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.

Workshop

Assessment

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

Usability

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.

Catalyst

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.

Usability

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.

18 Jul

The Vienna connection: Linking Mahara and edubreak

On 11 and 12 July 2016 I had the chance to finally meet a few Mahara community members with whom I had been in touch for numerous years at a meeting of the European PREPARE project. It’s been really nice to not only communicate via email, IRC or webinars, but in person.

Gregor AnŇĺelj, the community’s most prolific plugin developer, came from Slovenia, Klaus Himpsl-Gutermann from PH Wien, who had written his PhD thesis on the integration of Moodle, Mahara and MediaWiki,¬† hosted the meeting, and Andrea Ghoneim from Danube University Krems, who has been participating in a number of EU funded ePortfolio projects, joined us on the 11th. But that was not all. The following also attended (some of) the sessions (thanks Reinhard for providing all the links on your blog post):¬†Erich Sch√∂nb√§chler (Teacher at Primarschule Feusisberg, Switzerland), G√ľnter Nimmerfall (Responsible of the Service for Media and Technology, PH Tirol), Herbert Muska (ZID, PH Wien),¬†Johannes Metscher (Ghostthinker, Augsburg, Germany),¬†Klaus Hammerm√ľller (Verein Offenes Lernen [Registered society “Open Learning”, Wien),¬†Peter Groi√üb√∂ck (PH Nieder√∂sterreich), Reinhard Bauer (ZLI, PH Wien), and Wolfgang Greller (Vice Rector for Research and Quality Assurance, PH Wien).

Settling in for the first day at PH Wien

Settling in for the first day at PH Wien. Pictured are (left to right): Herbert, Reinhard, Klaus, Johannes, and Peter.

Day 1

We started on the 11th with a series of short presentations to bring everyone up to speed on the use of Mahara in the ATS2020 project, at PH Wien and PH Niederösterreich. I gave a short overview of the bigger projects that we are planning for Mahara in the coming 2 years, and we saw a brief introduction of edubreak.

ATS2020

Andrea discussed some aspects of the ATS2020 project (some information in German and English) and mentioned that teachers, who were introduced to working with portfolios, appreciated having sample lesson plans available to give them an idea of how to proceed and what to cover. Students needed guidance in giving feedback and also for evaluating themselves. When the students assessed themselves they were often stricter than their teachers.

While the project focuses on the assessment of transversal skills, it does look into the lifelong aspects of portfolios. Thus, they see that there is a problem when systems are connected to the portfolio as students may keep the access to their portfolio, but won’t always retain access to the other systems that were connected during their schooling. There is yet to be found a good solution to overcome this issue.

Andrea presents aspects of the ATS2020 project

Andrea presents aspects of the ATS2020 project

Integrating systems is very useful to allow for improved work flows and avoid duplicating of data, especially when it is to be updated. However, there is no solution to download / keep all off-site data when a student wishes to do so. A “disconnect and keep all data” button is missing.

PH Niederösterreich

Peter reported on the use of Mahara at his teacher training college. It is called “Sammelmappe” for which the English translation of “binder” doesn’t quite cover it. It’s essentially a place where you put everything that you wish to keep. Having connected it with LDAP, students have hardly any support queries. Keeping the number of passwords low is a definite plus. In the practical teacher education (“Schulpraxis”) it’s become the default to have an electronic portfolio, and students complete a reflection and development portfolio. The trend is also to only use Mahara. There, students find all necessary forms and information in regard to their study program.

The same is true for the Master’s that Peter is involved in. Having everything on a single platform instead of distributed over Moodle and Mahara, is beneficial for the students who are not always very tech savvy. Over the years, they adapted their portfolio practices. In the beginning, there were a lot of reflections. This became a huge task for faculty to provide feedback as they often have many students. Thus, they dialed back on the number of reflections and now have them only for milestones.

Peter walked us through one of his portfolio pages that he had set up for the semester tasks. He mentioned that he uses blocks that automatically retract for tasks that have already passed, and uses regular blocks for the currently active task. That’s a neat way of highlighting the active task without much effort.

Peter doesn’t use templates for the portfolios, but leaves it up to the students how they want to present their learning evidence. They see the setting up of the portfolio as creative process and don’t want to narrow that down for the students. While his students submit written reflections, he likes giving feedback via video as he can point out the items that he’s referring to in the video more easily and can also show quickly how to do something in Mahara if needed.

What was especially interesting to learn is that private feedback is often sent via email rather than put on the page as private feedback. It seemed that the sending of mail was easier for that. Public feedback was left on the Mahara pages though.

