Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Final thoughts - from both our students & the project team

The student group has now been using the Mahara e-portfolio Group (The Gordon BDAV Design Project 2011 group) for 5 months. They will continue to use the group for the remainder of the year, but the AFLF project has now completed. Education Development staff will continue to support and assist the teachers using the e-portfolio platform and promote this innovative use of Mahara to other staff at The Gordon.

Our final student survey (again using Obsurvey) focused on the usage of the e-portfolio Group – how much had the students used it, which components of the e-portfolio did they use, what did they think of the e-portfolio platform and had it provided an effective collaboration space for them?

What did the students say?
  • The Group in Mahara was actively and regularly used by the students involved. Over 73% of students accessed the site fortnightly or more often
·         The main activities were sharing of files (73 – 82%)
·         Communication tools (forum) were not used much only 9% read them; 0% posted to them. This may be because the group had regular face to face meetings, which could also explain the low use of the Group as a means of communicating with others (9%)

  • Students mainly tried the other basic e-portfolio components (profile, resume) but interestingly, none used the Blog tool at all.

  • Most students found it useful (55%) or very useful (37%). Ease of Use ratings were a very mixed bag

Some of their comments around ease of use:
“..not the simplest of sites to use. Too many leads into non required areas.”
I still find it awkward to use. I don’t think it is at a point where I would feel comfortable sending potential clients or employers to for this reason.”
It provides us students with a communal place where we can upload information we find. Also allows us to show prospective employers what we are capable of in a simple and easy format.”
  • 73% said they would not be interested in retaining their Mahara e-portfolio after complete their studies at The Gordon.
If you want to have a look at the full survey report, we've uploaded it into Google Docs so use the link: Google Docs - Final Survey Report (PDF)

So what lessons can we take from all of this?
The Mahara group provided some collaboration capability this group of students found it very useful for the sharing of resources but did they actively communicate in the space? Not really – their communication still took place largely in the face to face classroom environment. Their reaction to other available tools in Mahara has probably been coloured by the fact that their first use of the e-portfolio was for a specific use most didn’t use the resume, blog and options to store other artefacts (unrelated to this group project). With more focus on the ways in which they can use their personal e-portfolio, this may change.
This project has helped The Gordon make wider use of the Mahara e-portfolio platform it has provided another example of use that has sparked interest among teachers at the institute.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Summing Up - positives & negatives of using a Mahara Group

This post has been written by Aaron McKay - Gordon TAFE Building & Design teacher and gives a great insight into the positives/negatives identified by both the teachers & students involved in our e-portfolio groups project.

In the vocational world of building design and architecture all offices have an intranet server that allows design teams to collect, share, co-ordinate and manage building design information technology and resources.
In the past in an education setting we have not been unable to allow students to participate in this manner as teachers developed resources and transmitted them to students.
This one way method did not allow students to participate in the learning environment and was not a true reflection of what happens in industry.
Introducing Mahara has allowed us to facilitate learning as students participate in the gathering, sharing and co-ordinating of building design and learning resources.

At present the group has completed two phases of the building design process:
  1. Determine Project Requirements: which involved listing and prioritising project activities, research, analysis and allocating group resources to be uploaded onto Mahara for collaboration
  2. Present Design Concepts: which involved providing a design response to the brief, site and research collected and analysed which were uploaded onto Mahara for review and reflection by colleagues and students.
Positive reactions from the teachers/student group using Mahara to date are as follows:
  • Their ability to have ownership of components of their learning
  • Their ability to share resources and work collaboratively has developed and reinforced industry expectations and working methodology
  • Allowed students to learn more effectively from each other via observation and feedback (Peer evaluation and assessment)
  • Provided an excellent resource and evaluation for teachers in the further education of other groups
  • Allowed other staff members not directly involved in the classroom to observe and give feedback to student work.
 Negative reactions from the teachers/student group using Mahara to date are as follows:
  • Difficulty of managing files, uploading and downloading
  • Late students observing other students' work and potentially plagiarising ideas/resources without contribution to the group
  • Additional time for facilitators to manage, co-ordinate the e-portfolio
  • Time and difficulty of altering paper resources/work to digital format to suit e-portfolio media
  • Maintaining student enthusiasm for additional work/time towards e-portfolio contributions

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Design & Building

It is great to see the work that Aaron and John have done in using Mahara for their third year projects. From the outset, the students have embraced Mahara to use for their e-portfolio and have made significant progress since my initial training session. A big thank you to Amy Van Berkel for her commitment to be the student mentor which has taken the pressure off me regarding followup training. We all look forward to seeing some great results in Aaron and John's class. I am currently working on the planning for the next Singapore study tour which will happen in September. I intend using Mahara again this year, as the outcomes of the portfolios last year were some of the best work that I have seen. cheers, Allan

What Online Collaboration experiences did our students already have?

We created a survey (using an online survey tool - Obsurvey: http://www.obsurvey.com/ ) to find out what online collaboration experience the students involved in our project had before using e-portfolio groups as a collaboration space. We were interested to see if they used existing online networking (social & professional); how they had shared resources and information in other projects; how group communication had been done previously.

