Mahara – as a content repository?

As you may know, I’ve been a bit like a dog with a bone about two topics in particular over the past year or so.

The first has been Moodle’s new file management system since the introduction of Moodle 2. The second has been the use of Mahara in partnership with Moodle, and in particular the integration points (like I showed in my last post) that will make the combination more of a winner.

My focus with Mahara has usually (and predictably) been on using it as an ePortfolio tool – until now.

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Mahara Assessment in Moodle 2

It seems like far more than a year or so ago that I wrote my previous post on how Mahara views could submitted for assessment in Moodle 1.9. Since then we’ve had the long awaited release of Moodle 2, a few releases of Mahara, and a whole bunch of other things which have distracted my attention from making noise about how much I wanted this feature to be updated for Moodle 2.

At last, the wait is over.

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Learning technologies – should the tail wag the dog?

I’ve been well chuffed to see the amount of discussion that last week’s blog post on using reflection as a central concept in training people how to use the Mahara ePortfolio system – really didn’t think it would be something people would be overly interested in.

What made me particularly happy was to hear a completely dissenting view from mine. I’ve always liked it when that happens, as it makes me think through the assumptions I’m basing my argument on.

In this case, long time ePortfolio user Ian Knox made the following comment as a retort to my ideas on reflection:

If reflection is the main reason for ePortfolios I think they would already be dead in the water

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Open source ecosystems – a mathematical model

Beware - mathematics ahead!
Beware - mathematics ahead! (courtesy worldislandinfo.com)

It is a little known fact that my original career choice was mathematics, making it half way through a PhD at the University of Adelaide before realising how much my thesis (provisionally titled “Applications of the Hastings-Metropolis algorithm for calculating normalization constants in sparse multidimensional queueing networks“) did NOT do it for me. After a few years of wandering in the wilderness I discovered online learning as a valid career option, but I still hark back to my roots every now and then with a misty eye – mainly when I remember the bamboo-under-the-fingernails joy of hand-coding LaTeX using Vi.

My single favourite subject at Uni was an Honours subject I took called Mathematical Biology, which aimed to model a stack of different biological systems, mainly around how a species breeds, gets sick, dies, migrates and ultimately either perishes or reaches equilibrium in its numbers depending on a range of external and internal factors.

After having been involved with Moodle and other open source projects for a few years now it continues to strike me how much of an ecosystem each of these projects are – just like the biological systems I used to model back at Uni. They have a genesis, some are subsumed by other projects, some die off, and some thrive – like Moodle. Based on this I thought I’d try and use my time on QF756 to do something more productive than eating snacky cakes and playing Worms on my iPod, and hence please find below my first, definitely incomplete, probably flawed, mathematical model of an open source project.

Be warned – this is not like most of my other blog posts, and those with an aversion to mathematics should probably stop reading now.

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Mahara, Eyjafjallajokull and the insurance claim

Eyjafjallajokull doing its best to teach us how small we are
Eyjafjallajokull doing its best to teach us how small we are

Eyjafjallajokull – a name I still can’t pronounce, even though it has changed the way I view air travel forever. I’m calling it ‘the day the world got big again’, since all of a sudden it made me realise ust how much we take air travel for granted, and how damned far it is from the UK to Australia. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been stuck in the UK after what was a fairly disastrous attempt at attending the UK Moodlemoot last week thanks to the plumes of volcanic ash which shut down UK airspace for the best part of a week. As soon as the reality hit that my flights home had been cancelled I started the frantic task of working out how to get home – along with another 150 000 stranded tourists…

Regardless of whether I sat tight and hoped that the ash cleared or attempted to head down to Madrid by train and catch a flight from there one thing was clear to me – I’d need to submit an insurance claim at some stage to get back all the significant amount of additional money I was spending to get by as I tried to find a way home. When I first phoned up the folks at Travel Insurance Direct (who I must say have been awesome throughout this whole thing), they made two things very clear – that I needed to make ‘reasonable efforts’ to keep the costs down, and that I should keep as much evidence as possible to back up the claim when the time came. I started grabbing the receipts I’d already incurred and tried to work out how I should keep them all together, and I realised that I already had what in theory should have been the perfect answer right in front of me – Mahara.

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Mahara in Practice 2 – Mahara Assessment in Moodle

Last time I posted about assessment in Mahara it was using Mahara’s somewhat limited capacity to act as an assessment tool. I got no problem with this, since I agree that things like a Gradebook really belong in an LMS rather than in an ePortfolio, collaboration and social networking tool like Mahara.

But what if you need to do a more formal assessment in an LMS like Moodle?

A single sign-on integration between Moodle and Mahara is nothing new, and has already provided a basic integration between the two systems, but there has never been a neat way for students to submit a selection of work from their ePortfolio into Moodle for assessment beyond copying and pasting links between the two systems…

…until now.

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Mahara in Practice 1 – Groups and Assessment

One of the least understood things in Mahara is the potential for using groups as an assessment mechanism. I think this is because of two reasons:

  1. The documentation about this feature on mahara.org is not great, something I’ll rectify shortly after making this post (if I can stay awake), and
  2. Those who sign up for a free demo Mahara account anywhere won’t get to see the feature, as you need an Admin user to set up the special group types that can be used for assessment.

For a while its struck me as a shame that this is the case as I think it is one of Mahara’s better kept secrets, so I have finally gotten around to putting together a presentation on how it all works, why you should care and what would make it better in future.

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