PH Wien: Students

Reinhard gave an overview of the use of Mahara at PH Wien. As so many of us know, he did re-iterate the fact that the task design is crucial when working with portfolios and especially electronic portfolios. Many portfolios that he sees are just text or PDF documents uploaded to Mahara. That is just one step away from a paper portfolio. How can this be changed? Could one possibility be edubreak, which we’ll see later on?

Reinhard discusses portfolio use at PH Wien

Reinhard discusses portfolio use at PH Wien

Faculty do struggle with the vast amount of reflections especially when they have lots of students. Therefore, students, like at PH Nieder√∂sterreich, don’t reflect on everything, but are more discerning to decide which learning evidence should be reflected on, which shows growth the best rather than reflecting on everything. While they do want feedback from faculty, they can’t always get it due to the number of students in a class. They also work with peer feedback and students learn to find positive aspects so as not to point out only negative things.

Reinhard mentioned that sometimes portfolio reflections don’t convey the truth about what actually happened because students ask themselves what their instructor might want to hear or see. To overcome this behavior, changes in the culture around teaching and learning as well as giving feedback would be required.

A big challenge that PH Wien has is to find a good balance between “Sammelmappe”, i.e. storing of the evidence, and reflecting on evidence that illustrates learning well. A portfolio is not a backup / archive of all the things that students have done, but a selection of the best evidence that illustrates learning. These pieces should then be highlighted in reflections and discussed further. I think that other pieces of evidence could form additional context, but may not need their own reflection. That’s why I like the concept of the Mahara pages: You do not need to reflect / show only one piece of evidence, but you can place multiple pieces of evidence on a page and reflect on all of them at once and show the connections between them rather than looking at each evidence individually.

PH Wien: Schools

Being a teacher training college, PH Wien works closely with schools on a number of projects. One of which is KidZ (Klassenzimmer der Zukunft) Schaufenster [classrooms of the future showcase]. The project brings together best practice examples of how schools work with innovative learning and teaching methods as well as digital tools. In some cases, the schools and their portfolio implementations are also researched more closely. Some schools who haven’t had much experience showcasing their work in a portfolio received assistance by PH Wien in presenting their content.

Klaus tells us about the KidZ Schaufenster

Klaus tells us about the KidZ Schaufenster

It is great to learn that this showcase encouraged a number of schools to explore portfolio work themselves and to meet online to discuss their portfolios and how to improve them. Technology is still a hurdle for students and teachers at times. Some even argue for the old paper-based portfolio as they would have something tangible. However, the electronic portfolio gives them the freedom not having to carry crates of paper portfolios everywhere.

It will be interesting to find out more how technology can support students and teachers better, what improvements they’d like to see in particular and what impact these will have when implemented.

edubreak

Johannes gave a presentation on edubreak¬ģcampus, a social video learning platform developed in Germany. It is being used in the PREPARE project alongside Mahara. The platform, which is built on Drupal, allows teachers to prepare activities to which students upload videos. These videos can then be commented on in edubreak and the comments are overlayed on the video and easily accessible for viewing and further feedback by anybody who has access to the video.

Edubreak is already used successfully in trainings for table tennis coaches for example as the coaches-in-training can analyze the video, give feedback and learn how they can improve on their feedback.

We recorded my presentation on upcoming features in Mahara, our big project ideas, and then uploaded the recording to edubreak. Below, you can see what comments look like in the platform using the new HTML5 player.

Example of comments on an Edubreak video

Example of comments on an edubreak video

By using a video platform on which learners and teachers can engage in providing each other specific feedback, it is hoped that multimedia evidence becomes more accessible and that giving feedback on it becomes easier as viewers can jump to the individual feedback directly. When trialled at PH Wien, initially only a few students were willing to be video recorded and then have their videos made available for the tasks. However, once other students saw the power of reviewing their actions, they all took the opportunity to be filmed and then viewed their videos in edubreak.

Day 2

At the heart of the PREPARE project is the promotion of reflective practice in the training of teachers using ePortfolios. By combining edubreak with Mahara, the researchers are exploring how a video and reflective learning environment can foster competencies in the areas of reflection and teaching as well as transfer and exchange of knowledge and practical experiences by analyzing the learning outcomes closely through a learning analytics lens and making improvements in the learning environment accordingly.

On Day 2 of our get together, we explored how edubreak and Mahara could be used in conjunction by establishing personas as well as looking at technical implications of the integration such as authentication, transfer or linking of content and displaying videos and their comments in Mahara to make the experience as seamless as possible for the learners and also teachers.

The project team has more thinking to do and also trialling on how best to achieve the work flow and what is possible with web services between Mahara and edubreak. This may be one of the first projects to use the new connection manager that will be available in the next version of Mahara. Since it has already been merged into the master code, the team can start looking into it and give us feedback on its usability. The connection manager shall make hooking up external systems to Mahara easier so that they do not need to be configured in the code, but via a web interface.

