06 Jun

Some minutes in French

Tonight was another premiere for me. After having delivered my first keynote at iMoot 2013 on 26 May 2013, I gave my first presentation in French for MaharaMoot FR 2013 in Bordeaux, France. The organizing committee had invited me to present online at this annual MoodleMoot and MaharaMoot.

It was quite an experience for a number of reasons:

  1. I wanted to present in French because the audience would be primarily French.
  2. I had to present online using a system that would only work on a Windows computer.
  3. The video conference system did not have a text backchannel and once I entered the screensharing mode, I had no idea what the audience might be doing. No other software could be used.
  4. Altough we had tested the audio three times beforehand, once the mic was turned on for this huge lecture hall, all I heard was my echo which threw me completely, and I ended up having big pauses at the end of my sentences to have my echo catch up with me. It would have improved things had I turned off the sound, but then I would not have known that
  5. We ran into audio issues and the audio dropped out. Since there was no backchannel and I could not see the video feed during the screensharing, I could have continued without noticing that I had totally lost my audience. So I had the “Allô ? Anybody there?” question a few times (which I cut out of the recording).

So, all in all, it could have been a better experience. Nevertheless, I am happy that I did it because I learned a few things that I can keep in mind for future online presentations:

  1. When you hear your voice on the other end, turn the volume down and try not to care too much. Everything will be delayed for a second or two and thus also your pauses.
  2. If there is no backchannel built into the conferencing software that is being used, arrange another synchronous way to communicate with a person in the audience outside of the software in case something goes wrong and you need to troubleshoot things. For that you might need two screens so that you can stay in fullscreen mode for the presentation, but monitor the backchannel on the secondary monitor.
  3. Engaging the audience is tough if you are the only head that’s not present in the room. I had a few questions at the beginning to at least get a reaction with a show of hands which helped me to know a tiny bit more about the audience, but that only worked because there was a camera in the room that could be turned to cover at least 75% of the seating.
  4. Don’t plan for too much time for questions as the audience may not have any and filling silence from the off is even more difficult than when you are in the room.

I am very happy that I had great support during the preparation of my presentation: Pascale got rid of my glaring French mistakes, Olivier, a technician from the Université de Bordeaux, made sure that the sound, video and screensharing worked as best as possible, colleagues at Catalyst and friends on Facebook gave me encouraging pep talks and a note to calm my nerves for presenting in French, and a good friend of mine and her son took photos of sand under a microscope that I could use on my first slide*.

Merci beaucoup.

* For those who don’t know French: The title of my presentation is “More than just an ePortfolio system”. There is more to Mahara than just the portfolio side as there is more to sand when you view it under the microscope. The photo even displays sand from Wellington that I had sent my friend. She is homeschooling her children, and one thing they explored for their lessons a while ago was sand. She had asked her network to send them sand from different places so the kids could compare the sand under the microscope.

25 May

Open Badges in Mahara: The quick way

Open Badges are all the rave at this year’s iMoot because Moodle allows you to earn badges. This functionality is new in Moodle 2.5 that was just released last week.

Mahara will be a displayer of badges once others than Mozilla can also be badges backpacks. We hope that this code will be released soon so we can implement it into the next release.

For the time being however, there is a quick and dirty hack to show off your badges in Mahara by using an iFrame. Here’s what you have to do.

  1. Ask your site administrator to add “backpack.openbadges.org/share” to the list of allowed iFrames. This can be done from Mahara 1.6 on. If you are on Mahara 1.5, your site administrator needs to delve into the code to add the URL.
  2. Go to your Mozilla Backpack and create a collection for the badges that you would like to display.
  3. Make this collection public.
  4. Copy the URL of your public collection and create an iFrame code around it. An easy tool is the Online iFrame generator. Just paste your URL in there, choose the settings you’d like to have, and off you go. I chose scrolling and a width and height of 800px.
  5. Copy the resulting iFrame code.
    Mine looked like this:

    <iframe src=”http://backpack.openbadges.org/share/cb5f7bf2cfcfbf0bfcb7470f2798bb67/” style=”border:0px #FFFFFF none;” name=”myiFrame” scrolling=”yes” frameborder=”1″ marginheight=”0px” marginwidth=”0px” height=”800px” width=”800px”></iframe>

    You can use this iFrame code and just replace the URL which is displayed in bold.

