Until now, the University of Brighton did not have an institutionally supported ePortfolio system. But there had been increased interest within the institution in the potential of ePortfolio tools to provide an electronic process for recording professional development, achievement and learning to replace hard copy portfolios.
Academic Computing Services (ACS) trialled Mahara, an open source e-portfolio tool, with academics in 7 pilots over the last academic year. The results of which were used to explore the demands and requirements of introducing a dedicated e-portfolio tool that could both inform the broader blended learning strategy of the University and lead to a better understanding of the pedagogy and sustainability of this technology.
Mahara is a web based portfolio tool (e-portfolio) that includes aspects of social networking. It provides students with a mechanism to record and manage evidence of their learning digitally; by storing content, building web pages and publishing these on the Internet. The software was branded ‘studentprofile’ for our users.
The evaluation was conducted using an action research methodology with quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection. The findings were used to determine the suitability of Mahara as an institutionally supported ePortfolio tool.
Following a meeting of the eLearning Development Group that considered the findings, Mahara was adopted as a fully supported University e-portfolio tool.
However, the findings recognised that the flexibility and ‘student-centred’ nature of the software meant that it needed to be implemented with some care and planning.
The pilots demonstrated that Mahara only had a significant learning impact where:
- students were given a clear purpose and rationale for using an e-portfolio,
- students needed to record or evidence the ‘process’ of learning,
- use was co-ordinated across the course & embedded into the curriculum,
- students made continuous and sustained use of the software.
- staff and students understood the practical application of the technology.
To this end, the recommendations stated that courses who wanted to use Mahara needed to ensure:
- The software could be supported effectively by the tutors,
- Use was aligned to a curriculum where concepts of reflective, experiential or evidence-based practice were well established.
- There was sufficient ‘buy-in’ from teaching staff.
- The specific requirements of a course were evaluated to assess the suitability of Mahara on a case-by-case basis.
- The current capabilities of students and staff to work digitally were considered.
ACS are preparing to implement Mahara over the summer ready for use in September 2012, and more details on this will follow.
If you are interested in using Mahara in your course and would like to find out more please contact your local Learning Technologies Adviser.