I enjoyed both days very much as they gave me the opportunity to meet researchers in the area of ePortfolio practices, discuss their projects with them, learn about what goes well and what could be improved, as well as discuss the integration with edubreak, a social video platform, that can be beneficial for student learning and reflecting by them being able to easily annotate video content. As usual, time flew by very quickly, and after two days it was time to say goodbye to a great team whose progress I will follow. Seeing more integration projects develop will give us more insight into how well various systems can be connected to Mahara and what issues people encounter when they want to export or keep their portfolios offline and how we can circumvent them.

You can find the summaries of the two days from the perspective of Reinhard and Johannes in German.

11 Jul

0 degrees in hot summer

Who’d have thought you can find a 0 degrees Celcius spot in the heat of summer in Austria? Well actually, we didn’t have to look too far from Salzburg and found it in the Eisriesenwelt (ice giants world) in Werfen. We were looking for something to do with two children (aged 10 and 13) on Sunday, and a day in a hot city did not sound promising. Instead, we drove the 35 minutes to Werfen, up the mountains for 5 km and stood at the entrance to the Eisriesenwelt.

A short walk uphill, a 3-minute cable car ride and another short stroll uphill, and we were at the entrance of the cave, which is the biggest ice cave in the world. By that time alone we had climbed about 640 m. Most of that was via the extremely fast cable car though.

View from the entrance of the Eisriesenwelt

View from the entrance of the Eisriesenwelt

We put on jackets (and sturdy boots for everybody but me as I had left my hiking boots in New Zealand since I wasn’t expecting an excursion to the mountains) and were ready to go underground. Once it was our turn for the tour, every 4th or 5th person received an old-fashioned carbide lamp to light the way. Since we are in Europe, nobody worried about people mishandling them. There were no accidents and nobody burned off the pants of another person.

Entering the cave was a mission on its own as there was a wind blowing of at least 50 km/h once our tour guide opened the door. You really had to step through the door quickly and carefully, but as soon as you were inside, the wind was gone.

The cave itself is about 42 km long, but only the first kilometer is the actual ice cave. After that it is too warm for ice to stay. In winter, the door to the cave is left open so that icy wind can enter, and in the spring the snow melt trickles water through cracks forming the ice sculptures little by little in the way that stalacmites and stalactites are formed.

We went up 700 steps to reach the highest point in the cave (a walk of about 40 stories) that we could visit and down again 700 steps to return to our starting point. The biggest “piece” of ice in the cave is the ice wall and it’s about 25 m thick.

The ice inside the cave has a commanding presence, and it is fascinating to see that much ice inside the mountain and also wander through a huge cave like that. Since we only had the carbide lamps, the lighting was sparse but still plenty and added to the atmosphere. It was amazing to see the effort that had gone into exploring this cave and also creating the walkways and stairs (there was generally one for ascending and one for descending). Everyone was pretty quiet in the cave taking the surroundings in and being in awe of what we saw there.

The ice in the cave is mostly growing each year and the natural sculptures within it change all the time. What had been an elephant for the last many years is now slowly transforming into a dromedary. We could also see the growth of the ice over time clearly by looking at the layers in the ice. Our guide said though that in contrast to the rings in a tree, the layers in the ice can be added to or receed depending on the weather.

Since you can’t take photos inside the cave, you’ll have to go there for yourself to check it out.

10 Jul

Mahara Hui Francophone: A brief summary

There are an increasing number of Mahara events throughout the world each year. Usually, I attend the majority of them electronically from the comfort of my couch in Wellington. Sometimes, I do get the chance though to travel to these events, which is always a special treat for me as I am not only able to present on Mahara, but also listen to other’s present and talk about Mahara as well as get to know the users of Mahara a bit more.

This year, I escaped the Wellington winter, which just started to settle in, to attend the MoodleMoot Mahara Hui Francophone. It’s a stable on the annual Moodle and Mahara conference calendar. It took place in Sierre, Switzerland, from 6 to 8 July 2016. HES-SO Valais-Wallis organized the event and did a great job at it. An army of student helpers was always around for questions, to take photos, to help us presenters in our sessions, to record every presentation, and to make sure that everything ran as smooth as.

Over 350 people from all parts of the French-speaking world attended this event: Participants came from Europe, North America, Africa, and Asia. A special highlight for many was the attendance of Martin Dougiamas for the entire conference.

Being a MoodleMoot Mahara Hui, a good number of presentations focused on Mahara. Nicolas Thorel also led workshops introducing Mahara to those who hadn’t worked with it before. I realized how little I know about what is going in the French-speaking Mahara community. We do get occasional submissions from French institutions to the newsletter, but that does not even begin to cover the extend to which it is being used. Many people do great work in the quiet of their institutions and use the opportunity of a conference to present their work. I will be in touch with them to showcase their work in the wider community.

