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Using Mahara for Social learning

Mahara is an ePortfolio in which the default for all stored information is private.  It makes a great “walled garden” for introducing students to the concepts of social and mobile networking as well as being a great learning tool for individuals and groups. The tool is seen by teachers and students alike as intuitive and easy to use.

1     Introduce via “social presence”

One of the first things to do is to show students the profile fields (on the Content tab of the home page).  Here teachers can stress such things as persistence of social data, appropriate choices when making descriptions and selecting screen names. Clicking your name at the top right of the screen will bring up the profile screen where students can request friendship with other students and write comments on their wall.

2     Make use of the Journal

A point to remember is that Journal entries don’t have to be like private diaries and they don’t have to be long entries.  You could even use the Journal as a Twitter styler blog – 140 characters reflections on the day’s work.  Journal entries can be tagged and they can be placed on a personal page or a group page. Taking 5 or 10 minutes every day to write these entries will instil good habits and consolidate learning.  Looking back over a period of work will enable students to see their progress.

3     Use Mobile uploads

There are photo upload apps for both iOS and Android devices.  These allow students to record their work, store photos in their files area which they can then use on pages.  Students can also record videos with their mobile devices and this can provide another way to promote reflection. A video, made by students following completion of a topic, can help them reflect on progress and reinforce collaboration and teamwork.

4     Create web pages

Once a page has been created, other students can be allowed to comment, at the discretion of the page owner.  The student may moderate comments before they are posted which leaves them in control.  Pages can be tagged and can include external sources, such as RSS feeds, Google Docs and Open Badges.  These are in addition to student created artefacts like text files, image galleries and profile fields.

5     Encourage teamwork

The teacher can set up a class group easily in Mahara.  The software also includes Collections – or groups of pages that are linked.  One use of Mahara with small groups is to create Group Collections which have a main page and individual pages linked together.  Each student has their own working space (which may be used for assessment if required) but collaborate on the Group Page.  The teacher can also see what individuals have produced as well as the group.  Students can plan their pages offline using large sheets of paper, for example. Mahara has proved itself to be a user-friendly and versatile tool to encourage engagement in the classroom and to teach 21st century skills.

Acknowledgements

Richard would like to thank colleagues at The Southport School ion particular Dr Jill Margerison for providing screenshots and information on the use of Mahara in English teaching. Richard Jones is a consultant living and working in New Zealand.