Monday, April 20, 2009

Moodle and Mahara in Adelaide

Greetings from the Australian Computer Society office in Adelaide where I am taking part in an e-learning course. The ACS is using Moodle extensively for its professional certification course and is intending to use Mahara. While conventional distance education courses using Moodle on the web are working well, the issue is how to introduce more reflective learning and self assessment. The students report what they are doing at work and reflect on its role in their future development. E-portfolios are frequently cited as the way to do this, but up until today no one has to explain to me exactly how they would be used.

Moodle Journals

So far we have been introduced to the Moodle Journal feature. This seems to be a lightweight e-portfolio which might be used for a single course or even a brief part of the course, such as a week. However this is not the sort of long term ongoing record of work, which some thing like Mahara would be used for.

The interesting part for me is how to introduce structure to the journal and how much structure should be provided. To just give the student a blank text editor window doesn't seem enough. The journal can be pre-loaded with a list of topics, but there is no support for an analysis of what the students put under those categories.

Moodle Workshop

The next activity addressed was the Moodle workshop module.This allows for peer assessment; that is other students assess the student's work. A random group of students can be allocated to assess others work, so for example each student might be required to assess the work of five others and be assessed by five (but five would be a lot).

Deadlines for submission of the student work and the assessment can be set separately. This way the students cannot see the other student's assignment before they submit their own. Text and files can be uploaded as part of the submission. It is important to describe clearly what the student is to do.

The proportion of grading from peer assessment can be set (so the peer assessment might be 20%). Examples can be provided to the students as to what to do. There is an option for the student to assess their own submissions. The assignments can be made anonymous and the assessor (which would be normally used).


Mahara is an open source e-portfolio products developed with funding from the New Zealand government. Mahara complements Moodle, by providing social networking features orientated towards the student, rather the instructuor. Mahara is similar to Facebook in its features, but has the advantage of being an educationally orentated facility which can be more safely provided within an institution.

Mahara has an export/import function so that, in theory the student can take their portfolio with them from institution to institution. It supports some interchange formats (such as LEAP2A specification). There are also discussions in Australia between education facilities for common portfolios. In the case of the ACS interchange with Australian universities would seem an advantage. The ANU is looking at Mahara and it seems to be favored by the vocational training sector.

Mahara appears to have limitations compared to products such as LinkedIn, as an example the user has to enter their employment history in cronological order as it can't be sorted automatically or rearranged. Being open source there is work going to to fix this and to alloow export and import to systems such as LinkedIn. An obvious one for Australia would be export and import to the systems which the ACS and unviersites provide and to systems such as the Australian Government's GAM system used for assessing research grant applicaitons. At present the professional has to manually enter their details into each of these systems. Being able to enter the data once and export would be useful.

The information about the student is entered by the student in Mahara. A simple way to verify claims about educational and other qualifications mentioned was for the institutions to provide a URL on testimonials which can be entered to verify the details. This is a much simpler approach that proposals for digital certificates on e-portfolios which were previously proposed (and it is the technique I suggested the ACS use).

Mahara also includes facilities for blogs and to import from external bloggs using an RSS feed. One issue this creates is keeping your professional persona separate from your private one. In my case my blog has a mix of items, only some of which are relevant to my work. I would need to create a filter, perhaps using Yahoo Pipes, to supply only the professionally relevant material for the e-portfolio.

Mahara has provision to create groups of people with a common interest. ACS with its
ICT Environmental Sustainability Group and EdNa with its Edna Groups have used Moodle to create groups, but this takes some mangling of Moodle's functions. Mahara would seem to have more potential.Link


In passing dimdim was mentioned. This is an open source web meeting product, similar to Wimba Classroom. The comment made was that this was developed in India and so is designed to work with low speed dial-up Internet connections, whereas the commercial web meeting products emphasize video and require a broadband connection. This product might be of use for disaster management for this reason.


The training was provided by BrightCookie. This is one of two well known Moodle support companies based in Adelaide.

1 comment:

Mark Drechsler said...

Hey Tom,

Hoping to get to your talk tomorrow night but if not thought I'd mention a couple of things about Workshop and Journal.

While not debating that these tools are useful, neither should be considered as stable core elements of Moodle, particularly in the lead up to 2.0.

Workshop has had several rewrite attempts already, and although I hope it cements its place in core code at some stage, I wouldn't take it as a given just yet that this will occur.

Journal on the other hand has been a piece of 'legacy' code for quite a while now in favour of online text assignments, and in 2.0 it won't even be installed as part of core code.

So where am I going with all this? I guess just that from a risk management perspective neither of these tools are great, in fact you've probably picked two of the highest risk activiies in Moodle in terms of core developer support going around at the moment, so just keep this in mind if they are used heavily. I don't talk about these two tools in my training sessions unless specifically asked to do so for this exact reason (something in the case of workshop I truly hope changes, providing the rewrite goes ahead, and thanks to this post I've just offered to do some beta testing in if the development does continue just to let David know he's not alone).

You can read about all the above tools and their place in core code at and