  6. Create a page in your Mahara portfolio and set the layout to 1 column only.
  7. Either use the “Text box / note” block or the “External content” block to embed your iFrame. I am going to use the “External content” block because it’s easier. :-)
  8. Paste your iFrame code into the block, give it a heading and you are done.
  9. Save the block. Your badges now appear in your page.

For an example, check out my iMoot badges page.

12 May

MMMup – Going mobile

In this third post on the Moodle-Mahara Meetup in Adelaide on a sunny and warm 8 May 2013, I want to focus on my presentation about using mobile devices with Mahara.

I had chosen this topic because lately discussions have been around the use of smartphones and tablets with Mahara but also a general trend at schools (at least in New Zealand) can be seen to go down the road of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Schools let go of a lot of control when they allow their students to bring any device to school to connect to the Internet and use it for classroom work. There is no uniformity anymore in technology and in some ways it becomes more difficult to manage because there are now multiple operating systems in play, different sizes of the devices, some or touch devices while others aren’t, there is no uniformity in software that is installed and so on. However, it also gives the students the freedom to choose with which device they want to work with. They do not have to buy the latest, most expensive tablet or laptop computer out there but can go with a more affordable option and also their preferred software / work environment.

I prepared my presentation working with my two Android devices: a small mid-range smartphone and a 10″ tablet. Because I only had about 20 minutes time, I decided not to do a live demo, but use slides run on my computer instead to avoid any glitches. In the end, I did have a couple of minutes time for a quick demo and hooked up my tablet to my computer to be able to show its screen on the projector easily. All this went very smoothly until it came to logging into the demo site on the computer. Typing my password in front of an audience is not the best thing to do. So next time, I’ll make sure that I am logged in with the correct account before taking the stage. I have yet to try to connect my tablet directly to a projector.

<musing>Maybe one day I will just take my tablet to a conference instead of my computer and work just off it. I did use only my tablet for note taking during other sessions because my tablet comes with a pen which makes writing very easy. Then I don’t need to have my computer open and type. However, I still like typing and being able to use my shortcuts to copy and paste and search online quickly. I’m still quite clumsy on my tablet I think, partly also because I’m reduced to typing with fewer fingers. But adding an external keyboard would not make much sense because then I might as well just use my laptop.</musing>

There are three ways to enhance the use of Mahara on a mobile device:

  • Use a responsive design theme
  • Use MaharaDroid (sorry iOS users, you are out of luck)
  • Use PortfolioUp (for iOS users)

The apps can be installed from their respective stores. MaharaDroid is the more powerful and feature-rich one because it doesn’t just allow you to upload photos and videos, but pretty much anything that you can share on your Android device. Furthermore, you will also be able to sync notifications and content from your Mahara instance with your device and write a journal entry directly from within MaharaDroid in version 2.1 which is currently in beta.

For MaharaDroid, developed by Catalyst as open source software, you can add your feature wishes directly in the issue tracker.

Leo from Brightcookie, the people behind PortfolioUp, set up a form for users to submit their feature wishes for extending this application.

And what about the responsive design: Mahara’s default theme is responsive and can be copied and adapted to your institution’s needs. In my presentation I show off the theme our design team created for Catalyst. It sports a very custom dashboard image instead of the standard table that you see on the dashboard to make the theme our own. This part of Mahara is not responsive, but it adds a great deal to the customization for an institution because you can highlight Mahara functionality that is important to your institution and bring in your culture.

Below is the presentation I gave including the audio recording.

12 May

MMMup – Brainstorming plugin improvements

The Moodle-Mahara Meetup in Adelaide on 8 May 2013 was the perfect setting to talk with users of Mahara and Moodle about a plugin that is frequently used by those that have both platforms. Though we have the Mahara community forums, getting the opportunity to chat with users face-to-face is fantastic because everything is done in real time.

Back in 2012 Catalyst was asked to provide specifications for expanding the Mahara assignment submission plugin to account for the deprecation of MNet by Moodle sometime in the future and to allow for keeping submitted portfolios for accountability in case a student challenged a grade. All other functionality was supposed to stay. Since then a number of functionalities have changed in Moodle and Mahara. Thus hearing what users would like to see today is important for keeping the plugin relevant.

Altogether there were 18 users of Moodle and Mahara in my workshop on the Mahara assignment submission plugin. These came primarily from the tertiary education sector from Australia and New Zealand. But we also had a participant from Fiji and one from the secondary school level. Interestingly, only two of these 18 have used the plugin in question before. However, this did not pose a difficulty because then they were not limited by the current functionality, but could think very freely about what they would like to see in the plugin.

