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.

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.

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.

Of release, stickers, T-shirts and more

This is a tale of Mahara told in two parts.

1.7 release

One of the great things of the past months is our latest release of Mahara. We are up to version 1.7 and the 6-monthly release cycle is tough. However, it is also fantastic because we are making new features available very quickly that way and give them to the community to try out and use.

So yesterday evening, we hit all the buttons for this release. There is a lot of things to do to get it done and not just one button to press. And we have already been working on the 1.8 release.

We have a number of fantastic features in this release including:

  • license metadata on content
  • the logging of masquerading sessions and notifications about them to users for more transparency
  • retractable blocks allowing users to just show a block heading and not the entire block content

Back in January, six high school students who participated in the third Catalyst Open Source Academy fixed a number of bugs and also created new features. Altogether they have 20 commits in this release. Whoopie. Some of them even use Mahara at school in the form of MyPortfolio.school.nz. Once we upgrade this site mid-year, their classmates and also teachers will be using the improvements they have made to the software.

Mahara gear

But what would the last few months have been without our fantastic designer? Evonne did not only create awesome profile pictures for the fictional characters in the user manual, but also came up with the designers for our gear / merchandise that is available on Cafepress.

Fancy a T-shirt, stickers or flip flops? Now you can get them to show your support for the project. SInce our software project lives from its various contributors who do not have to be developers, but who fulfil a series of other jobs like translating the software, testing it, reporting bugs and making feature suggestions, we wanted to make something special for them as well. Thus, besides the logo T-shirts etc., they can also have their gear showing how they contribute to the Mahara project. Imagine a Mahara event where contributors wear “their” T-shirt and you can easily see who is a core developer, who tests the software, who translates it etc.

We got our first stickers with the new designs and I am stoked about them. The characters are awesome and show that Mahara is a collaboration between many people who make it happen.

Designs of our new Mahara stickers

Designs of our new Mahara stickers

Which character are you?

Book review: Mahara ePortfolios Beginner’s Guide

Recently, Packt Publishing published the Mahara ePortfolios Beginner’s Guide. Richard Hand, Thomas W. Bell and Derrin Kent are the authors of this second edition which now focuses on Mahara 1.5, released in April 2012. The original beginner’s guide was published in 2010 for Mahara 1.2 was a good resource for users new to Mahara wanting to learn how to work with this ePortfolio system and collaborative tool.

Therefore, it is great to see that the guide was updated to Mahara 1.5. The authors kept the main principles of the book the same, but revised, clarified and added further information, examples and an entirely new section on planning a Mahara implementation.

Having been a reviewer of the book during its writing phase I saw the hard work that went into refreshing this guide and can congratulate the authors on having done a wonderful job. They keep the language light and engage the readers at all times with their conversational style that is informative yet easy to read and comprehend at the same time. The use of four different case studies allows readers from a variety of backgrounds to identify with at least one user group to find parallels in how they could work with Mahara.

While most of the book is aimed at new users of Mahara explaining what they can achieve with ePortfolios and how they can create and collect content in Mahara, organize it into portfolios and then share these with other users as well as work together in groups, the latter chapters go beyond that. These chapters explain how to work with groups in a more formal learning setting, what plugins can be installed to extend the core features of Mahara and how to install Mahara.

The new chapter of the Mahara Implementation Pre-Planner is a great resource for anyone tasked to implement an ePortfolio solution. It provides a series of questions for each planning phase that guide readers to answering easy to tough questions ensuring that they know exactly why, when and for what reason they wish to implement an ePortfolio system in their institution.

Although this updated guide was written for Mahara 1.5, it is still applicable for Mahara 1.6 which was released on October 19, 2012, because the general concepts of working with Mahara have not changed. For institutions wishing to invest in reference and training material for their users, the Mahara ePortfolios Beginner’s Guide is a great resource along the Mahara 1.4 Cookbook, also published by Packt, which provides over 50 recipes for using Mahara in various contexts. And then there is the Mahara user manual which explains the individual functionalities of Mahara in a more reference-book style.

The Beginner’s Guide differs to the manual in that it provides more of a story line and takes the user on the hand for starting out to create and collect content and then working with it to produce a portfolio. Thus, readers can work through the book and create their portfolio while they are moving from one chapter to the next.