Managing your online identity – particularly your professional identity – is arguably now one of the core digital literacies. This is why I’ve long taken an interest in the use of ePortfolio tools.
As the “Education Innovation Office” in a college at a major Australian university, it’s my job to keep us moving forward and to find the best ways to do so. I’d previously dabbled with ePortfolios before coming here but had never really used them for a project and thus had no direct evidence to support a case that they are worth pursuing.
A few months ago I came across CMALT – Certified Member of the Association of Learning Technologists – useful seeming accreditation and connection to a community of practice of my peers. The application process lends itself very well to the use of ePortfolios so I decided to take the Mahara ePortfolio platform out for a spin.
Our IT/Web team was kind enough to install an instance on a local server – A Windows server sadly (more on that later) – and off I went.
Mahara enables users to curate a range of files, text, links and other resources into highly customisable pages. A range of page layouts are available and content can easily drag/dropped into the page.
These pages can then be gathered into collections and private URLs generated so that the user is able to choose which pages are shared with whom.
In terms of ease of use, so far so good. My biggest concern at this stage was in finding a way to provide clear connections between the evidence that I was providing and the reflective posts that I was making to respond to the selection criteria for the CMALT application. Utlimately I decided on footnote style supertext annotations that referred to numbered sections containing files at the side of the text.
The good parts
Using Mahara was a highly intuitive process that made it very easy to quickly produce a professional looking page. It certainly helped that Mahara is based on Moodle code (to some extent) as I have used this for a number of years, but I feel confident even a user without Moodle experience will pick it up quickly.
The file management system is similarly quick to pick up, with a simple space that can be used to upload files and organise them into folders.
The range of themes that can be used to style a portfolio (or the whole site) offer a reasonable degree of personalisation and I suspect that it is possible to do a lot more if you are happy to dive into the CSS and tinker.
The lesser parts
As I mentioned earlier, our Mahara instance was installed on a Windows server rather than the recommended platform and this generated a number of back-end error messages. Broadly the system seems to be working fairly well and when it is rolled out officially at a university level, I’m sure that it will be done according to the recommended specs.
For this reason, it’s hard to know whether some things don’t work – most notably the Open Badges plugin – because of our non-compliant server configuration or because of other issues. This was more of a nice-to-have in any case so it hasn’t been a major headache.
One thing that did cause a few more headaches though was the fact that when adding a folder of files to a page, the process for correctly selecting the folder (so that it actually displays the files) is fairly unintuitive in the latest release. A user needs to click the white space next to the folder name – but not the name itself or the folder icon – to select it. This caused me a good few hours of frustration but I have been told it will be addressed in future versions.
The user manual is fairly rich and detailed and there is also a growing community of users, so it isn’t generally too hard to find an answer when you strike a problem.
I did spend a fair while tweaking my ePortfolio to get it just right but this was never labourious. My ePortfolio probably doesn’t make full use of the range of tools on offer but I think it has done the job reasonably well.
Feel free to take a look at it at http://mahara.cbenet.anu.edu.au/view/view.php?t=vex1phdEaZm2QsXRUGc9 and if you have any thoughts or suggestions, please let me know.