wander into a minefield or in the line of fire if you didn’t read all the signs). We were not allowed to take pictures outside of our meeting room, and also had to wear appropriate attire as we were having lunch at the Officer’s Mess Hall.

It was interesting to see people dressed in uniform everywhere, though there are also staff like Sam and Aurélie who do not wear uniform.

We were lucky not to have any sirens go off during our time on campus or hear any military drills and practices as it was very quiet on campus with students having finished their theses and awaiting the assessment outcomes.

So you said MUGSE?

25 keen Mahara users from across the south of England all the way from Cambridge in the east to Southampton on the coast and Nottingham in the north (not quite south England anymore, but she will be taking over from Sam while she is going on maternity leave later in the year) braved the summer weather and in one case even came back from vacation to attend this summer MUGSE meeting. It was a great diverse group of people primarily from the higher and further education sector. Some were newbies and others experienced users.

So what did you do?

We began the day with a short workshop to get everyone talking and brainstorming. We had 5 topics of which 4 were discussed in groups allowing everyone to put their heads together and see if they could come up with a solution or an idea for a  change in Mahara. The topics discussed were:

  • How can you integrate assessment?
  • How can you improve usability?
  • How can you integrate Microsoft Office 365?
  • How can you bulk update your group membership (not discussed in wider group)?
  • What are the benefits of using Mahara?

We then heard short case study reports from various institutions of higher education, I presented the state of SmartEvidence so far, we looked at some easy ways to improve usability in Mahara locally and then had a Q&A session with which we ended the day.



Assessment is becoming an increasingly important topic for Mahara users as they wish to tie in competency frameworks with the portfolios. We looked at the first prototype of SmartEvidence later in the day. The group shared their experiences so far and came up with questions to be discussed further.

MUGSE group discussion

MUGSE group discussion


The group raised a number of questions that were in good part related to the other groups. Some of the questions were also tackled in the form of case studies by the presenters that came after the workshop who provided good insight into how Mahara is used around southern England currently.

Usability questions raised at the MUGSE July 2016 meeting

Usability questions raised at the MUGSE July 2016 meeting

It was noted by the group that professional development plays an increasingly important role for the successful implementation of ePortfolios.

Office 365 integration

Two participants discussed the Office 365 integration and also general questions around the integration of other external resources. Integrating with external repositories is beneficial for those that only have limited storage capacity. However, what happens when the students don’t have access to these repositories anymore? Also campuses such as the Defence Academy are in a unique security position in that they are not allowed to use external storage and everything needs to be put on its on-site servers that are not the cheapest around.

Update: If you want to take an early look at the integration between Mahara and Office 365, please contact Gregor AnŇĺelj. He has worked on the integration and can make the plugin available for testing before its final release.

Bulk update group membership

While this topic was not discussed in a bigger group, Nick and I did brainstorm possibilities. I mentioned that Mahara 16.10 will have the possibility to update any group’s membership via CSV file and not just the membership of the groups that were created by CSV as is currently the case.

However, it would be nice to have some bulk options available where users can quickly update their own group membership status. Similarly, it would be good to have some bulk options also available for portfolio pages.

Benefits of using Mahara

The members of this group discussed benefits and noted importantly that competent support is required for uptake at an institution and successful implementation. The group pointed to the excellent support that Cranfield University receives from Sam and Aurélie for example, who provide valuable advice to lecturers from the start of a project to the finish when brought in to support the lecturer.

Case studies

Cranfield University

Sam and Aurélie presented an update to their presentation at MootIEUK in March. They had now run a second course in which their students worked on problems collaboratively and used a group portfolio to report their findings and reflections. They had learned a number of things from the first pilot and made changes accordingly to their course design as well as how they worked with Mahara, which were successful and proved beneficial to their participants.

A notable difference in Mahara was the use of collapsible blocks for the portfolio content. As the students needed to submit their portfolios to Turnitin, everything had to be on one page. Turnitin does not handle zip files well, but it can read the printed version of the portfolio reasonably OK.

Of course putting an entire portfolio consisting of multiple sections with quite a bit of text on one page results in endless scrolling. That’s where the collapsible blocks come in: It’s easy to jump between the sections, but when it does need to be printed, all sections can be opened once and a print copy can be made.

They did stress to the participants though that the assessors would look at the nicely formatted portfolio in Mahara as well and not only the plain one in Turnitin. Layout and overall organisation still counted, and staff found the portfolios very clear and well structured.

Next steps at Cranfield University

Next steps at Cranfield University

Southampton Solent University

Roger Emery from Southampton Solent University reported on the use of templates for health care students and how his team improved the support for them when they are not on the same campus. In the past, students didn’t always know whom to contact for support, but now they have a structure in place that is clear and the learning technology team is more efficiently used.

There are peers, who already had to do their portfolio, available to help students. The learning technology team does check in with them to ensure that they aren’t giving incorrect advice. The next level of support is the assessors, and Solent University found that it helps when they create their own portfolio to see how their tasks work and what is doable and how it is doable by the students. And lastly there is the tutor who can be consulted. Peers, assessors and tutors then have the direct line to the learning technologies team in case they exhausted their other resources.

The use of peers as initial support for students (and instructors) works well for a number of institutions. It is good to see students supporting students and gaining more knowledge at the same time.

