Digi Domi

Sharing my passion for technology and learning.

MUGSE 2 : Sparsholt College

Last week saw the second ever Mahara User Group for Southern England, otherwise known as MUGSE. This time the venue was Sparsholt College, perhaps not as unusual as a swimming pool (the venue for last time) but still hardly run of the mill. This user group is turning out to be a great way to explore Southern England if not also gain inside gossip and advice with colleagues from across the South of England. For those who are not familiar with it Sparsholt College is a farm-based college in the middle of the Hampshire countryside, if you want more information then just go to their website.

The event was attended by some Mahara regular faces, myself included and also some newbies. This was a nice mix and I certainly learnt a lot from those who had been using the system for less time than myself, but I will come to that in a bit. After introductions, first to present was Ursula from Sparsholt College, who kindly provided the venue.

Particularly useful was how the college are using Mahara pages to list and advertise their IT training provisions for staff. By simply using a page, text boxes and hyper-linked booking images they have produced something that looks rather nice. It does require a fair amount of manual intervention, but for the smaller scale it is a nice solution and whelps promote the flexibility of Mahara. I was also interested to hear about their E-Learning Design Apprentices, who were in attendance. This is a scheme they run and was a pleasant surprise for me as I have never heard of someone wanting to apprentice in this line of work, in fact until I started in this line of work I’d never heard of it!

Rather than digress I will move onto the brilliant insights one of their E-Learning Design Apprentices, Sarah, had to share. As a new user of the system, Sarah was able to bring new insights and remind us of things we probably already knew but had forgotten. She started by rationalising the problems she had with Mahara by describing it as ‘web design’ a skill she hadn’t tried before. I have never thought of it in these terms before, but she is correct there is a fair amount of web design, in relation to where content goes and how objects interact or juxtapose one another on the page. Sarah explained that once she had realised this the system was much easier to use, and she understood why she was struggling with other aspects. The other thing Sarah said I thought was of particular interest was that when colleagues use the term ‘clunky’ to describe a system (which we have all heard for Mahara and our VLEs I’m sure) why they actually mean is that it doesn’t work how they would expect, or it works differently yo other tools they have used. This was an excellent way of expressing a thought I had been unable to put into words myself.

We then heard from a tutor at Sparsholt who is using the system with their students, she described how it helped her equine students benefited from using the system to show things that would otherwise have had to be written about. Things like tacking choices are much easier to demonstrate in a video than in an essay, and it allows them to use written content for the more academic segments.

Ursula then returned to summarise the slot and, although it was not part of her original presentation she ended up showing how Sparsholt use VShare with Mahara for video sharing. Ursula explained that she has the ethos students shouldn’t have to use a 3rd party tool, and therefore possibly sign away content rights etc, in order to engage fully with materials and the web. VShare was not a tool I had heard of, but it is a free video sharing tool, that can have some institutional branding. It seemed as though it had a lot of benefits, but would be fairly admin heavy, again perhaps not best for large institution.

Next to present was me, and you can find the Prezi that I used online. I’ll let you look through that and if you have any questions post them under this blog entry.

We then decided to break for lunch, and although there was no lunch paid for Meredith from Catalyst had brought a bounty of treats for people to share and there was also a canteen nearby for people to buy sandwiches and the like.

