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:! 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!


MoodleMoot IE & UK 2016


Oh wow – it’s been about 8 years since I last went to one, and oh my, I was blown away!

Very inspiring conference with so many lovely and knowledgeable people to talk to and swap ideas with. The keynotes did their job – all 4 had something really inspiring to share, and every break out session I went to was full of new and interesting ways in which Moodle is enhancing the teaching and learning experience for both staff and students.


FLSC team with the ‘main man’ himself – founder and CEO of Moodle, Martin Dougiamas 🙂

We were also shown a great video all about the Moodle Users Association and how it works. The video below gives a great overview:

As you can imagine, my notes run on for many pages, but the key points that my colleagues and I will be exploring include:

  • Resurrecting monthly TEL awareness sessions (teachers don’t know what they don’t know)
  • Exploring all the new and exciting plugins for Moodle 3
    • Group choice
    • Level Up
    • My Feedback
    • Progress bar
  • Developing a VLE framework, based on the UCL Moodle Baseline guidance, that is accompanied by Module page MOTs, hands on workshops and online guides
    • Developing a better module page template that adheres to the VLE framework
  • Enabling Webservices so that the Moodle app can work with our system
    • Gavin Henrick used the Choice tool as a great alternative to the expensive ‘clickers’
  • Evaluating alternatives to the Turnitin submission tool – plugins & feedback tools within the Moodle Assignment
  • Looking at supporting the ‘Late Majority & Early Adopters’ (see below)

Both of our presentations went down very well with over 150 people in the audience each time! We spoke to quite a few people afterwards about how our Turnitin Inductions are helping improve students’ assignment writing, and how Mahara is supporting group work and assessment. (See abstracts here)

Our audience for our first presentation! Eeek!

Oh drat – wasn’t going to write a long post was I? Oh well, it was amazing and hats off to Gavin Henrick and crew for organising such a wonderful conference. I’ll be back – don’t you worry!!!

Sam 🙂


eLearning in UK Schools – the future is looking good :)

Last week I had the pleasure to watch a great presentation from staff and pupils at the outstanding Perins Shool in Hampshire, England. During their studies, pupils undertake ‘Transform classes‘ that aim to develop creative thinking. I enjoyed hearing how the learners are encouraged to work together to solve problems using a variety of electronic media & devices:

  • Laptops and smart phones to capture and record information
  • Moodle to provide a framework, pose questions
  • The web/social media to research the answers & make connections
  • Mahara to combine and refine the answers (or ask further questions!)

What I love most is that the pupils are encouraged to work in ways that will enhance and develop their skills, skills that *most* professionals use such as effective group working, delegation and researching on the web. Anyway, the video below was played during their presentation and my jaw just hit the floor 😉

Mahara Hui UK 2015

This year’s Mahara conference took place at my beloved Southampton Solent University, with both Kristina Hoeppner (@anitsirk) and Sigi Jakob (@Networking_Lady) as the two keynotes. I was so looking forward to all the networking and idea sharing, however I picked up a horrible bug, meaning my ability to think and partake in meaningful conversations was somewhat limited. I felt really upset as the same thing happened to me at the NZ Hui 😦 I am normally a really chatty person full of ideas, but for this event I just couldn’t get as involved as I wanted. I even left the FREE drinks reception early as I felt so unwell (so sorry to all those who I had promised to chat to – I felt dreadful).

Anyway, a week on and I’m still unwell, but feel I need to get something written before I forget everything that I took away from the event.


moofy2I really liked this year’s format – just one stream running at a time meaning that we got to see everyone’s presentations! Without going into too much detail, I thought I’d share some of the key points that I took away from the conference:

  • Mahara is a living work space. What the learners do with it is up to them, however scaffolding may help them make the best use of it.
  • New Mahara 15.10 will be more intuitive, comes with more site themes (and the ability to tweak the CSS), cleaner navigation options for collections – all with a responsive Bootstrap theme.
  • A mobile-friendly media player will be added to new Mahara.
  • Students are now muli-modal learners – Mahara could be used to ease staff into the digital landscape (thanks Teresa!)
  • Lots of discussion with TDM VLE Middleware of the prospect of getting an eLearning apprentice
  • Saw great examples of it being used on a massive scale for so many different purposes – assessment, PDP, employability
  • Ask your learners ‘How do they want to learn?’ (thanks Sigi x)
  • Could CDS contribute some of their dev budget towards the Mahara project? (thanks Domi)
  • We need to provide a framework for our CDS staff who would like to use Mahara for CPD and potentially their HEA Fellowships.
  • More integration with openbadges – Open Badge Factory could users to issue badges (thanks Dajan!)
  • Special shout out to the rather awesome Perins School and their students who gave an eye-opening presentation of their use of Moodle, Mahara and social media tools to facilitate and support the learning journey 🙂

Hashtag: #MaharaUK15

Many thanks to Teresa for storifying both days:

Cranfield Defence and Security presentation

This was my first IRL presentation with Aurélie (we did one online for iMOOT15) and despite my poorliness, I had a BLAST! We walked through our implementation and showcased some of our early adopters. We also shared how we are trying to spread the word of Mahara using case scenarios and ‘selling’ them to course directors during planning meetings and course committee meetings. Thanks to the audience for the pictures on twitter:


Taken by Sigi)

Taken by Domi)

We then moved onto our case study – MSc in Explosives Ordnance Engineering. These students are using Mahara to support group work off campus and plan for the three stages of their assessment. Below is a quote from Course Director Tracey Temple on her thoughts on Mahara:

“As Course Director and Module leader for the Explosives Ordnance and Engineering MSc I wanted a platform that the students could share work and interact with when they are undertaking group work.  This need was especially important when group work consists of full and part-time students.  Mahara e-portfolio has enabled this to happen as students can communicate via the Mahara pages and forums from wherever they are based.  The Marhara e-portfolio is also a great platform for students to share information in terms of research papers and ideas.”

