Mahara: Improving the RAU ePortfolio system

Sam Taylor, eLearning Specialist at Catalyst IT, visited the Learning Technologists at the RAU on Thursday. Sam is known worldwide for her knowledge of Mahara and her positive pedagogical approaches to e-portfolios.

Mahara will play a large part of the reflective work on the newly-developed Catalyst programmes: some of the formative and summative assessment will be undertaken on Mahara. We therefore want the platform to be setup in an optimal way for all users.

The aim of the day was to get professional advice on how what is best for our Mahara platform, in terms of both technical specifications and regarding how to best structure our help and support for staff and student users.


Sam Taylor from Catalyst IT and the RAU Learning Technologists

Sam Taylor from Catalyst IT and the RAU Learning Technologists

Mahara Features

Thanks to Sam, we established that we might not be making full use of our current Mahara platform (18.04) due to not being familiar with the variety of features available.

As a summary, our current Mahara platform has functions such as:

  • Automatically sending notifications for changes in Terms & Conditions
  • Copying a page from other portfolio
  • Linking to another page from the user’s portfolios
  • Rotating images within Mahara
  • Linking to ‘Help’ (user manual for current version) in context (for each page)
  • Customising assessment status for Smart Evidence (competency framework)

As we discussed the options and technical support, we agreed that we would move to the latest version (19.04) of Mahara this summer, ready for the new Catalyst courses starting in October, which require Mahara for reflective activities and assessment.

This means we will benefit form a plethora of very useful new functionalities that will help us better support and manage groups and templates in Mahara. Here are some of the key improvements:

  • Timeline feature to see progress in portfolio development
  • Improved navigation
  • Improved editor for Smart Evidence (competency framework)
  • Pushing templates to groups and institutions
  • Adding a navigation block to all pages in a collection
  • Opening links in a new tab or window
  • Instructions block in pages
  • Locking blocks and stopping accidental page deletion
  • Copying blocks in context (e.g.: Journal)
  • Peer assessment (block for peers to review external activity)
  • Revoking access to page(s) in case the page is reported
  • Setting up institutional tags
  • Populating pages automatically with tag content
  • Updating a Plan directly in a page
  • Open badges

Using Templates

All templates are found under your ‘Pages and Collections’ with other portfolio pages. There are three types of templates in Mahara:

  • A page made copy-able from a user
  • Group templates – pushed to students or copied from a user
  • Institution templates that can be pushed to all users in an institution

Deep links

During the session, we found out how to create links between Gateway and Mahara so that students and staff are not forced to re-login or navigate via their dashboard to a page, from a link in Gateway.


We also discussed the benefits of e-portfolio rubrics for assessment and we will build a set of resources in Gateway to support our staff using rubrics.

What next?

We will carry on running workshops for staff and we will upgrade to Mahara version 19.04 this summer.

We are also planning to re-design the Mahara Support page in Gateway to include user support, academic guidance, workshops summary and notes and a series of portfolios to demonstrate good practice and the variety of uses of e-portfolios.

We would love to hear about any ideas you have for improving e-portfolio usage.


Mahara: designing activities and using groups

A couple of months ago, we posted about Mahara as we were launching a new series of workshops for anyone interested in e-portfolios at the RAU.


Since then, we have run a practical session about editing portfolio pages. Our six participants ran through on online induction, building their own pages and sharing them. Once completed, they were allocated a digital badge that will now appear in their Gateway profile.

This session will be repeated on the 23rd July for those who missed it.

Last week we were focusing on designing authentic activities for portfolios in Mahara. One of the main advantages of e-portfolios, compared to a Word document for example, is that it can log evidence in a variety of media and reflections whilst showing progress. This means e-portfolios are conducive to students producing authentic original work that can be submitted for assessment.

The sessions produced a lot of questions on alignment to regulations for summative assessment, questions about groups and peer reviewing as well as questions using a portfolio rubric.

