Conference, ePortfolios, Mahara, Personal Development, Reflective comments, Report

My report from MaharaMoot 2014 – Germany (#MahDE14) Part 2

IMG_5228(This post continues on from Part 1)

My reflections & notes:

Staff engagement:
From speaking to the German attendees I discovered that many of the teachers are responsible for the technology they want to use. If they want to use Moodle or Mahara they have to find it and learn how it works themselves. If the printer breaks – they have to fix it! They learn from the internet and each other, meaning that they’re activity engaged in the pursuit of new ways to use tech, as opposed to having tech pushed their way from on high. From the sounds of it they feel overwhelmed by it all, but won’t give up as they see it as a vital component of their teaching practice. They were shocked to hear that although Solent have a large team to support all academics and support staff with tech, that we are often ignored by some groups of staff. I did point out that the group of disengaged lecturers are growing smaller year by year, but also it could be that some feel that they are already doing enough and don’t need to do anymore than they already are. I identified 3 groups that represent the make-up of our academic staff when it comes to engagement with our Learning Tech team:

  • Actively engaged – always popping in and asking questions, attending workshops & talks, trialling new tech and evaluating their effectiveness etc
  • Moderately engaged – a group who use tech minimally so don’t need support, or who use it a lot but don’t need our ‘help’
  • Disengaged – will do the bare minimum or nothing at all (very small group now x)

I believe that it is because of our hard work in trying to promote stories of good practice with tech via the various communication channels that the disengaged are starting to ‘come round’. News items in Channel (Portal stories), our online help guides, TEL Community of Practice, emails, forum posts, supporting teacher education programmes and training/awareness workshops are all having an impact, and word of mouth/peer approval is helping us to reach the areas of teaching that have felt ‘boarded up’ to us in the past.

Some teachers in Germany feel that they are working in the ‘dark ages’ and that the internet is way behind where it should be. In some schools, business emails can only be accessed on site meaning that many teachers have created personal email accounts to give to peers in order to be contacted outside of work hours. There is a huge worry about data protection and fear of being hacked. Mahara and Moodle was taboo for a while as having somewhere to create and store work online was ‘forbidden’. However it was recently discovered that Mahara could be used as long as a strict terms and conditions contract was put in place with a robust data protection agreement decided upon and implemented.

One question that threw me a bit during my keynote was ‘Mahara is amazing, why do we need to keep going with Moodle too?‘. This took me totally by surprise as it has never been a question I’ve asked myself. I’m not sure if I answered it as well as I could have done, but upon reflection I’d like to offer the following response in addition to my ramblings on stage:

  • As HD said, Moodle is for teachers, Mahara is for the students. They have free reign over what they put and how they put it.
  • Moodle has so many tools and activities built into it that mahara doesn’t offer (yet). Quizzes, file submissions, Turnitin plugins, language support plugins, database tool, feedback tools, etc. Mahara is fantastic to build resources with – however you need Moodle to act as a base for teachers and admins to keep track of student engagement.
  • Moodle has conditional activities that can keep students actively engaged in the learning materials and activities.


Education system:
Many teachers at this Barcamp teach students who are on courses similar to uk apprenticeships and work based learning courses – 50% in classrooms and 50% in work. These courses can take many years to complete however the standard of training is fantastic. It sounds like students have to pick their career path at a very early age – technical or go to university.

Teaching practice & Mahara support:
I was inspired by Norman – a German teacher who was using Mahara with his students who are asked to provide a reflection/review of the literature they have read using text, images and pictures and pulling them together into a page. This got me thinking – I have recently been approached by a lecturer who wants to use Mahara with his students as a way to help them improve their English. I wonder if his students can use Mahara to showcase and reflect on their encounters with English ‘norms’ such as watching a movie in English, watching a soap opera on TV, listening to a news report, reading a book or newspaper, reading a bus timetable and buying a ticket, ordering food in English at a restaurant etc. All these experiences can be evidenced with text, links, images taken on a camera, videos taken on smart phones etc. I asked Norman ‘who helps your students when they get stuck?’, to which he replied that they are told to work it out themselves, and once they’ve worked it out they have to share their knowledge with the rest of the class. I wonder if this model could be used at Solent.

Speaking to another teacher (H.D) about his students, I started to think about Solent students. At the end of an activity or assessment, he asks his students to show him how they feel they met the criteria and which parts of their ePortfolio evidences the mastery of the competency. At Solent, all students are given a marking grid along with the learning outcomes, however I’m not entirely convinced that our students know how to use them. I know there are sections in succeed@solent that address this issue so perhaps I need to include this in my own Mahara help resources? Maybe, in future, lecturers could ask students to include a grid at the back of the portfolios to briefly point out how they’ve met the outcomes and marking criteria. This is something I’d like to explore more!

During my keynote and workshops the topic of reflection was discuss again and again. It is such a hard concept to grasp for some people, especially young people who have never experienced the power of reflective practice. I know that some of our lecturers do give ‘leading questions’ for their students to use for each reflective post such as ‘what happened’ ‘what went well/not so well’ ‘what can I take away from this’ ‘what will I do next time I’m faced with a similar situation’ ‘what are the gaps in my knowledge that will need to be filled for next time’. Solent also has a guide to reflection in Succeed@Solent so I’ll be adding links to that next time I show staff and students how to compile a reflection log/journal. (See succeed@reflection)

Using visuals:
I was very fortunate to meet Waldemar who gave a number of talks on how to make simple visuals ‘jump off the page’. His talks were based on images from 

Waldemar showing us how easy it was to create images
Waldemar showing us how easy it was to create images
My attempt at graphics! Not too bad considering I can’t draw anything 😉

 Updates to Mahara 1.10:

Here is a link to Kristina’s presentation in english:

Last words:

All in all it’s been a wonderful experience and I have so much to take away from the ‘unconference’. Many thanks to Ulrike for inviting me, Sigi for introducing me to the German Mahara family back in February, Christine, Claudia, HD, Jeorg, Dietmar, Waldemar and to the many others who made me feel so welcome xxx

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