Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Moodle + Mahara ePortolio = Mahoodle...a few thoughts

Early in the school year we were tasked with finding an ePortfolio environment that we could use for a pilot group of teachers who wanted to create an electronic version of their paper/printed portfolio/assessment document that they've typically completed each year. The goal was to create a space where faculty could contribute their portfolio and interact with peer portfolios with the goal of creating some additional interdisciplinary/inter-grade level interaction.

Our goal was to leverage our new Moodle virtual learning network in some capacity, as this was a space some of our early adopter faculty members were already working in. So we evaluated Exabis and Moofolio, which are both third party portfolio modules that appear in Moodle as blocks. We had a sandbox/test moodle network that we experimented with these modules on (I strongly recommend that you have a sandbox moodle network that is used to test out these 3rd party modules prior to bringing them into your live environment).

While we liked both Exabis and Moofolio, we received a little resistance from some faculty in terms of the look and feel of the tools. Both are effective tools, but neither will win any awards for cosmetics.

We eventually stumbled on Mahara and like the notion of integretion with Moodle. At this point "integration" with moodle only refers to single sign on. Once a user authenticates to Moodle, she can click a link to the ePortfolio system and not have to worry about signing in again. Moodle 2.0, due out this summer, offers some promising next steps as far as integration with moodle goes. It was selected by the Moodle community as the standard ePortfolio module for Moodle 2.0. From what I gather, this will allow users to very easily push some of the artifacts that they've posted in Moodle classes over to their Mahara ePortfolio space.

We have about 10-12 facutly authoring their portfolios in Mahara right now (my portfolio sample is visible online here). We created a group in which these early adopters may contribute their portfolios for comment and review by other members of the ePortfolio pilot community. Most faculty are still in the process of assembling their portfolios, but the real value will be the commenting and feedback that each of us can provide to members of the community. In addition to commenting on the entire single page view of a faculty member of the community, the system allows individual artificat commenting as well. If a teacher shares a photo of her student's artwork, members of the community can drill into that photo artifact and leave a comment.

I should also say that Mahara serves as a digital repository for portfolio samples. Media files and static files may be added to personal workspaces, tagged, organized and eventually shared in a portfolio view. RSS feeds from external sources are also supported, so if users already have a workspace that generates RSS feeds (blogs, photo streams, social bookmarks, wiks, video/podcasts, etc) these can be displayed in a portfolio as well.

It is important to note that the software and hardware cost of our Moodle learning network and the Mahara ePortfolio is a whopping $0. Both software packages are free and we're using free server software as well (Cent OS, PHP, Apache on a 5 year old Dell server). We have a sharp software engineer on staff who built and configured our Moodle/Mahara network (props to Adam Contois!)

Now that we have cut our teeth with this platform and with the concept of faculty ePortfolios in a social environment, we're getting ready to explore the following questions:

1. Are we ready to do this with students?? It is becoming clear that as students create more creative and collaborative work that we will need new assessment methods and platforms. Fine arts teachers have always struggled with applying traditional grading metrics to the assessment of creative works...many of our content area teachers are are now experiencing this same challenge. Fine arts teachers have used portfolios to have students showcase and evaluate their work...some of our content are teachers may begin looking at ePortoflios as an authentic assessment tool for the same reasons that fine arts teachers have been using portfolios for years.

2. Are we ready to expand this with teachers?? I don't know the answer to this question. I do know that everyone likes choices and options. The fact that participation is voluntary means that we have community members who are motivated to engage in this method of reflection and review. My hunch is that this will grow organically over time due to the social nature of the platform.

3. What are our next steps?? Well, we'll continue to see how this grows and develops over time through organic approaches. People telling their stories via informal hallway conversations usually leads to new folks who want to participate in the community. We're also seriously considering bumping up to Moodle 2.0 this summer which will offer more robust connections with Mahara. Down the road we'd like to offer different themes in the network for users to choose from. Not a big deal here, but we do know that individuals like to personalize the look and feel of their learning spaces.

Computer/Server Setup:
CentOS (open source Redhat), Apache, PHP, Moodle, and Mahara
5 year old Dell Power Edge 2650 Server (click here and here to see a photo of our moodle server)

Note: I gave a presentation to the Bay Area Independent School Tech Coordinators gathering yesterday at Lick Wilmerding up in San Francisco. I will update this plot post with a link to the video from my presentation just as soon as I have a moment.

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