Here are some links to our Mahara in case you are interested:

Hoping you guys enjoyed the popping candy 😉

Thanks to Roger for organising and chairing most of Mahara Hui UK – here’s to the next one 🙂

Mahara – the joys of starting again from scratch!

It’s been almost 3 months since starting my new post at Cranfield School of Defence and Security. Since being here I’ve been able to see the tools that I’ve been using for the past 8yrs with ‘fresh eyes’. One tool in particular would be the Mahara ePortfolio system which has only just been installed here since my arrival.

Some of you may be familiar with my previous work with Mahara at Southampton Solent University where the focus was very much placed upon visually appealing assessment outcomes that could be shared online with prospective employers. Due to the nature of the courses delivered at my new place of work (Military Vehicles, Defence, Explosives etc), much of our students’ work can’t be shared due to the sensitive nature of the content (think weapons design – you don’t want that falling into the wrong hands…). Our students are also multinational, multi-skilled and exclusively postgraduate.

After watching many excellent presentations from colleagues around the world (especially Kristina, Sigi, Linda and Pascale) I have decided to adopt a new approach to using Mahara. Many of our students are already on their career path, so employability skills aren’t so high on our lecturers’ agendas. What is important though is the ability to articulate what has been learnt during the modules and put it into real life context. Also, being able to constantly feedback on progress from a student-lecturer perspective can be key to improving the end result of their Masters Thesis submission.

I’m also exploring a ‘less is more’ approach to designing the support materials, something that has been repeated expressed by Learning Technologist Domi Sinclair from UCL. Students don’t want to be spoonfed every bit of information – they just want enough to get them going.



With this in mind I have started to send out ‘feelers’ to see if any of our academics are interested in exploring Mahara further. I have created a handout that I have been taking with me to meetings, and will be shortly facilitating a couple of awareness sessions for lecturers and library staff:

What is Mahara

So, I guess it’ll be a case of ‘watch this space’! Fingers crossed that I’ll have something to talk about at the next UK Mahara Conference in November 🙂

Meet Monty!

mugse2Just a quick post to introduce our Mahara User Group South England (MUGSE) mascot Monty – created by Evonne at Catalyst HQ in New Zealand 🙂 We at MUGSE think he’s lovely!

Evonne is also working on a background banner for him that represents the diversity of South England… so watch this space!

To get involved with MUGSE go to:

My New Zealand Mahara adventure!

I’m now back at work after what can only be described as a ‘once in a life time’ opportunity and definitely the highlight of my career to date. Being invited to present at a conference is always exciting and an honor, but it’s even more of an achievement if invited abroad. This blog post may be a tad long (sorry) but I hope you will get a sense of how happy I am to have experienced what I did in Auckland.

Mahara Hui 2015 – See schedule

This was a wonderful conference and a great opportunity to meet those who I’ve only ever spoken to online – and of course to get together with the marvelous Kristina Hoeppner again.

I was fortunate enough to be involved in the pre-hui developers day hosted by Catalyst, where I delivered a workshop on re/designing mahara features. This was a great way of getting the developers and users together to discuss issues and wish-list items for Mahara, and look into ways of improving them. I hope it gave Catalyst plenty of food for thought 😉 (sorry Aaron!)

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(Pictures by @anitsirk)

My keynote was the following day, however it was at this point I became unwell. I managed to get through my talk, but unfortunately deteriorated afterwards. Many thanks to the staff and students of Solent who allowed me to share their stories and work with the world!

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(Pictures by @anitsirk)

You can see my presentation below, resources can be found underneath:

I saw so many fantastic presentations and case studies – too many to mention here, but in particular I enjoyed:

My main ‘takeaways’ are all to do with how Mahara can be used for so much more than just assessment. I hope to get cracking with it here at Cranfield CDS site at some point over the summer! Thanks to all the sponsors and organisers – and to AUT for hosting the event, and for my amazing mountain jade necklace xxx

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Auckland University of Technology

As part of my trip, I was invited to AUT for the day to talk about my experiences of using Mahara, going through the HEA Fellowship and CMALT applications, and any other Edutech topic that popped up. I also facilitated a workshop with academic staff at AUT based on a previous one I did at the Mahara Barcamp in Germany last year:


I had such a wonderful time there and really enjoyed talking to members of the CfLAT team (especially Mark, Shen, Michele, Lisa and Jawyei x). Thanks for the gifts, food and great conversations!


Exploring NZ

I did have a couple of days to explore Auckland and some of the surrounding tourist attractions with my hubby Gav, including Waiheke Island, Sea Life Aquarium, Hobbiton Movie Set, Glow Worm Caves, Auckland Zoo, Auckland Museum, The Star Dome Observatory & Planetarium, and the Sky Tower. Below are just a few of my pictures, but I won’t bore you with many.






Thanks for the wonderful memories 🙂