Earlier this week I attended the Mahara Hui UK 2015 which took place down in Southampton between the 9th and 10th November 2015. Mahara Hui UK
is the title of the official UK Mahara conference – Mahara being the software that is used for MyPortfolio
at UCL. To honour Mahara’s New Zealand roots the conference is referred to as a ‘Hui’, which is a Maori term for a social gathering or assembly. The conference is held annually in different locations around the UK and features a variety of talks and workshops on all aspects of Mahara.
There is also a lot of Twitter activity during the conference and you can review post with the hash-tag #maharauk15
to see what people were tweeting.
As with most conferences, there were some key themes that seemed to emerge and repeat over the 2 days of the conference. The key themes were learner control and learning versus studying. Let me explain these in more detail. The first subject, of learner control, seems like a natural topic of conversation for an online portfolio tool, and it has a few strands. Firstly there is the tension and apprehension that can occur for both tutors and students in allowing them (the learner) to have complete control over their content and use of the MyPortfolio system. This can often mean increased freedom of expression, and a change in dynamic to give the student ownership of their work. This tension seems to occur more for first year undergraduate students, and can be an important part of the transition from the FE mindset to a HE one. The second strand of this discussion of learner control is more what can happen when you move past the apprehension and successfully hand over the reins. Once this dynamic shift occurs we can start to explore the benefits of huetagogy (self directed learning). As well as having immediate benefits this approach can help set students up to be successful life learners – particularly useful if they decide to continue a passion for academia/ knowledge as a researcher.
As for the second main theme, learning versus studying, this also comes back to the concept of huetagogy in many ways. It is about allowing students to undertake tasks and activities (which could be assessed) that encourage them to learn, perhaps through practical application, rather than simply studying by memorising the necessary information to pass tests. Learning involves engagement with the subject matter and is likely to be perceived as more fun and enjoyable – as well as installing retained knowledge into the learners mind. Online portfolio tools, such as MyPortfolio can be really useful in facilitating this, either by being the vessel on which the learning occurs, or by acting as a portfolio to collect and curate examples and evidence of learning – which may include videos of practical techniques being performed correctly, in lab selfies or copies of artefacts produced. Curation was another important topic. It is important to teach students how to curate work, so that the portfolio does not become a scrapbook of ‘everything’ but is a thoughtfully selected collection of examples of work/ evidence that has value and demonstrates the best of the students abilities.
There were many examples of use of Mahara (MyPortfolio), a number of which seemed to focus on transferring a traditional paper portfolio, which may be bulky and heavy to carry around, into the electronic system. Two examples of this that were presented were from Colin Bright, a lecturer in Social Work at Southampton Solent University and Jaye Ryan, a lecturer on a nursing course at Birmingham City University.
Finally, another benefit of the conference was the ability to hear about new features in both the latest version of Mahara (MyPortfolio) version 15.10 (which UCL will be upgrading to later this month) and the next version, planned for April 2016 – version 16.04.
New features for Mahara 15.10 include:
- Responsive design – so that it works on all devices
- An edit button on each group homepage – so that it is no longer necessary to go into the pages section and edit from there
- Group journals – rather than journals being unique to individual portfolios
- Next and previous buttons in collections
- A drop down menu for collections, which replaces the tab navigation
More developments are planned for version 16.04, although at the moment nothing is confirmed and these are just idea. Some of the ideas include:
- The ability to have a single page in multiple collections
- Combining the page & collection interface (to make it simpler to use)
- A revamp of navigation – this would aim to make it simpler to find different functions/ sections
- The inclusion of CSS for HTML export – this would mean that exported pages/ collections would retain their theme and look the same as they do online
- Quicker editing of pages
There is also a planned revamp of the mobile app MaharaDroid to make it work on multiple platforms including Android, iOS and Windows phones. This is planned for release in April 2016 and will see a rename of the product (to match the multiple platform capabilities).