It was very energising to see learning design and creativity in action from our academic colleagues!


What do you call a group of Learning Technologists?

Now we are three we’d like to know what we should call ourselves. I asked the question on Twitter.

We had some great suggestions, including some tweets from RAU colleagues:

answergarden-899311 (1).png

I think our favourites so far are:

  1. A pandemonium of learning technologists
  2. A disruption of learning technologists
  3. A spark of learning technologists

Add your suggestions to the Answer Garden!

Trip report: EMLT – Moving Office365 from the office to the classroom

On Wednesday last week I attended the East Midlands Learning Technologists’ Group (EMLT) winter event.

The focus was on using Office365 within Teaching and Learning with four learning specialists from different institutions presenting their experience on implementing Office365 in teaching and learning. The afternoon was concluded by a demonstration from Microsoft focusing first on Accessibility within Windows tools and specifically Windows 10, then focusing on Teams as a tool.
I will detail below the benefits and issues highlighted by the presenters and the key issues discussed by the attendees.

At Nottingham Trent University, there seem to have a number of success stories using Office 365. Rachel Bancroft was the first to present their experience of using Office 365. Rachel highlighted how Yammer was used to help improve visibility of student for group work collaboration. The students found the tool easy to pick up (like Facebook), easy to use, part of the institutional tools. They are now using Teams for the same tasks, which allows for better document sharing and organisation of concept. As detailed in their blog, the Fresher’s week orientation treasure hunt using Microsoft Forms was very successful and allowed the students to find useful services such as the library and student support services, introduce them to sites of cultural interest in Nottingham and to help them to make friends with other people on their course.

Will Moindrot from the University of Liverpool gave us a contrasting story about two institutions’ approaches. The first example covered illustrated how the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine used Office365 for group work where PowerPoint presentations were created in OneDrive and shared in the VLE as a links.

Will also explained how his new institution, University of Liverpool, uses Office365 integrated and linked in every single course in the VLE; this integration means every course has an Office collaborative space automatically created. It also allows the automatic creation of a collaborative area in the Teacher’s OneDrive area. Teachers can therefore distribute templates and files.
In terms of implementation, the new VLE and Office365 were launched at the same time which means they feel like a coherent set of tools.

One key issue discussed was the complexity of using OneNote, meaning the students needed training, as well as some questions around making One Note documents read-only for submission to staff.

Susan Lowe, formerly of the OU, presented her experience of using OneNote to support students in Personal Development Planning. OneNote was used to provide structured ePortfolio-like templates and focused learners. However, there were some technological issues and users needed training. It needs support and guidance to be used effectively as portfolio tool.
In institutions where there are no ePortfolio systems, it may be useful; as we have the Mahara at the RAU for portfolio, using OneNote in that way would be of little or no benefits.

Matt Hope from Loughborough University discussed how Office365 can be used to facilitate the collaborative experience. The two main discussion points raised were that Office 365 users have been using different tools without the  Learning  Technologists  and IT’s awareness; this has led to their IT teams feeling like they were catching up on support needed. This was a common feeling with many institutions represented on the day.

The second point was a question as to whether Microsoft was set to ‘replace’ the VLE? That discussion revolved around the need for students to improve their digital fluency; the main argument is that students need to study using tools they will use in the ‘real world’ and that therefore they should be using Office tools for their learning. This created much debate in the room and subsequently on Twitter as I raised the question of the future of the VLE and the level of integration of Office tools with Moodle (Gateway) with the CEO of Moodle.

It seems that the overall feeling from the Moodle community and other institutions is that VLE still have a place, which is a different area from the Office tool, with a wider overlap than previously. The Microsoft representative in the room explained that Microsoft have no intention to ‘replace the VLE’ but there is a clear need for institution to identify which tools they make available for which pedagogical purpose, which tools they support and which tools they integrate. With Learning Technologists’ support, a good policy on tools and a good technical integration, those concerns could be minimised.