After lunch was the slot provided for Catalyst and Meredith talked about the changes made for the new release of Mahara 1.10, including 239 squashed bugs, tons of accessibility improvements and a customisable dashboard. She also highlighted the new Social Media tab under the profile section, which was one of the first things I discovered. This replaces the messaging tab, and allows for a wide range of social media tools to be linked to. These links can then easily be added to any Mahara page the user creates, and in most cases included an attractive icon. Meredith also pointed out 1.10 offers greater control over notification for Groups. You can test these new features for yourself on the Mahara Demo site. Moving on Meredith had a few other things to touch on, including the Mahara UK Conference which from this year will be referred to as the Mahara UK Hui, to pay homage to the systems New Zealand roots. The UK Hui will take place sometime around the first 2 weeks of July and is likely to be held in London, although negotiations are still on-going. Meredith also told us that she has been charged with updating the MaharaDriod app, which currently does not work with the most recent versions of Mahara. She said it is likely to require a complete re-design and this could mean using more up-to-date tools which would allow the app to work across mobile operating systems. In other news, which some of you may not have known, Catalyst have now taken over responsibility for the Mahara trademark and partner program. Although this will in no way affect anyone’s terms and conditions or the way they use Mahara it could mean some improvement for the partner program. She also touched on Totora Social which has branched out from the Mahara project. At the moment there are still a number of similarities and some code may be shared back, but eventually they will become entirely separate products. Totora Social has some nice features, including the sharing of ideas from the dashboard to specific areas, which reminded me a lot of Yammer. It will be interesting to see which features come across to Mahara as plugins or core code. Meredith reminded us all to use Launchpad to log any bugs or new features and to go in there and vote for anything already existing we’d like to see fixed or added. I think this will be an important part of the user group, as we can join together to target improvements we’d like to see. Finally, Meredith also raised the idea of an agnostic alumni site, which would allow students from any institution to host their Mahara portfolios, either as a place holder between institutions or after leaving. It might work as a subscription service, and could be a solution for the always on going issue of alumni access. I for one think it is worth exploring and hope it can be re-visited at a future user group. This makes it sound like Meredith was talking for a long time, this is not the case, rather she managed to mention lots of little things that are all deserving of mention, for completeness at least.

We then had a brief update from Sam of Southampton Solent University, who had been to the German Mahara Conference as a keynote speaker. She described what struck her most was the German government’s caution towards online tools, including Mahara. Whereas we are fighting to try and get our tutors to use these tools, in Germany they are only allowed to use them in special cases, and if the tutors want to use them they have to talk to the local government. Even still there are many of them trying to fight to get to use tools like Mahara, which is a stark contrast to the UK.

Roger Emery, who kindly helped organise and facilitate the user group was next up to present and he talked about how to customise the language and help files within Mahara. His method does not involve any core code hacks, and so makes upgrading easier. You would need to get in touch with him for exact details but it basically involves copying the original files (php for language and html for help) and then adding the copy to the local directory. This means that when Mahara is looking for the files, as they have the exact same name it will overwrite the original file with whatever is in the local directory. It also means you just have to re-add the local directory when you upgrade.

This ended the scheduled part of user group, and I am aware that this post has become quite long, but that is just how much good cotnent there was, and I’d hate to deny any of this information to thsoe who were not in attendance. I will try to be breifer in my description of the rest of the session.

After the agenda had run out there was still time left for some requested segments, which had come out of other elements of the day. First of all we had a sharing of useful plugins, including Open Badges, CPD and Linked plugins. We then discussed the Mahara group for this user group which is available from the official mahara.org website and is an open group (you just have to be logged in).

Finally we had some hands on help when Sarah asked about sharing a link to a single page within a collection, and I’m sure you will be able to find the test link in the Tweets from the day.

All of the tweets from the session (that used the hashtag #mugse) have been Storified: https://storify.com/Lilly_Stardust/mugse-2

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Essential Prezi – Resources

This is an example

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How ‘social’ does media need to be?

Just a thought really, my husband I were just having a ‘discussion’ on Skype about how he always finds cool stuff on social media channels (Reddit, Youtube etc) but then doesn’t share them with me. I then stumble across them maybe a week or month later and share them with him only to be told ‘yeah, I’ve already seen that’. My husband is a chronic lurker when it comes to social media where as I tend to almost spam my feeds with a range of content I find interesting.

In our ‘discussion’ I suggest to my other half that outlets such as YouTube et al are called ‘social’ media because they are platforms for content, ie ‘media’ which is ‘social’ eg. interactions with other people. Therefore the whole purpose of social media is to share it, comment on it and generally interact with the content and other people. As a counter position my husband was arguing, I mean discussing, that the social element isn’t the important part, it is simply media. He proposed that it is ‘his’ media, and he can consume and share or not share that as he feels appropriate/ motivated to do so.

