Monday saw the first MUGSE meeting (Mahara User Group for Southern England). Although this meeting was fairly last minute and the location was…interesting…it was reasonably well attended. There was a mix of Mahara veterans and some newbies, looking to find out more about what the system is and what it can offer.
For this reason the conversation was rather varied, which I thought was actually quite useful.
The meeting started with introductions and then went on to Don Christie (Catalyst IT) talking about the upcoming Mahara 1.9 upgrade. Don mentioned this upgrade will not be as huge as the leap from 1.7 – 1.8 (yay for rows!) but would offer improvement to accessibility. He mentioned that extensive user testing had done on this front, and how the system would be up to a high standard. Don also touched briefly on the 1.10 upgrade, and mentioned that this particular release was likely to incorporate a number of social feature being developed by Totara. These included things like sharing files (without a page), voting up content – such as questions and answers or ‘ideas’. The 1.10 release should also be where we see the addition of Mozilla Open badges, allowing Mahara to act as a back-pack. Another possible feature on the social side could be real time chat. Don advised contacting Yuliya Bozhko (@YuliyaBozhko) for more information about the social tools they’re looking to develop.
The meeting then opened up to more general conversation, and one of the topics raised was graduate or alumni access to Mahara. The usual issues or storage space, and costing were raised. As this is an area I am currently exploring I mentioned the USB portable version offered by Kenji Lamb from Soffed. Munib of JISC RSC South-East suggested I look at MAXOS, which offers Mahara on a stick.
After realising how new some of the members of the meeting were, we then did some show and tells about our Mahara instances, as an introduction for those unfamiliar with the system. I showed the UCL Mahara install, known as MyPortfolio, and talked about the popularity and functionality of groups at UCL.
The wonderful Sam Taylor then talked about student usage of Mahara at Southampton Solent University (also referred to as MyPortfolio) using the slides from here presentation at the German Moodle Moot, available online at mycourse.solent.ac.uk/mootde. Sam showed us some impressive looking student portfolios from a variety of subjects, many of which are publicly accessible.
Irene Bailey of Southampton City College continued the show and tell session by giving us a glimpse at their Mahara install, known as MyBit. In particular Irene showed off their work experience plugin, which includes pre-filled fields – for limiting mistakes on a standard form, and automatic reporting outside Mahara – to negate the cumbersome process of having to share the logs on a page. The work experience logs plugin is based on the CPD tool for Mahara, but with some code changes.
During the lunch break Don Christie mentioned a Mahara analytic tool to me, called Piwik. This tool works much like Google Analytics allowing you to see traffic to your site, include from where, how (what browsers/ devices) and when. This information can of course help with many things, including planning upgrades and targeting testing. Don later tweeted me a link to the Piwik presentation from the recent Mahara Hui in New Zealand.
After lunch we continued the general conversation before looking forward to the Mahara UK conference. The event is being hosted this year in Brighton on the 17th-18th July, and is titled Sea of Change. There is no particular theme for the conference, of proposals can cover a range of topics, the title is simply a pretty and clever pun based on the location. Meredith Henson (Catalyst IT Europe) encouraged us to send in proposals and spread the word about the conference, which I will be doing so ready your Twitter feeds! She gave away some top secret details, so unfortunately if you missed it you have missed out as I am not at liberty to disclose them here, but I think I am allowed to say the conference sounds even more exciting now! As if Brighton, the summer and Mahara weren’t already excitement enough!
The day rounded off with a discussion of the future of the User Group, prompted by the possible scenarios I blogged late last week. On this we decided that those present would like to make the group inclusive of the South of England, rather than specifying the south East. It was also agreed that due to the relatively unrepresentative collection of users present at the initial meeting, some time would be set aside at the Mahara UK conference for a fuller discussion.
If you would like to be involved with, attend or host any future events please get in contact with myself or Catalyst IT Europe. We hope this group can grow and become a useful community resource.
Here is a selection of Tweets from the day:
Monday will see the first rough meeting of MUGSE, a new Mahara User Group. During this meeting there are many things to be discussed, one of which is the scope of the group both in terms of topics and geographical locations covered.
