11 Jan

Tending to the Mahara feature request garden

The Mahara project has a vibrant community where users report bugs and also new features. We triage them regularly so that we have an overview of bugs that need fixing and also know what features users would like to see implemented.

However, our feature wish and bug list is quite long, and I’ve had the suspicion that there were items on it that we have already implemented, but not closed the item yet because it was reported a second time or because we implemented it in a slightly different fashion.

Thus, after reading Steve Klabnik‘s “How to be an open source gardener” the other day (hat tip to Hugh for pointing this blog post out), I decided to sit down this weekend and try to go through as many reports as I could to reacquaint myself with the requests and also see how many I could close.

Computer screen that contains a garden

I wanted to focus on the feature requests so as not to get mixed up with bug testing. Besides, there were already plenty reports to look at so that I didn’t need bug reports on top of that. 😉

Altogether, I reviewed 260 reports out of 476 in slightly less than 8 hours (approx. 1.8 minutes per report). I could already mark 28 as having been fixed in previous versions of Mahara. Closing off these almost 6% of triaged feature requests is a win even though it may not seem to be so much. It is great to remove items from the long improvement list and show users that we are making progress.

I was also able to identify feature requests that may not require much work that could be used for getting started to developing for Mahara. A developer is going to look at these items to determine whether they are really small tasks developmentwise or require more knowledge of Mahara. It is always good to have a number of small tasks readily available for people who want to contribute to Mahara so that they can succeed submitting a patch quickly. Our easy-to-fix bugs and features have the tag “bite-sized”. For slightly more experienced developers, the “snack-sized” items are a greater challenge, but still produce results quickly.

I also transferred all reports that I wanted to keep into a spreadsheet so that we can go through them more easily in the team and can filter them, add priorities etc. While I like Launchpad quite a bit, it does not allow for the exporting of bug lists as far as I know so that you can do some analysis around it or get a spreadsheet for further managing of individual items.

Next week, we will have a number of students of the Catalyst Open Source Academy working on Mahara. They will be looking at easy-to-fix bugs or features to leave their mark in an open source project. I already look forward to this year’s group of students working on Mahara. Their contributions will go into Mahara core and become part of the next release, which will be in April 2015.

Latest next weekend, I’ll tackle the remaining reports. Now that I know it is doable in quite an efficient fashion, it’s not such a daunting task anymore and definitely better than pulling weeds. 😉

21 Oct

Have your Mahara with music

Today was a big day as we released a new version of Mahara. It’s version 1.10 that contains a whole bunch of new exciting features and also bug fixes. Usability improvements are made alongside new functionality to help people create their ePortfolios and work collaboratively on projects that could be described as group portfolios.

Initially unrelatedly, I saw Josh Woodward‘s tweet about his Kickstarter project to fund the publishing of his new CD. I came across Josh’s music years ago when I was in Luxembourg looking for music to use for photo slideshows being mindful to only use music that I could use legally. What better place to look for music than on Jamendo where Creative Commons-licensed music abounded. It took me quite some time to dig through songs upon songs upon songs, but when I heard some of Josh’s I got stuck and have been looking forward to new songs from him since.

So when I saw his Kickstarter project I checked it out and was intrigued by the option to have a tune composed on any topic that I liked. Mhh… Why not have a song for the Mahara project? Wouldn’t that be cool? That’s what sprang to mind very quickly because I like topical songs like “Get my data out” and Josh’s own “Airplane mode“. But how to accomplish that without making it cheesy and like an advertisement jingle?

Josh was great with that because all I needed to do was give him an outline of the project, what we wanted to accomplish with Mahara and that I wanted the song to be more about the concept of portfolios and learning rather than mentioning Mahara all the time. I also noted down a couple of songs that I liked in particular in terms of mood and direction of tempo. And that was it. A few weeks later, I had a tune in my inbox. 🙂

Mahara tune

Mahara tune

What better time to take it live for the Mahara 1.10 release?

If you like it, sing along and enjoy some cool music. If it’s not your musical style, remix it and make it your own Mahara song. We publish it under Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0. Let me know if you want the instrumental version for your own Mahara song remix.

Icon by Thomas Grollier from the Noun Project CC BY 3.0.

07 Aug

Mahara User Group gathering at Pratt Institute

Yesterday, 5 August 2014 New York time, the New York Mahara User Group (MUG) met at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. The day started out for me by saying goodbye to Pleasantville, which indeed is very pleasant, where I visited with Beth from Pace University. She is one of the organizers of MUG New York and a long-time Mahara user.

We arrived right on time without a minute to spare for the start of the meeting because what would New York be without some traffic hiccups? 😉 Fortunately, I had already toured the Faculty Commons of Pratt two weeks ago and knew where we needed to go and what the room looked like. the Faculty Commons is an area for faculty to gather for learning about new technology, trying things out with the assistance of the Learning Technologies team and getting inspired by other users.

It was fantastic to see a great group of 15 Mahara enthusiasts from a number of institutions gathered. We could also welcome a number of people remotely. Unfortunately, the microphone did not work out well, and we ran into technology problems making it difficult for some of our remote participants to continue being in the session. Hopefully, future meetings will run more smoothly in that regard. However, 4 or 5 soldiered on, and it was great to get Sam T’s input from Southampton Solent University on assessment, support, badges and Mahara goodness in general.

