“Welcome to Germany, the developing country for ePortfolio usage” was the greeting that I received in the train station in Heidelberg. I was to meet a bunch of people who are interested in ePortfolios and especially work with Mahara for a few hours to discuss the software with them and get to know what they are working on. Christian Kleinhanß from Medien und Bildung organized the meeting and was able to gather a great group of people in the middle of summer. We met in a cafe and talked shop for over 3 hours touching upon many topics that concerned them and where they had questions.

Emerging themes

Data / privacy protection

This is probably the biggest issue that schools who want to implement Mahara (often alongside Moodle) face as the schools can’t control easily what students put into their portfolios. The Ministries of Education fear that students misuse the platform for unsavory purposes and that teachers won’t know about it immediately. Furthermore, if more than one school is on a Mahara instance, students are able to write to each other and that should not happen. A few times we referenced the isolated institutions plugin, and the consensus was that if that were available, schools would be able to share one Mahara instance as individual tenants as they can control whether their students should be allowed to or not communicate with other students. As a result of today’s discussion, the issue will be followed up and information gathered on what would have to change in Mahara to pass the stringent data protection review of Ministries of Education in Germany.

Local periodic gatherings to talk about Mahara in person

Similarly to the initial Mahara User Group that was founded in New York last year, today’s group also favors small, local meetings where people then also know each other and where they can discuss topics that are common to them. Thus, the South-western German Mahara User Group will have its first official meeting later in the year. Today you could say was the pre-founding meeting. 😉 There will be a MUG discussion forum in the German community, but there’ll also be overlap with the U.S. MUG and users will talk to each other there as well.

I also enjoy these face-to-face meetings as some topics can be discussed more quickly are more productively in a shorter amount of time and because I get the chance to meet users of the software and find out more easily what they are doing especially if they are reluctant to post questions or opinions in forums. Giving them a space where they feel more at home for participating is a great thing. We’ll also list meeting times on the MUG wiki page in case there are also outcome documents, recordings etc. that can be shared with other users.

The next big event in the conference calendar for Mahara users in Germany will be the MahoodleMoot early next year in Munich. The idea is to have Mahara represented more prominently – hence also MahoodleMoot and not only MoodleMoot. 😉 Christian and I talked briefly – before the train doors closed abruptly – about the possibility of a hackfest right before it / on the first day(s) during the pre-conference workshops. He envisaged a get-together of Mahara users to work together on something, e.g. help with the translation of the software language file or the documentation or discuss other things. This is a great idea that has also been discussed in the MUG meeting at Purchase College in July. There the focus was on developer involvement to write a plugin or get started on a core feature. The German community has fewer developers in its ranks and thus the user side is more prominent, but a hackfest would nevertheless be great for them as well to get more involved with the community and the software and work together on something

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