Developer/Company Name: Mahara Open Source Community
The following questions are a compilation of questions and issues identified in an informal polling of eportfolio community members during spring 2011. The answers are the vendor's responses.
What vision or understanding of learning informed the design of your tool?
A first guiding principle with the development of the Mahara ePortfolio system is that it is learner centered – a form of Personal Learning Environment. This is in contrast to the more institution-centric Learning Management System (LMS). Learning is very personal and thus can differ from learner to learner. Learning is also social and thus a digital tool needs to allows for interactions with others.
How does your vision of learning promote a student-centered approach to education? (e.g. student ownership of his/her learning)
The learner is the author of his portfolio. Only he can decide who shall receive access to his entire portfolio or parts of it. The social aspect is realized through collaborative functionalities.
Does your tool allow students to control permissions? Can they share with people outside of the institution? How? (e.g., advisor, prospective employer, etc.).
Yes. For each portfolio page that learners create, they set permissions: either for individual people or groups of people. These permissions can be time-restricted. Permissions are not set on an artifact level, but are controlled by pages which hold artifacts.
What is the process for inviting feedback on work or artifacts?
Feedback can be given on any portfolio page if a learner allowed comments (default setting). Furthermore, comments can also be placed on individual artifacts if allowed by the author (default setting).
Describe how your tool promotes and supports student-to-student collaboration.
In general, everybody who has an account can create groups and invite others to join or create an open group.* Group members can then use discussion forums in the group, share files and create pages collaboratively. * An administrator could restrict that to just certain roles within the system. This then depends on the institution that installs Mahara.
Describe how your tool promotes and supports student-to-faculty collaboration.
It does not matter whether you are a student or faculty to create groups and to join them. However, faculty can get the “staff” role that allows them to create controlled groups which students cannot leave and which allow students to submit pages for feedback. While they are submitted, students cannot make changes on them thus allowing faculty members to give feedback on a page without it changing.
How does your tool support and encourage the reflection process for students and faculty?
Mahara has a built-in blogging functionality which allows users to create as many blogs as they wish. Blog posts can be tagged. Multimedia reflections via audio or video can be uploaded to Mahara or they can also be embedded if they already exist elsewhere online. Blog posts can be re-used in portfolio pages allowing to create pages that are purpose-built or that contain a number of artifacts.
How does your tool address and support institutional level assessment needs (e.g., aggregating student data and generating reports for accreditation)?
Mahara has not been developed as assessment portfolio and thus lacks some of these functionalities at present. However, as it is open source software, they can be added if an institution wishes to create it. Certain data of the creation of pages etc. can be generated in reports. At present, Mahara is already used for assessment purposes with the support of its built-in feedback functionality. Only the easy aggregation of the data is not present.
Does your application integrate with enterprise systems? Which ones? Do you have examples of effective integration in support of advising or other student services you can share?
Mahara can be linked to other systems via SSO, e.g. by using SimpleSAMLphp. Recently, web services were developed to facilitate the communication with Learning Management Systems for the creation of accounts. Future developments include the expansion to sending of notifications and to the exchange of content. As the web services stack are not specific to LMS, they can also be used as starting point for connecting to student management systems.
What is the main strength of your application?
The combination of portfolio and collaborative functionalities which help students to build up their Personal Learning Environment allowing them to use it in a holistic way with other Mahara users.
What weaknesses have been identified relative to the user experience and shared with you?
Mahara lacks certain assessment features, and it is at present limited in its personalization. The latter is being addressed in an upcoming release when skin support is being added.
Please share some examples of user feedback.
As Mahara is a community project and does not have a marketing department, there is no central space to collect feedback. Here are a couple of links that illustrate for which purposes users use Mahara and that people do talk about it / present it at conferences etc. and share their enthusiasm with others]
Please share examples of the successful use of your application to help students achieve their goals undefined admission to graduate school, career placement and advancement, etc.
