After a wonderful meeting with Mahara users in Heidelberg yesterday, I was ready to continue Mahara discussions with Kevin Moilar at Liip in Fribourg.

Liip is a Swiss Moodle and Mahara Partner that operates out of 4 locations in Switzerland and has approximately 70 people. A small E-Learning Team takes care of Moodle and Mahara clients and will look more closely into contributing to core Mahara from about September of this year on.

As Lausanne is not too far away, Dominique-Alain Jan joined us for the day. dajan – as he is commonly known online – is the main translator of Mahara who has also taken it up to translate the user manual. He travels a lot to promote Mahara and give workshops, but he can also program, maintains the servers at his school, teaches, writes his PhD thesis, and if his schedule wasn’t already crazy enough, he ran for political office last year. ­čśë

The decision of Liip to contribute to Mahara core is exciting news because Kevin has had a number of fantastic ideas for improving Mahara that’ll be fun to look into further. Below are a number of suggestions that came up during our discussion.

Ubiquitous “Add” button

Kevin’s biggest concern is that it is not clear for users what they are supposed to put where in Mahara. The dashboard image which divides tasks into “Create and collect”, “Organize”, “Share and network” is supposed to help but not yet enough. Thus, he would like to simplify adding content to a portfolio by making it possible to create or collect content anywhere on the site without having to worry where to put it and going there first.

That means users would have a very prominent “Add” button which expands and let’s the users choose whether they want to add a file or write text etc. and then the relevant screen is displayed.

Focus on the editor

Currently, when you add text content, you have a small editor window and need to know that you can click on a little icon to expand it into fullscreen mode to have the entire screen filled with the editor. Kevin wants to get rid of all the “clutter” that is around a small editor window and distracts from the actual task. He referenced iAWriter as example of uncluttered writing in an editor. I have used OmmWriter that can help in the thinking process when you don’t have anything else on the screen that could be distracting but can reach all controls easily. He imagines a restyling of the editor, offering auto-save for the content and in general make it a better experience and not just your standard TinyMCE.

Select internal files

Of course, when talking about the editor, the selecting of internal files from the repository instead of having to hunt down the URL came up. That has been a long-standing feature wish and would be nice to get implemented.

Combine CPD and plans

The plans functionality is a basic implementation of a ToDo list that is a great start. The Continuing Professional Development plugin took it a bit further. The code was taken and added onto to count up the hours spent in professional development over a specific period of time besides a number of other changes. I would love to see that functionality in core and combine it with the plans. Settings could regulate whether you want to have a standard plan or want to enhance it with additional information such as time spent on the individual items of the plan etc. Furthermore, linking internal and external learning evidence into the plans would be great for easily referencing those.

Chatty chat

A chat function is missing from Mahara which would allow users to communicate syncronously on the platform like they are now used to from a number of other web applications they use, e.g. Facebook and Google. A number of users have already remarked on that and would love to this this happen.

Saving bits and pieces

A place where you can keep bits and pieces for dealing with them later would be great. That would be similar to a “Read me later” list where you can collect anything that you don’t have time to look into right away. It’s an unstructured ToDo list in a number of ways that can be accessed really easily and content can be put into it fast. Some users may already use external services for that. Thus, being able to import the RSS feed of these items if available would be nice to display and work with them in Mahara.

If Kevin wouldn’t have had to go back to Moodle migrations that his colleagues were working on, we would have found more things to dream up or discuss existing wishes further. I am very much looking forward to hearing and seeing more from the Liip developers and take the ideas to the brainstorming and then implementation level.

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