As a result of this discussion, Martin Dougiamas, CEO of Moodle (Gateway software) explained in his Twitter reply to me, that the messaging system in the latest Moodle version is going to be similar to Teams. They are making improvements to Moodle overall to help with, not only the technical integration but also the user experience  integrations of other tools such as Office365 apps.



The first focus of the Microsoft presentation by Alan Crawford was on accessibility and inclusions. Alan demonstrated Windows 10 tools available to improve accessibility, colour filters, translator, eye control and dictation. Immersive reading was also discussed.

The second part of the demonstration was based around using Teams. This included sharing files and collaborative editing (wiki), assignments with marking including rubric (class notebook, OneDrive file etc.) and using the Polly polling tool.

The detailed recordings of the presentations can be found below:

Introducing Aurelie

AurelieSoulierHello! I am Aurelie Soulier and I have just joined the Royal Agricultural University as a Learning Technologist to support course design and development for the Catalyst project with Chantal and Madeline, working closely with Marieke. As Chantal said in her previous post, we will be supporting the development and delivery of four new innovative blended programmes.

Before joining the RAU, I have worked for over 11 years at Cranfield University for the Defence and Security School (CDS) based at the Defence Academy at Shrivenham. As a senior learning technologist, my role was very broad. It involved administrating and support the learning platform (Moodle, Mahara and Turning) occasionally on my own and more recently with up to a team of three learning technologists. My role comprised helping course planning and development with academics, delivering staff development programmes for CDS and partnering institutions, road-mapping education technology (Ed Tech) at CDS, helping to develop a toolkit (the Essential Learning Framework – ELF) to support module leaders’ use of blended learning, organising and delivering inductions for new students as well as seeking and sharing best practice with other institutions and present my research and practice at Ed Tech conferences, enhancing CDS’s reputation nationally and internationally with collaboration and project work with Dublin City University, for example.

Prior to working at Cranfield University, I have also worked both as a Modern Foreign Languages and an IT teacher in UK secondary schools. I have undertaken my undergraduate degree in France at Michel de Montaigne – Bordeaux III before obtaining my PGCE from Swansea Institute of Higher Education and an MSc in Computing from Oxford Brookes University.

In addition, I am the volunteer co-ordinator for the Mahara User Group Southern England (MUGSE). I have taken on this role shortly before moving to the RAU and aim to re-launch this group activity in the next few months so I’ll be seeking interest from anyone who’s curious about using Mahara or already using Mahara via the above Twitter feed.

I’m also one of ten elected volunteer committee members for the Moodle User Association. As a general committee member, I help raising the profile of the Moodle User Association (MUA) and contributes toward our main activity: to decide on development projects for Moodle core through developing project proposals that include detailed requirements for those projects.

The way I approach my job is that, essentially, I love to help academics helping students learn. I deeply believe that education technology (Ed Tech) isn’t about the tools and technology, it’s about people, the learners and the educators. The technology is here to help and enable their practice.

I believe that social media and face-to-face networking are key to enhancing our practices by sharing and collaborating to innovate and develop ideas together so you’ll see me on Twitter collaborating with other Ed Tech people and academic colleagues as well as sharing personal ideas and views.

I love to spend time with my two daughters, visiting new places with them, especially National Trust locations. I’ve lived in Swindon for ten years now and I’m a big fan of Swindon’s often poorly known culture and heritage.

In my spare time, I also like to practice yoga, hike and cook. I love to take on new challenges. I completed the Ride London 100 miles ride in August 2013 with only six months training, I have done three smalls triathlons and I have taken part in three ultra-marathon walks in 2018 which means I’ve walked over 500 miles in total with training and events this year. I haven’t decided what mad challenges 2019 will bring, yet. I’m also a qualified nutritional adviser and love to support other people in achieving their wellness goals.

If you would like to get in touch, come and see me in the ITS office, email me or phone me.