Mahara for learning and teaching

At our school Moodle is used since more than 15 years widely, an own instance is maintained by our IT department. This is not true for Mahara.

So to use (is: installing and maintaining) my own Moodle/Mahara (Mahoodle) there had to be good reasons and although I knew some, my experience added more in the last five years doing so. I would like to share some of them. Lately I asked my students about their experience when using Mahara, some of the results are given here.

The short version: my students in our secondary school (aged 10-18) love Mahara and use it very happily. They are very eager to show their products to each other by sharing in our closed classroom group. Grades are very important to them so they turn in their views/collections to moodle and get teachers feedback. Peer feedback via commenting is used too with great joy and fun.

What are the key benefits from using Mahara?

Firstly Mahara does what Moodle does not: it gives control to the students about almost any aspect of what they produce. The most important fact is that Moodle at our school (and at many others I know) is used basically for file-sharing: teachers prepare (tons of) pdfs, some links and present this materials in a moodle course, ordered. Students on the other side produce documents like texts, presentations or maybe calculations and upload them to the teacher for grading. That’s it: files out, files in. Single feedback to the creator, no presentation, no exchange.

Mahara on the other hand has a very simple but powerful system to produce very nice pages, using forms for objects and a very versatile grid layout which helps in arranging objects in a beautiful way. Many different types of objects are selectable most important a html-block to embed iframes. So our standard software for Mathematics (geogebra) or a prezi presentation can be embedded into any view.

For many of my students it is very important that they can prevent others from seeing their unfinished products or even to have it private forever. The standard situation however often is to produce views showing results of their work wich can be as little as a piece of homework or as large as a collection of views giving insight into production and results of a project lasting for many months.

As important as to be able to control if and when to show a view it is important to be able to share a view only to a limited group of people, the project group while working or the whole class when presenting the results.

Sharing their views is very important to the students: they want to show their work to their fellow students, they are eager to show it to the teacher. Both is easily accomplished by some few clicks — a group for each course is created by me at the beginning of every new term. The views are shared there and often students just browse there to see what others have done.

So each student gets appreciation, is seen by all others and the teacher — and this is no side effect, it is one of the main reasons I like to use Mahara: seeing all of each others work and thoughts, very democratic and with equal chances for all of them. Isabell Grundschober titles a blog post  “Much heart in e-portfolios” — this is my experience.

Last but not least students get grades, they want good grades. So assessment is important to them too, in a Mahoodle installation (I do assessment for all my courses in moodle) this is very easy by creation of an assignment with the possibility to select a view or selection. For me as a teacher while grading the work is just one click away. Perfect.

Some results from my German Language/Mathematics/IT courses (please click for a live view):


At the end of a term students are invited to create collections of their (possibly) selected works made during the year, their portfolios in language/mathematics/IT-courses. Sometimes they are surprised how much and what they did and in any case they are proud of themselves.

So what next? Learning plans are one of the next Mahara assets I want to use together with my students. A report will follow. Very inspiring for me is the ATS2020 EU-project which I stumbled upon lately.

PS: In my opinition acceptance of Mahara is easy for students: they adapt easily to any new possibility and any kind of user interface, which sadly is not so easy for the more seasoned users which grew up — especially in our Austrian schools — using almost solely MS products, bought by the government. Therefore the aggressively pushed MS OneNote (which is very capable and polished) is not easy to contend with. A more intuitive drag and drop interface for creating Mahara views would be a very, very good argument.

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