Some of what we found out:
  • over 80% have used Facebook or social networking (what for? - mainly communicating, sharing photos & organising social events)
  • But only 38% had used professional networking sites
  • In past projects they stored information on USB drives; communicated via email or text
  • 17% had used no online collaboration tools at all
We're already getting some interesting feedback on Mahara too (& plan to survey again later in the project to focus specifically on using groups in Mahara for this project):
'Mahara makes sense, it separates work from personal sites such as Facebook etc.....But it is unuserfriendly...why would they make it that confusing?'
Interested to see what they say about Mahara after they have used it for a longer period of time.

If you want to have a look at the the survey report, we've uploaded it into Google Docs so use the link:
Google Docs - Survey Report

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What do our students / teachers think so far?

The group has been using Mahara for 3 weeks now (the whole of the initial phase of their design project) - some feedback on how it's working:
Aaron McKay - Gordon teacher:
The Building design Industry requires collaboration in process as individuals come together to share, test, refine, develop design ideas.  Creating such a culture in a vocational education setting sets many challenges such as sharing and distributing information effectively, assessing individual performances within a group setting and managing process. 
 Positives (of using Mahara to create this collaboration culture):
 1.       Mahara brings together individuals, their thoughts, ideas and a collection of relevant project information using an interface that is similar to the method in which most students collaborate externally via social networks, such as facebook. 
 2.       Enables staff to observe what is being uploaded, by whom and when.
 3.       Enables postings to communicate with students.
 4.       Allows formative assessment.
 5.       Allows students to assess, give constructive and authentic feedback to each other.
1.        Requires trust from users in the creating and management of information.
2.       Uploading files is confusing as the uploading function isn’t block specific.
3.       Order of files and naming difficult to read and find.
And students - what do they think so far?
Amy Van Berkel  - Amy is one of the more experienced student users of Mahara (as she was one of the students who participated in the 2010 trial). She has been the 'student mentor' for other students using it for this group collaboration project in 2011.
Her feedback:
  1. Enables you to access all your files you've uploaded to Mahara anytime, anywhere, thus negating the need to carry around piles of folders, books and paperwork.
  2. It provides a central location for file sharing amongst a selected group, with the option for people to contribute and not just view.
  3. It’s good that you can create specific views within your portfolio and then pick and choose who it is visible to.
  1. It’s difficult to get you head around Mahara because it’s 'backwards' to common software.
  2. If you have a 'Live' document, you can’t save the changes directly within Mahara, you have to save it to your own file system, then upload it again before updating the file on the view ... It’s very long winded!
  3. It doesn't tag new documents that have been added to view since you last visited the view. 
  1. Would be handy to have a "Live Chat" function enabling you to converse with people when doing group work.
  2. Require a 'Block' within the views that enables you to put in web links directly ... similar to how the block is created for You-Tube videos.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

E-Portfolio group is up & running!

 Our students had their first session, working with Mahara, last Friday (25th Feb).  Many had never used it before but staff who ran the introductory session for them said “…the students all took to it very easily; they just got it and had no problems at all.” They were all made members of the group created for the project – there are 25 members.

How to organise the group collaboration space in Mahara was an important focus of the Friday session too – staff led the brainstorming and a plan for the site was drafted. It will be interesting to see how this initial plan works in practice.
Students have already started uploading files & other artefacts into the group files area to share with other group members. The focus in this project is on the group rather than their individual e-portfolios, but they are sure to explore the personal uses of the e-portfolio environment too. 

You can get an idea about how the brainstorm (on whiteboard) has been translated into a Mahara view from these two whiteboard & screen shot images.

The project team has been researching the workings of Mahara Groups to make sure we understand key issues - some of these we've been discussing: 
·         Administration of group - the person who creates the group becomes the Administrator but as group admin, you can ‘upgrade’ other group members to the administrator role.
·         Group Types - now include Standard and Course types (these control how others can join the group – open to all, request to join or be invited to join). Our group is a Request Membership group.
·         Use of Group Files & Group View - means students can upload, share and organise files.
The Building Design project has various phases phase 1 is the Requirements Research. Blocks have been put onto the Group View so students can upload and share files related to different tasks within that requirements research phase.
We considered the idea of creating a group view for each task within the Requirements Research phase but this would have restricted access too much. Instead we have chosen to create a group view for this phase and use blocks in the view to organise the research collection for the task.
·         Permissions to view/ edit/ publish an uploaded file into the group space & how they can be controlled. By default, all members of the group have permission to do all. We still have to test who can adjust the permissions – is it just the administrator of the group or is it the person uploading the file (or both)?
Students are completing a survey on their existing experience in using group/online collaboration and social networking. We plan to survey them again at the end of the project, aiming to find out both how easy /useful they found Mahara was for group collaboration and how it compared to other tools they may have already used both professionally and personally.
If you want to have a look at the survey use this link:
(we used an online survey tool called ObSurvey to set this up)