Many uses of Mahara

This year I have been getting lot of questions about Mahara, my favorite online portfolio tool. Unfortunately, since our move to Moodle 2.0 in the beginning of the school year we lost access to Mahara for some months but many thanks to Saeed Rahman (@saeedrahman) we’re finally back.

Mahara was first introduced to me by Aaron Metz (@metzy) when I was teaching English my first year at CDNIS. I was new to teaching in a 1:1 environment and loving it. I was taking every opportunity I could to encourage students to create digital content. Finally the time came when they had enough work that I wanted them to start putting together their portfolio. I pulled out the manila folders, got old magazines, scissors and glue, and had them start decorating their very own folder. Then I realized that there was nothing to put in it. They had written stories and essays, all on Pages or Word. They had done a podcast on GarageBand, and they had created a public service announcement in iMovie. Suddenly it came to me: We needed a digital portfolio tool. I went straight to the LTT department (who, by the way are absolutely amazing at our school), and Aaron introduced me to Mahara. That class of grade 7s was about as keen as they come, and together we explored the options that Mahara had to offer. I created an example page for them that explained what I wanted to see in their portfolio and after a lesson or two with Mr Metz they began creating.  See an example of student work here. ( I have put all examples of student work into one collection).

That year was also the first year that we began to integrate Design Technology into our courses. In my grade 8 English class we were studying A Midsummer Night’s Dream; for our integrated Design Tech project students used Google SketchUp to make a set for one scene in the play. I used a Mahara page for detailed instructions on how to complete the project, and students submitted their design portfolios on Mahara. All of this was back in the day before there were ‘collections’, so, yes, there are definitely some ‘scroll of death’ issues.  Here is an example of student work.

Just last year I moved into teaching Science and Math.  The next project we embarked on was a grade 7 Science/Design Tech collaboration, another Google SketchUp project. That was also before collections; this year’s layout is a little more sensible. Again, each student’s design portfolio was on Mahara, following my example. They had the option of either copying the example portfolio and changing the content or creating their own. I found that it is much better to have students start from scratch and create their own. It’s not too complicated and they are less tempted that way to leave the original instructions in (it’s really annoying to be marking my own work!). This is an example of a student’s work for that project.

One of my very favorite projects is the ‘Poetry in Math’ grade 8 Math/Design Tech integrated project where students develop and illustrate a Math poem using InDesign. Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects to this project to me last year was that I got to put all of my pages into a collection, making the layout much easier to follow. Please note that I created this collection before I made my vow to only use licensed for reuse images. Unfortunately I am not able to access a public link for a sample student portfolio for that project but you can see a screenshot of one student’s ‘Create’ page.

You can change the theme of a page. Not a whole lot of options but some variety.

There is also the Cells in Plain English Science/Design Tech project that we did last year. This year we did not use the Mahara page as it was not an integrated unit. Here is an example of one student’s portfolio.

One of the great things about Mahara is how easy it is to embed online content- Google apps, YouTube videos, all by adding blocks through a drag and drop system. All of the digital content that students are creating can be included in their portfolio with just a few clicks of the mouse. What I don’t love about Mahara is the teeny tiny window I have to work in- why can’t there be a fullscreen view? I get around that by writing all of the text in Pages or Word then pasting in, but I always find errors and editing in that small window can be quite annoying. I also wish that I could easily insert images into text blocks without having to go through dropbox but hopefully that will change in the next version, if it hasn’t already.

As you can see from some of the pages above, there is a place to provide feedback at the bottom of each page- this is how I communicate my feedback and the student’s mark. One drawback is that I can’t comment in line which is something that I generally like to do. I suppose I could use Jing or some sort of screencast tool but I’m not there yet.

In Mahara the teacher can create ‘groups’ that students can submit their pages to. This makes organization much easier, but it is very, very important that the students put their pages (if there are multiple ones for an assignment) into a collection, as things can quickly get disorganized.

In grade 7 our students are blogging on the MYP Areas of Interaction- I’d like to build on this idea by having them create Mahara pages for each Area of Interaction where they can include work and reflections from all of their classes.  These things take time, though, something that in Hong Kong we don’t seem to have much of. I have been meaning to write this post since September…

How do you use Mahara?

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2 Responses to Many uses of Mahara

  1. Hey thanks, nice post. Will forward this around to some of our teachers. We are beginning to use Mahara for a few things but early days. In PE for reflective goal setting and eventually embedding videos documenting skill development, English for Creative Writing Portfolios, and Computing for design cycle portfolios.

    • Thanks for your comment, Andrew. Sounds like you are doing very similar things- I’d love to see some examples of student work. How do your kids like using Mahara? Ours tend to moan a bit, but I think that it’s because we’re asking them to work. Reflecting never seems to be at the top of their favorite things to do list!

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