Mahara has been used successfully for career planning by CareerPortfolio Manitoba and numerous people use it for creating their résumés online.
What key changes or features do you plan to introduce in the near future?
Mahara 1.4 has been released recently (June 2011) with a number of new features. A new version of Mahara is released approximately every 9-12 months at present, and it is attempted to coincide that with the academic year in the Northern hemisphere to allow institutions to upgrade during the summer.
We plan to introduce skin support which will allow individual users to style their portfolio pages personally instead of just being able to choose from pre-set designs.
Mahara will receive features which make the management of an installation that supports multiple institutions more flexible: Institutions will be able to decide whether they want to allow members from other institutions to see their members. This feature is important to large Mahara installations that serve multiple schools / universities to give them more freedom in the management of their institutional space.
Mahara has a sitemap feature which allows the sending of information to an external service to aggregate the information. This feature is used in New Zealand to publish information collected in Mahara in DigitalNZ, a service from the National Library that aggregates information from an about New Zealand.
There have already been a number of new features developed which will make it into Mahara 1.5: creating and updating of groups via a CSV file, more flexible use of profile information on profile pages, multiple file upload, re-usable text boxes etc. All new features will be put into the release notes.
Company profile: Currently, there are 23 Mahara Partners that offer services like consulting, development, training, support and hosting. Mahara is an open source application that is supported by the Mahara community around the world.
Customer base/size: In August 2011, there were 245 registered Mahara sites around the world with 271,000 accounts. However, that is only a fraction of the actual user base because registration is voluntary and most sites do not register with the community.
Student license pricing model: Mahara is an open source application that can be downloaded and used without incurring licensing fees.
Institutional pricing model: Mahara is an open source application that can be downloaded and used without incurring licensing fees.
Postgraduate/transfer student license model: Mahara is an open source application that can be downloaded and used without incurring licensing fees.
Institution service agreement model: That depends on whether the institution has its own installation or whether it uses a hosted service.
Online support information: On wiki.mahara.org administrator and user guides are accessible. They can also be added on to. Often, institutions have created their own guides. On www.mahara.org, users can connect to other community members in the forums and ask their questions.
Institutional support services (Free): Not applicable as Mahara is open source software. If it is hosted for an institution, the fees are set by the provider.
Institutional support services (Feebased): Not applicable as Mahara is open source software. If it is hosted for an institution, the fees are set by the provider.
IT staffing requirements: That is dependent on the size of the installation, if it is self-hosted or not and how many users are supported.
- System Requirements Server: Up to date information at https://wiki.mahara.org/index.php/System_Administrator%27s_Guide/Installing_Mahara
- Linux - any distribution should be fine, Debian or Ubuntu are recommended as they're most regularly tested on, and even have debian packages. Installation on Windows is possible as well.
PHP - 5.3 or greater
PostgreSQL 8.3+, or MySQL 5.1+ with InnoDB table support
Apache - 2.0 or higher
- Hosted service? Is possible. However, there is no central hosted server as Mahara is an open source project and community members can set up services.
- Storage Capacity (per account): That depends on how much an institution allows or how much the hosting provider offers. In theory it can be unlimited.
- Standards compliance: Leap2A portfolio standard compliant.
- Section 508 compliance: This has not been tested.
- Published API: The entire code is available under a GNU license and can be downloaded.
- Migration/Exportation: Individual users can export their portfolio at any time as self-contained HTML web site and as Leap2A XML export which they can then have imported into another Mahara instance or other portfolio software that is Leap2A-compliant.
- Systems Integration: Moodle. With version 1.4 and the implementation of web services, integration with other LMS became easier.
- Accepted artifacts/media (pictures, video, audio, text, html, documents, etc.): Any media type can be uploaded; certain media can also be embedded, e.g. mp3, mp4, flv. Restrictions may occur if an institution blocks certain media types or does not allow access to certain internet sites, e.g. no YouTube videos are displayed if YouTube is blocked by the firewall.