I split the large group into three smaller ones and allowed them time to talk to each other about what they would like to see and discuss their ideas in their groups after having had a quick introduction round. This part of the workshop was important to me so we had a basis for our discussions. We all didn’t know each other besides sometimes having engaged in the online forums. That’s why the introductions were the opportunity for us to put context around where we were coming from.

All three groups had lively discussions and came up with numerous ideas for the future Mahara assignment submission plugin. During the final big group discussion, every group put forward their top ideas which we captured on the whiteboard:

  • Group submissions of assignments as is now possible in the Moodle assignment. This would be ideal with the setting up of Moodle groups / groupings automatically in Mahara.
  • Display Moodle assignments in Mahara as well as the results.
  • Submit an entire collection and not just individual pages.
  • Have the choice to lock a page when it is being submitted; allow for re-submitting of Mahara pages / collections. I.e. allow for more formative and not only summative assessment. Submitting a Mahara page / collection could mean just to submit for the teacher to give feedback, but that doesn’t mean the page would need to be locked.
  • Keep a snapshot for accountability like with other assignments that need to be archived. Potentially have options of what to keep.
  • Allow for versioning of pages / collections in Mahara.
  • Submit a page / collection to Moodle directly from within Mahara so students don’t have to go to the assignment in Moodle first, but can click a button in Mahara.

We also had a few ideas that were not directly related to the assignment submission plugin:

  • Have chat functionality in Mahara. This is already a wishlist item on Launchpad.
  • Trigger for giving feedback.
  • Have more options where Moodle content ends up in Mahara when it is being exported.

Now we’ll just need the funding to implement changes and new features. :-) Mahara is an open source project and while everyone can take its source code and run with it, there are costs involved for developing the software further be it by institutions themselves or through providing funding to have Mahara developers perform the task.

If you have further ideas or want to expand on some of the ones listed above, please join the discussion.

12 May

MMMup – Design workshop

Last week was summer in Adelaide and the perfect setting for the first Moodle-Mahara Meetup. Organizers Allison Miller, Carole McCulloch and Box Hill Institute did a fantastic job pulling everything together and hosting a wonderful day showcasing the LMS Moodle and the ePortfolio system Mahara.

Being a member of the core Mahara development team, I love hearing and seeing how people use the software and what they create with it. In this case, the integration with Moodle, a LMS that we also work with at Catalyst IT, played a big part because both systems complement each other nicely.

Thanks to Allison’s reshuffling of my workshop session, I could participate in Shane Nuessler‘s Moodle-Mahara design workshop. Shane explains his workshop very well in his blog post. I liked that it was a true workshop and not a pretend one as we see so often at conferences. Something is labeled a workshop, but essentially it is a long presentation or a series of presentations. Shane had us work in groups and brainstorm ideas in a fast pace.

We only presented our final ideas for the Moodle-Mahara integration and then had a blind voting on it by closing our eyes while Shane counted votes. That was the only point in the workshop when only Shane was talking and otherwise it was quiet. For the rest of the time the room was buzzing with activity and discussions.

Jotting down our answers to his questions on sticky notes that we then put on the windows or walls, I wished we had had time to spend on the sticky notes that weren’t just our ideas as well to see if there were any other commonalities between our distinct groups. As we only had 45 minutes and needed every minute of it for our group work, there was only time to talk about the improvements that we would like to make to the integration. I can imagine a similar workshop with more time on our hands where we share more during the design process to identify common themes that could then be worked on.

An alternative to the voting for an entire team in the end would be to vote for the best three ideas no matter in which team they originated.

Following are a few ideas from the workshop that stuck with me in particular. As I see a lot of wishes for Mahara in our bug and wishlist tracker, some are more familiar to me than others. Here are some that should be added:

  • Tagging assessment tasks with key outcomes as per the curriculum (Moodle and / or Mahara depending on where the assessment takes place).
  • Submit assessments as a group in Mahara. More on this in my next post.
  • Have (feedback) notifications on your mobile device.
  • Help buttons should have clear information on what is going to happen next.

One group also said to start with Mahara and not Moodle and make Mahara the main platform because that is where the artifacts will live longer and because it’s the space where students have the control over their content.

We could have found many more ideas than we had put on the sticky notes, but having to limit ourselves to our top 3 really brought out the essence and the most important ones to go from.

In my next post I’ll summarize my brainstorming session for the Mahara assignment submission plugin.