ePortfolios, Mahara, Reflective comments

Mahara theming on a budget!

Some institutions are very lucky to have a team that can develop bespoke themes for their online sites. Here at Cranfield University, we don’t have that luxury, so we’ve often just gone for a theme that’s ‘out of the box’ for our Mahara site. This time around we thought we’d be a bit smarter and try to customise our site so that the system better reflects our needs. This is our journey from ‘drab to fab’.


The evolution of ‘the look’

For our first proper run of Mahara (September 2015), we used one of the in-built themes and added our logo. We also decided to edit the static page so that it contained some text about what Mahara can do, and included a link to our Support Guide and examples of existing Mahara pages. Everything else we kept the same:


For the 2016/2017 academic year we moved to version 16.04 and changed the theme so it looked a little less busy. We removed as much of the text as possible from the front page and added a ‘What do you want to do?’ section. We also had just undergone a university-wide re-brand so needed to update the logo. Earlier this year a wonderful animated video was released, so we added that to our site as we felt that it captured what Mahara does perfectly!


For the 2017/2018 academic year we upgraded to version 17.04 and changed the theme (again) to the default one. Mahara has many useful in-built features, but we still felt that they were too advanced for first time users who are still trying to figure out ‘what to do’.


Time to try something new!

The Create, Share and Engage information block on the Dashboard is wonderful for frequent users, but can really confuse those who are just getting to grips with how Mahara works. We decided to replace them so that they would point to Cranfield specific support pages. The problem was that none of us in the team knew how to edit the code to do this, so we ‘cheated’! We switched off the block on the Dashboard and hard coded three new images to act as buttons into the static page. Luckily we were able to get a designer to create these images fairly quickly (but you could always create them yourself).


The addition of these buttons, cutting out more text, and freeing up space by removing the Homepage/Dashboard block helped to streamline the Dashboard even more.

We now feel that we have a Mahara site that is fit for our Cranfield staff and students – so hopefully no more tinkering will be needed :)Sam x


We found that with our version of Mahara that any images displayed in a static page were only viewable by those with an admin role (see bug: https://bugs.launchpad.net/mahara/+bug/1356638)! So if you do try and use images in a static page, please test that all users can see them.

Many thanks to Kristina for helping me out!


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