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? 😉 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.

25 Apr


Hamilton in New Zealand doesn’t have the best reputation and is certainly not one of the prettiest towns in the country. However, I do like going there because it’s usually for conferences that are organized by either the University of Waikato or Wintec. Both tertiary institutions, or rather their staff, know how to organize great events. It’s always nice meeting up with people I know and learn from them and their colleagues.

One of those events earlier in the year was WCELfest16, the eLearning conference of the University of Waikato organized by the WCEL (Waikato Centre for eLearning) team. And yes, you pronounce it like “whistle”. Because pretty much every lecture room is equipped with lecturer recording hardware and software, the WCEL team recorded all sessions, and I recommend checking out the WECELfest resource page (as well as the ones of previous years) for some great presentations.

Terry Anderson keynote

Terry Anderson of Athabasca University was the keynote speaker. He shared insight on engagement and quality in blended and flipped classrooms. A lot of things that Terry presented were not entirely new to me, but it was great to have him mention them to confirm my knowledge as well as provide some nuggets of insight from a different perspective. He provided a good summary of blended learning and why it is important.

Back in 2008 he already said that learning is a dance: The technology sets the beat and the time whereas the pedagogy defines the moves. This is a nice metaphor to describe the connection between technology and pedagogy and shows that both of them are important. Leaving one out would not allow the other to exist.

Terry is an avid supporter of online educational resources (OER) and encourages others to contribute to OER and share their work. In his keynote he stated an obvious truth, but one that needs re-iterating because not many people take it to heart. He said that teachers should get over their shyness and put their material out there because nothing is ever perfect.

I agree with him on that. If we waited until we delivered perfection, nothing would ever be made available online. I’d rather share something and receive feedback on it because then I can review it, revisit it and work on it rather than doubt myself all the time. I try to share as much as possible of my work publicly online. Working on an open source project makes that somewhat easier because a lot of our work needs to be publicly available anyway in order to communicate with our community and do our work.

However, I decided early on that I would also share all my presentations (not work internal ones though when they need to be kept confidential) online and not just the slides, but also the actual recordings to allow those that couldn’t attend an event to benefit from the recording. Since Slideshare nixed its audio recordings in 2014, I still need to re-upload a heap of older presentations and haven’t had the time to stich the audio and the slides together as I have to for a bunch of presentations as I didn’t have screen recording available at the time. But I will get to that eventually.

Nowadays, all my recordings are on YouTube, and my slides are on Slides and also uploaded to SlideShare where people can download them easily.

But back to WCELfest.

ePortfolios in education

I was part of a session that looked at the use of ePortfolios in various contexts. The organizers had asked me to share examples of ePortfolio use around the world before we looked at three examples from the University of Waikato in more detail.

I’m privileged to be working with a lot of great ePortfolio enthusiasts around the world who use Mahara. So I could show a series of examples drawing from the great pool of diverse usage.

There is also a recording of the session.

After this overview, Stephen Bright from the University of Waikato shared his CMALT ePortfolio and explained why he had it set up. It’s an example of a professional development portfolio used to gain accreditation.

He was followed by Richard Edwards who shared his experience using ePortfolios for group work with his student teachers. Mahara didn’t get in the way of the task and allowed the students to be flexible in how they wanted to organize, lay out and present their group portfolios. Often, one person in the group took charge of arranging all content instead of all students working on the portfolio. The students didn’t yet fully exploit all the editing possibilities and thus the portfolios were still very text heavy. Over all, using the ePortfolio allowed students to present their evidence more effectively.

Last but not least, Sue McCurdy presented on work placement portfolios. She described the ePortfolio as evidence collection and “CV on steroids”. The ePortfolio turns a job applicant into a real person, shows real skills and also personality. Sue’s students work quite heavily with images and these depict student behavior well because often the students are subjects in them. Thus, a future employer can see the applicant in action.

Richard Edwards gave another presentation that centred around the different purposes of an ePortfolio. An ePortfolio changes depending on the purpose for which it is created. Therefore, questions of purpose, learning, ownership, agency and structure of the ePortfolio amongst others are important and determine how the ePortfolio is developed and what sort of evidence is put into them. He sums his findings up very well in saying that the task design and the purpose are more important than the choice of the tool.

There were a few other sessions on other topics that I attended. It was clear throughout the day that knowing the “How” of teaching and creating engaging learning activities for and with students is important. Technology is and will continue to play an integral role especially because it allows us to teach and learn in different ways or more flexibly. However, the affordances need to be understood and time given to teachers, instructors and lecturers to experiment, explore and make the technologies part of their teaching repertoire instead of just assuming that everybody knows how best to use them.

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.

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.