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.

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.

04 Jul

Mahara presentation with a dash of earthquake

July 3, 2012, will stay in my mind for a very long time because it was my worst earthquake experience so far. I was looking forward to my virtual presentation at MaharaUK12 at 10:30 p.m. Just a few minutes into the presentation, I felt a little shaking and first didn’t think much of it as heavy cars or minor earthquakes can cause that.

When the shaking didn’t stop but actually got worse, I had to stop for a bit to seek shelter. Thanks to modern technology and the internet, the participants in my session over in Lancaster, UK, experienced the quake live with me minus the shaking and the uncertainty of what was going on, whether it would get worse, how long it would last and whether I should prepare for evacuation.

Fortunately, the heavy shaking stopped after about 50 seconds and after a short audio adjustment period, I could continue with a pounding heart and frazzled nerves. Luckily, there were no aftershocks. At the end of my presentation I learned that it was a 7.0 earthquake 170 km west of Wellington.

I was happy that I could conclude my presentation without any further incidents. Though I still had about 15 minutes left, there didn’t seem to be any questions – either because everything was clear, the session attendees were also shaken up or because I wasn’t in the room to be able to follow up and try to elicit questions. Having the presenter online and all other attendees in a physical location can be tough, and I need more experience of how to handle such a situation. Preferably without having lived through a 7.0 earthquake right before. 😉

As I record my presentations whenever possible since my slides do not have many words on them, everything was captured in for posterity.

07 Jun

Writing the Mahara user manual

My name is Kristina and I like writing documentation.

That’s how I started my Pizza Thursday presentation at Catalyst today. And it’s true. With the right motivation and also good tools, it can be an enjoyable task. The tools I used for the Mahara user manual are:

  • reStructured Text: text markup
  • Shutter: Ubuntu screenshot software which allows you to edit your screenshot and place so called callouts onto it (numbers in circles that are incremented)
  • Sphinx: documentation tool that compiles rST files in beautiful HTML, PDF, ePub etc. files
  • Git: version control system to keep my text and images etc. safe – we use Gitorius to share the files with others
  • Read the Docs: site that hosts Sphinx documentations
  • Launchpad: tracking and working on translations as well as bug tracker and Q&A
  • Piwik: Web analytics software

For the Mahara 1.6 manual I will use Gimp instead of Shutter for editing screenshots because Iñaki adapted a script that can make the callouts in there. That way translators can use the original Gimp files and just replace their screenshots and then re-arrange the callouts if necessary. You can read his notes and watch a short demo of how to create callouts in Gimp.

The translations of the manual will require us to move to our own server as Read the Docs cannot yet be used for translated Sphinx documentations. Furthermore, we had to adapt the Sphinx script to deal with screenshots that are in other languages.

I had asked Melissa, a member of the Mahara development team at Catalyst, to investigate this and see if she could get it to work. And she did. 🙂 I haven’t seen the result live yet as we are waiting for our server and also need translations and their images, but if you want to know what was actually all necessary to make it work, you can check out her blog post for the details.

Knowing that Pizza Thursday presentations should be short as we usually only have about 45 minutes for introductions of new staff members and then about 3 presentations, I opted for a PechaKucha presentation again. My last one was on Mahara 1.5 during our May Pizza Talks. This presentation format is a challenging one as you need to think very clearly – more so than for a presentation that can go longer I think – of what you want to say as you only have 20 seconds for each slide and you have to have 20 slides altogether.

Without further ado, here is my presentation including the recording so you actually know what I mean with my slides.

18 Mar

Mahara at MoodleMoot.de 2012

Last week, the German MoodleMoot 2012 took place in Münster. Sigi Jakob-Kühn organized the session entitled “Mahara-Netzwerk – Austauschworkshop für Akteure und Neugierige”.

I was honored to have been asked by her to give a virtual presentation and be available for Q&A afterwards. Thankfully, Sigi could get a time slot that was not too bad for NZ time. Thus, I could stay for the entire session and learn how Mahara is being used in Germany and in Austria by schools and universities through mini presentations.

This event showed me that I should practice presenting in German more as I stumbled through some of the words and sentences more than I would have wished for. Being used to speaking English all day, I am a bit rusty in German. Following the presentations of members of the audience was much easier. 🙂

There’s also a recording of my presentation which includes the 2 minutes that I could not be heard in Germany due to Skype losing its connection and me not realizing it as I was in presentation mode.

Oskar-von-Miller Schule Kassel

Claudia Schmidt reported how the Oskar-von-Miller Schule in Kassel uses Mahara. The students keep their electronic portfolio in Mahara and use it as basis for face-to-face discussions with their teachers. They have certain activities to fulfill that they post on their pages.

The students also keep an application portfolio with which they school has had great success (after a great deal of convincing of potential employers to consider them).

Pädagogische Hochschule Wien

Thomas Strasser showcased how his students use Mahara to document their experience of their student teaching for their practical studies. They do not only use one type of portfolio, but depending on the purpose, there are three types that are important:

  • showcase / presentation portfolio
  • reflection portfolio
  • process portfolio

They experiment with a number of ideas from the Mahara 1.4 Cookbook to make the portfolio work more relevant for the students. The portfolio is not seen as assessment portfolio but rather as vehicle for giving constructive feedback and discuss it with peers instead of just with an instructor. They also emphasize social interaction and encourage their students to publish hobbies and special interests on their profile pages for others to discover and connect with them.

Language Center of the University of Leipzig

Kátia Aiko Murata Arend outlined how she uses Mahara with her Portuguese language students. She uses it with her students to collect and reflect on texts for media and text analysis thus keeping all her teaching and learning material in Mahara. The students add to that throughout the semester and are highly motivated using this medium in their studies.

KAMahara in Karlsruhe

Norman Mewes and Sigi provided some examples of how they use Mahara in the school context. KAMahara is a Mahara installation for a project which is used by a number of schools to explore its potential.

Students use the ePortfolio to apply for jobs, for example. They also do not wait to make their pages available to their teachers until they have finished their portfolio, but give them access throughout the development process to invite feedback and improve their showcase portfolio which they are going to use for their job application along the way.

Sigi showed us a couple of examples highlighting students who use Mahara to document and reflect upon their internships in the real world. She showed how different the portfolios of the students can be depending on the preference of the students and how they wanted to express themselves.

During the MoodleMoot, a number of presenters had another presentation slot in which they went into more detail regarding their use of Mahara. But already these brief showcases allowed me a glimpse into how Mahara is being used in German schools and German and Austrian universities. The variety of uses is fantastic and also the getting together of the practitioners to share their ideas and discuss them with each other.