While the team does use templates, they found that this can be dangerous at times as lecturers then don’t explore the system themselves and learn how to use it.

Roger pointed to the help pages of Solent University where there are also some portfolio examples available.

Cranfield University

Sam showed us some of the support resources that she’s put together for her students in Moodle and how they link back to Mahara. While they use existing resources, they also create some resources themselves to focus on the specific tasks learners need to do and make it easy for them to find that information.

The day before, Sam was showing me her support resources and we looked into deep linking to Mahara pages from within Moodle so that she wouldn’t have to provide a secret URL to the support pages anymore, but could link to them and log the students into Mahara at the same time. That is helpful because then students don’t necessarily have to return to Moodle and click on the special login link, but are logged into their portfolios automatically.

University of Brighton

Nick Feather from the University of Brighton gave an update on the ePortfolio work that is happening at his university. Like Solent University, Brighton uses templates in health and humanities. They use tables extensively to provide an overview of what part of the portfolio has already been filled in and where there is still evidence missing.

Sparsholt College Hampshire

Ursula Bailey from Sparsholt College uses portfolios with zookeepers in training. They used to work with paper-based portfolios, but sending them across the UK to the various assessors proved very expensive. That’s why they looked into going digital. They started out using templates, but don’t anymore because they were too close to the paper-based versions and didn’t give the students enough freedom. For Sparsholt College it was crucial to get the external verifiers on board.

There are still a few things to improve and simplify. For example, right now students still need to collect the signatures of their mentors and tutors and put them into their portfolios to indicate that they’ve passed a unit. However, maybe in the future it would be enough for the tutors and mentors to provide feedback to indicate that they’ve reviewed the student’s work.

Sparsholt College also uses a manually created overview page showing where evidence has already been collected and whether it’s been verified or not.

Kings College, London

Charles Kasule from Kings College presented on the varied use of Mahara in 4 different contexts:

  • King’s Learning Institute
  • Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery
  • Modern Language Centre
  • King’s Experience
Charles Kasule presents on KCL's use of Mahara

Charles Kasule presents on KCL’s use of Mahara

The reflective element is very important in the King’s portfolios. One example that we saw was a lecturer’s reflection on preparing for one of his modules. He showcased his progress and the various stages.

The College set up a portfolio working group in which learning technologists and academics get together to discuss the implementation of portfolios. The involvement and support from the academics from the start is very important for the success of the implementation.


Initially, I was going to showcase some examples of using templates, but since the majority of the previous presenters already showed how well templates can or cannot work, we decided to switch gears on the spot and briefly demo SmartEvidence instead. A number of presenters had tables in their portfolio templates that students needed to fill in manually. Now that’s where SmartEvidence can come in very nicely I would say.

The first patches made it into code review, and I’ve been testing them over the last couple of weeks to check out the initial technical implementation. There are a few more things to finish before we can commit everything to Mahara, but I’m already very excited about the current state of progress. I think I’ll create a short video soon to show where we are at right now.

It was good to do this first demo and present the current functionality to a group of users and see how many of them are very excited about what is coming up.


Improving the usability of Mahara is an ongoing topic and as the discussion by one of the groups showed at this MUGSE meeting, a very important one that needs to be tackled from a number of perspectives.

Roger shared how Solent University is making improvements on its environment locally without much coding by primarily changing language strings. He showed how they have changed the help files in Mahara to make them more suitable for their students providing information on what the functionality is, how it can be used and seeing an example.

Not everyone is aware that any language string in Mahara can be changed with the help of a local language file. Thus, adapting the language to the one that is used at an institution is fairly simple and does not require any coding background. The workshop material that Roger had put together for last year’s Mahara Hui helps get others started with that.

Mahara clinic

At the end of the day we had a Mahara clinic where any questions could be asked. The one big question I remember was around the mobile app and whether we’ve made any progress on that. So I could give an update on Mahara Mobile. Hopefully, we’ll have an alpha version available by the end of the Northern Hemispheric summer. A few bugs are eradicated and the theme is being worked on.

The app is still – like its current predecessors – going to be based on the premise that we aren’t replicating all of Mahara in an app, but see the app more as an extension to the website and make it possible for learners to record their learning evidence offline. The new app will allow learners to connect it to any Mahara site no matter the authentication method (tested will be built-in authentication methods). That’s a big improvement as currently, the apps can only be used with internal Mahara authentication. With more and more institutions setting up LDAP or single sign-on, that’s not a viable option.

I’m excited about the new app and will announce the test version as soon as we have it available.

So was that all?

The day at Cranfield University was jam-packed with conversations and presentations around the use of Mahara at a number of institutions and provided new as well as experienced users a good overview of what is going on in South England. There is a lot of good portfolio work being done that supports students and instructors in their learning and in a number of cases also supports collaboration and makes learning enjoyable. One lecturer who had observed group work noted that the students had never laughed so much during an activity before.

The local Mahara user group meetings give people who may not be so active in the online community the chance to get together relatively easily (some did travel more than 6 hours in total though to be able to attend) and exchange ideas as well as get to know each other a bit better. Being able to bond and network face to face is still very important. I am looking forward to seeing how the individual projects develop and change over time.

Check out Twitter for the tweets from the event as well as future updates.