If the video recording of the meeting worked out, it will be shared for any follow-ups. Beth will also share the resources that Sam mentioned so everyone can take a closer look at them.

We received a brief update from Pratt on using ePortfolios, discussed assessment possibilities and how to support users in working with assessments, and looked at a couple of work flows besides getting people excited and talking about badges and how they can work with them in Mahara.

Attendees were very interested in Sam’s work flows that she showed, and it was suggested to create an area where work flows could be shared.

The face-to-face MUG meeting was great because it fostered a different kind of interaction between the participants. Since we were sitting in one room, discussions were easier than if everyone were online. Sadly, the online participants didn’t have a great experience, but we hope they’ll stick with the group and participate next time that there is a purely online meeting. This will most likely happen at the end of October / beginning of November.


This MUG meeting was very helpful because it confirmed some things I already knew and sparked interest in exploring certain ideas further.

MUGs and MUGgers

User group meetings are great to facilitate discussions amongst users, share ideas, help each other, and connect people. Sam Egan and Beth Gordon from Pace University, who are the main organizers of the New York MUG do a fantastic job with these meetings. They are joined in their triumvirate by Keith Landa from Purchase College who makes the webinar technology available allowing remote participation and also the recording of the meetings.

Face-to-face beats online hands down

Face-to-face meetings still beat online meetings by far. I was fortunate to meet a bunch of Mahara users over the past two weeks and learn how they use Mahara and areas that they would like to explore.

Resources pool expansion

We are going to have areas on the wiki where users can share work flows for commonly used processes as well as templates that they have created. I am also thinking how to link to this in the Mahara user manual in an attempt to include more resources on the portfolio creation process and not just keep it as reference manual. This can be part of the crowdsourcing for expanding the Mahara user manual that I spoke about at Mahara UK in July.

Exploring badging

Badges are a hot topic and not one that is quickly discussed but needs a lot of thought and discussion at individual institutions. It is great that Mahara already has two plugins to display badges and to issue badges. I’d love to see colleges and universities discussing badges download these plugins and install them on a testing server to experiment with them and feed back their ideas about the functionality and possibilities of expanding them to make them work for their circumstances.

Badges are still a new idea in education, and thus, experimentation is needed to gain more insight. Don’t get me wrong, a whole lot of research has already been conducted or is currently under way, and badges are not thought of as just individual badges but as part of a badging ecosystem. However, there is still more work needed to implement it at more institutions and find the hooks why individual institutions might want to join the badging community.

So what is next?

There are few things in the making:

  • Canadian Mahara User Group meeting
  • Sharing of templates as Leap2A files for easy importing into other Mahara instances
  • Sharing of work flows
  • Organizing of the next New York MUG meeting which will be held online

If you want to get active in any of these initiatives or see what others are sharing, stay tuned for updates and links to the various resources on mahara.org or via Twitter.

02 Jul

Wishes for Mahara

Back in March, which seems to be already so long ago, we organized the first Mahara conference in New Zealand, Mahara Hui. On the first day of the hui (gathering, assembly in Te Reo Māori) we asked participants to write down their 5 wishes for Mahara.

We gathered them in a jar, and at the end of the day, I took them home and categorized them to identify common themes. I then prepared a presentation of these findings for the next morning as we had a session planned on sharing the wishes. Since it was not possible to discuss every wish, the grouping of them was crucial, and top themes became clear quite easily.

You can review the recording of the session as well as take a look at the slides.

The tool I used to visualize the wishes and connections between some of them for myself was IHMC CmapTools. Originally, it’s a concept mapping software, but you can also create simple diagrams with it where you have items connecting amongst each other. The killer features for me are its easy use as well as the auto-layout functionality because with that I can create very messy diagrams and connect individual items and CmapTools finds the best arrangement of them avoiding overlap as much as possible. In addition, it is also great that you can export a map to several formats and also decide onto how many pages you want to print your map.

In the conference frenzy, I did not save the original map that I had created. 🙁 But since I still had all the papers, I could re-create it again and finally make available.

5 wishes for Mahara map

5 wishes for Mahara map

If you also have wishes for Mahara, you can add them to our sticky board that we just opened.

24 Feb

Mahara Hui preparations in full swing

Over the last few months, a team at Catalyst has been organizing the first conference on Mahara in New Zealand. There are a number of Mahara events around the world (Australia, France, Germany, Japan, and the UK for example), but we’ve never had a conference on Mahara in New Zealand. Thus, it was high time. 😉

We named our conference Mahara Hui. ‘Hui’ means ‘assembly’, ‘gathering’ in Māori and fits nicely with what we want to achieve with the conference: The conference shall be the opportunity for people to come together and talk about Mahara, exchange ideas, knowledge, share examples and brainstorm for the future of Mahara.

The conference is open to anyone using Mahara already or wanting to know more about Mahara and what it can be used for. We have an excellent line-up of presenters, and I wish I could clone myself to attend all sessions. It is fantastic to see that presentations come from many different areas in which Mahara is used: schools, universities, professional development, accreditation bodies. We will have presentations on both the ePortfolio use as well as community features.

If you are in the vicinity of Wellington 19-21 March 2014 or see it as a good opportunity to book a trip to the end of summer, then we’d love to have you at Mahara Hui and share insight into the software with you.

You can also follow the conference on Twitter via @maharahui and #maharahui14.