Mahara UK conference 2011 in 500-ish words

Today I’ve been at the Mahara UK conference, hosted by Southampton Solent university. This is my first visit to Southampton Solent University, and also my first time at a Mahara conference. I have some objectives for attending today.

It was been a great morning. First thing today we heard from Mark Osborne who came all the way from Albany Senior High School in New Zealand to tell us the amazing story of their approach toward learning. Mark and his team have such a clear strategy around learning technologies so clear is this vision that some of the challenges most of us are still struggling with are not even on the agenda! A BYOD policy – bring your own device – including mobiles, tablets, laptops applies. It’s down to you, the learner. Expectations of teachers in the organisation is loud and clear: this is how we do it, are you with us? Powerful stuff that has produced seemingly impressive results. What I can’t convey easily here is the fantastic common learning spaces used throughout the campus. These are open spaces large enough to accommodate several classes, and enable them to work flexibly in one space at the same time. Mark provided some images for us in his slideshow – I encourage you to take a look.

Kristina Hoeppner was going to talk about fifteen ways in which you can support the Mahara community. By the time she started, this had grown to 21 and 3/4! You can follow some of the ideas she proposed to the group via my contributions to the #maharauk11 Twitter thread, or check out the slides. I think I enjoyed this session most though because I got a mention for being such a prolific (that could equally be ‘annoying’) Tweeter, and including regular refences to Mahara along the way.

Among the other sessions, Mary Cooch led a session about making mahara an attractive platform for younger learners – 14 or less. Her presentation included a great reference to video podcasts produced by one of her students, and published through his Mahara presence. University of Kent are clearly some way along the Mahara implementation track, having already gained considerable experience with PebblePad, and subsequently with Mahara. There were some great ideas here that came out of this session; CPD points collection scheme sounds outstanding in so many ways; there are a multitude of ideas emerging for using Mahara to support CPD. After lunch we had some narrative to explain the development roadmap for Mahara over the coming months, including a number of key points that might be of significance to the education sector, namely MaharaDroid and change of the familiar ‘views’ term to ‘pages’.

In one of the later sessions of the day, Don Presant demonstrated to us how he uses Mahara as a tool for presenting learner activites – and more importantly, learner skills. Most powerful in Don’s presentation was an individual demonstrating through video his understanding of electronic components. This is surely a powerful message to a potential employer, and is one step beyond the perhaps more obvious ‘interview’ style video.

You might remember that I had some objectives today. Five, as it happens. How have I done?

PS: Don’t forget the Mahara Guide!


Pre-conference thinking time for Mahara


Ahead of this week’s Mahara conference at Southampton Solent university, I want to start thinking about how we will continue development of Mahara in our organisation.

To date, we have had a successful year piloting the portfolio system. There have been a few downs (and arguments) along with plenty of ups – with the latter really winning through now.

Early in this acadmic year I put some work into getting the Mahara Guide up and running, but honestly ran out of steam as other projects took precendednce. This didn’t come at the cost of our own use though. The tutorials have given everyone a good head start, providing a quick reference for uncertain new adopters. Those tutuorials continue to be viewied regaularly, primarily by our learners, but equally by others I have encouraged to sign up and have go with Mahara using our own hosted installation. I continue to believe that the next step for Mahara Guide is to encourage some other interested individuals to contribute to te site, working with me (and my colleagues) to produce more valuable content for the community. So that’s objective number one: try and persuade a few others to contribute.

Our pilot has been just that – a pilot. The next vital stage is to move our Mahara installation to a permanent hosted location for long term use. I need some help to undertand what this might involve. We are running Mahara 1.2.5 at the moment. With 1.4 just released, this is a bit outdated, and we haven’t really performed any upgrades or maintenance during the pilot. Is an upgrade to the latest version right for us? What are the issues sorrounding a windows hosted mahara install? That’s objective two: clarify my thinking on a permanent Mahara presence

The user experience needs more investment. More specifically, what help and assistance do our users need in order to make the best of an e-portfolio system? Mahara is no doubt a really clear system to use. Our staff and learners quickly demonstrated this by signing up without any assistance, and trying things out for themselves – this just doesn’t happen with other products! However, it is a new concept for many. The idea of writing content online is unfamiliar, and our expectations of Mahara must not be confused with those of other established systems, like our VLE. Objective three: clarify our intentions.

The cultural and technological changes. Everyone is so used to the Moodle experience: Upload a resource, share it, get learners to download it again, do something with it, upload again. Mahara is different though, and one of the stumbling blocks I have found is the previous experience of nearly all users leads them to expect the same thing (upload content) and present the same questions (how much space do I get). Objective four: understand other methods of educating our users and bringing them into the new world of online content.

Going to a conference always presents the opportunity to meet others ith the same interests, and the mahara confence will be no exceptio. I’m already looking forward to a few from my own region. There’s also the chance (i think) to meet a few from the global mahara community, to say hello to some of the wonderful team at ULCC and n doubt many more i haven’t thought of. Objective five: get in amongst it and learn from the community (my favorite, I think).

Can’t wait.

Mahara: you know it’s good when…


You know it’s good when staff tell you it’s saving them time.
You know it’s good when staff tell you they are ‘having fun’ using it.
You know it’s good when students are contributing content to classroom activities.
You know it’s good when classes that would otherwise never meet, are interacting with each other.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.


Listen to what Lizzie said about her first steps with Mahara.