Fortunately, I could attend the majority of the Mahara sessions, but will review some of them again where I didn’t catch everything due to my rusty French. It is fantastic that all presentations were recorded and will be made available soon. Since I hadn’t spoken French in many years, following some presentations was challenging. I missed a bunch of the jokes, but for the most part, I was happy how well I could follow along.

Events like this are special because I can meet the people who contribute to Mahara in person besides catching up with those I have already had the pleasure to get to know. So I met the original French translator of Mahara, Nicolas Martignoni, and also Philippe Pettiqueux, who’s helped with the French translation as well and is now looking into bringing Mahara into agricultural schools in France with his colleagues.

Nicolas, Dajan, Fabien, Nathalie, Philippe, Kristina au MoodleMoot Mahara Hui FR 2016

Nicolas, Dajan, Fabien, Nathalie, Philippe et Kristina au MoodleMoot Mahara Hui FR 2016

I’ll follow up with additional posts. For the time being, I’ll leave it at that as I’m still digesting all the impressions and would like to say a big MERCI BEAUCOUP A TOU-TE-S for a wonderful time in Sierre.

25 Apr

Portfolios and assessment? A workshop

Last week I attended the DEANZ Conference 2016 at the University of Waikato. It was the first time that I participated in the this conference that centers around open, distance, flexible and mobile learning.

At the conference, I facilitated a workshop on Tuesday, 19 April 2016. I titled it “Portfolios and assessment? Ideas for making them work together.” It was an invitation for novice and experienced portfolio users to put their heads together and discuss how portfolios could be used for assessment purposes. While we don’t want to bring in assessment into everything, particularly portfolios that can be so much more than just an assessment task, we can’t escape the reality. Students want to know what they are creating portfolios for and sometimes creating a portfolio for assessment is necessary.

While we may not like it, how we do that is the interesting part because portfolio assessment does not have to be like any other assessment. We can try to do it in a way that suits portfolio work instead of simply replicating activities done through a learning management system.

We started out the workshop getting to know each other (19 people), and particularly our opinion on assessment in a quick fire introduction round. We had the entire spectrum of opinions on assessment represented, and it ranged from ‘the opium of this world’ to being a very important part in the learning process when done correctly. This was a good start because¬†that way we would have good discussions in the small groups to tackle the questions that I wanted participants to discuss:

  1. What do you want portfolio assessment to look like?
  2. How does it differ from other assessment?

The small groups of 3-5 participants engaged in lively discussions and produced the results that you can find in the slides.

Common to the groups was that the assessment of ePortfolios needs to be purposeful and include a reflective element. The latter would allow to dig deeper than in other activities that are assessed because the students’ thinking are queried more. One group mentioned in particular that a portfolio could not just be a library of evidence, but hat the reflection on the gathered evidence was very important and was the aspect that made the portfolio.

The formative aspect of portfolio assessment was also highlighted in a few groups as well as the connection to work-integrated learning. That brought up the question how experts from industry could evaluate a portfolio when they often aren’t experts in assessment. One participant said that university could help facilitate this process and assist. Involving industry in assessing internship portfolios would bring in a different perspective on the work of the students.

It was also mentioned that portfolio assessment was not to be the solution for everything. It should be used when it was appropriate and the activity allowed for it. This brought us back to the purposefulness of the portfolio and the assessment of it.

One group acknowledged that portfolio assessment was often more work, but said it can often more interesting to assess than other activities. Furthermore, it allowed for self- and peer feedback.

ePortfolios can drive better learning because they allow for more interaction with the learning artifacts, allow learners to reflect on their learning and the learning of their peers and can be used for strong formative assessment purposes.

In this discussion we hardly touched on the technical side of things because we needed to look at the concept first. Technology was mentioned briefly a few times when different user groups of the assessment data were mentioned as they would need different lenses into the portfolio and potentially different aggregation of the portfolios they are to look at. Furthermore, multimedia would also play an increasing role in the future going away from text heavy portfolios to more visual portfolios that included more video and images where appropriate and possible.

Portfolios would need to serve many “multi”:

  • multi media
  • multi purpose
  • multi content
  • multi method

This would not always be possible in one single portfolio, but the portfolio content – evidence and reflections – would need to be able to be re-arranged for the specific purpose for which the portfolio is created because there is always an audience for the portfolio.

Our short workshop drew out ideas and thoughts from the participants on the topic of portfolios and assessment, and the results show that there is a lot of different opinions on how portfolios could be used for assessment purposes and what a portfolio should not become. Portfolio should still be student-centered and not just an assessment tool. It is important to keep the purpose of the portfolio in mind and use it wisely instead of just out of necessity or because everybody else uses portfolios.