In my eyes the first decision is what does the ‘SE’ of MUGSE stand for? Is it Southern England or South East? If it is the latter then I think the name should be abbreviated to MUGSEE, meaning Mahara User Group for South East England – to avoid any confusion with potential future groups.
Once we have decided the areas to be included in the group (although whatever geographical lines are drawn I’m sure those outside would be welcome any time), we would need to discuss the format and location of meetings. To that end I have come up with some possible scenarios and presented them as Prezis. Please bare in mind these are just a rough idea. The boundary lines could be re-drawn and the schedule is open for discussion. I just thought this might be a way to start the conversation.
Complaints. We’ve all had to deal with them, ‘the system is too slow’, ‘why doesn’t it do [this] or [that]?’ Most of the time we are forced to simply apologise about the technology, and possibly even nod and agree that it isn’t good enough for a university, and that we should expect more. This morning I found myself once again wondering, should we really be asking more?
Of course we should always expect more from technology, that is how it evolves and improves rather than becoming stagnant (and we all love new toys to play with)! When it comes to what we currently have though, is it possible we sometimes expect too much from it? Perhaps we need to get better at setting expectation for our users so that they are not disappointed when a piece of software can’t magically reduce their workload and let them spend more time researching. I can confess, I have enjoyed from time to time when academic I’ve helped in using the VLE treat me like I’m a wizard! After all, we all like to feel special, important and being magic would be cool! But perhaps in allowing this vision of us we have created the illusion that we use sorcery, rather than systems? It might well be time to take off our cloaks and explain that while, the technology we are showing them can do a number of things, it is prone to failure. Just like the tech used by big companies such as, everyone’s favourite the BBC, or less favourable Microsoft.
When stuff goes wrong it is not always a sign of bad infrastructure, inadequate systems or untrained staff – sometimes its just a case of technology being technology…it fails, get over it. After all, technology was created by ‘mankind’ and to err is human…
As an quick aside when I was thinking of ‘S is for System, not Sorcery’ I came up with a few others so I’ll just share them here, otherwise my brain might explode!
A is for application, not for abracadabra
B is for beta, not for bewitchment
I is for internet, not for incantation
M is for machine, not for magic
S is for software, not for spell
V is for virtual, not for voodoo
W is for Windows, not for wizardry
As education professionals we are constantly faced with the questions of how to give effective, meaningful feedback to students. It is a particular hot topic at the moment, as it is one of the key areas for improvement highlighted by the NSS results in recent years. It has meant many of us have started to look at feedback differently. We recognise that feedback is a process and not a single activity that can be carried out. Feedback works best when it is cumulative, over a number of formative and summative assessment, as it can track and reflect on progress made from one piece of work to the next. This in turn aides the students ability to reflect and develop based on past mistakes and achievements.
But more than that in my opinion, feedback should have a mini-cycle for each individual piece of work, as it is best delivered over a staged process. Technology can assist in this process beautifully, by allowing feedback to be given remotely and consumed in the student’s own time. The student should then be given an opportunity to digest that feedback, reflect on what it means and any questions they may have about it. Next the student should have an opportunity, either via a face-to-face tutorial, or if this is not possible a video-chat (Skype or Google Hangout for example), to discuss the feedback and how improvements can be made in the future.
Feedback works best when it is not delivered as though it is a single task, but as part of an on going discussion that requires active engagement from both the student and tutor. Personally I also think it is important feedback not only highlight mistakes made, but also successes. We can learn by understanding what we did right, as we can by what we did wrong. I often felt as a student that although it was clear what I did wrong, it was not always clear if the aspects of my work not mentioned were successful, adequate or just not as bad and the rest. It might also be the case that success is not always achieved deliberately, and so reflecting on it can insure it is not a one of occurrence.
As education professionals we are learning a lot about what makes for good feedback, and that quantity is not always the best option. Technology enables us the play with different feedback options, from context specific text (such as Turnitin’s QuickMarks) or longer whole assignment reflections to voice and audio feedback. It is a developing and changing area of education, which may mean we never get it entirely right, but if we work with students perhaps we can get close.