While my martial Skype discussions may not be a fascinating subject for a post it did make me wonder, how ‘social’ does social media need to be? Should we encourage people that it is okay to passively consume content without offering anything back, colloquially referred to as ‘lurking’. Of course it would be unreasonable to expect individuals to constantly contribute/ share content, and sometimes we do wish to simply consume it for our own purposes, in a slightly more private manner, but should some return be expected? Perhaps social media accounts could have a minimum post threshold per month or per year and if it is not met the account is presumed inactive and deleted? Or perhaps this is a bit harsh. After all many suggest the internet is about freedom, and therefore this must extend to ones freedom to consume without offering anything in exchange.

This purpose of this post was not to reach a conclusion, but rather to put the thought out there, if any one has any opinions then please feel free to comment, or not…it’s your choice.

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Your face is mine, sweetheart.

This is an issue I have been contemplating for a while, as I often wonder how I will tackle it. Posting images of your children.

I am not going into a rant about how annoying it is, because lets be honest, if someone is going to post lots of pictures of their kids that is their right. I also happen to personally think it is adorable and not annoying.  As an audience for their posts you can easily remove them from your timeline or de-friend them entirely. There is also the very real possibility that they will also talk about their kids a lot in person as well as online. If you also find this annoying it is possible you and they have simply reached a cross roads in your relationship and are heading in different directions, it might be time to shut up and move on, or shut up and accept that it is only because they love their kid(s) so much, that is not a social faux pas but is in fact just called being a parent.

As usual, I digress. What I have been thinking about is actually from a wanna-be parents perspective whether I should post pictures of my future children at all. Do I own the right to their face, their body, their image? Would I otherwise run around their entire nursery, primary, secondary, college, university or office with pictures of them from their past? Do I wan to be the reason some kid they don’t get on with has a photo of them in nappies? On the other hand, as this is not an issue I alone face their is the possibility everyone in their class will face a similar problem and so perhaps baby photos will no longer be viewed as embarrassing but as cute. Parents of the future may well need to find new ways to embarrass their kids in front of potential love interests.

With this issue it is not just future children and the potential change in how baby photos are viewed that come into play with this subject. Even if I were to decide not to post images of my future children, at least until they were old enough to consent (whenever that might be), I am not the only person with a camera. Much like many idealistic goal parents set out with family and friends can often stomp all over them. My father had the ambition of not allowing me sweets, as he thought if I was never allowed them I would never crave them and that would be better for my overall health. If only that plan had worked, but unsurprisingly it lasted until I was about 2 years old when a little old lady in the boulangerie near the campsite we were staying at in France decided that as we had become regulars over the trip, and I was rather adorable as a baby she would give me some sweets. My Father could hardly tell the kindly old boulangerie owner off, and once they were in my hand it couldn’t take them away from his little princess either. And that is why an old french lady is to blame for me not being a model. Long story short, other people are likely to post photos of my kids as well. I am not suggesting they would do this out of malice, but rather because they too will think my kids are super awesome and want to share that with the world. I can of course firmly, but kindly tell everyone not send photos to me via text or private message and to not post them online, but that can’t guarantee they will listen or adhere. If they do post stuff I would then be faced with the difficult decision of either abandoning yet another ideal (I’m sure my family and friends will foil other perfect plans as well) or asking them to remove the image. The latter shouldn’t be an issue but there is the very real risk of alienating or insulting one of the people I hold closest and want most to be involved with the future kids.

Say instead I decided that I do want to post images of my future children. After all I just have to show how cute they are, or visualise the impressive feats they have accomplished. Social media was designed to share important things like this with those closest to you, and I’m sure my family and friends would welcome the break between news, PETA and Greenpeace posts. Lets also assume that I am no longer worried about the future as I realise that social media will alter how future generations view themselves, others and photographs in general. Then I still have the rest of the world to contend with, and the potential that what I see  as an innocent beach snap or potty training moment could be seen as sinister. Before you suggest I am being far-fetched let me share this article from the Huffington Post about two examples of mother’s having images they had taken of their children removed because they were considered pornographic.

If those images were posted privately perhaps there wouldn’t have been an issue, but there is still the potential and I have read many other stories of breastfeeding pictures, shared privately, that have been removed due to complaints. Perhaps this highlights another issue we face with social media, and learning how to narrow down our target audiences better. After all, we would carefully filter who we share such information with in person, but online immediate family, distant family,  close friends, old friends, new friends, co-workers and friends of friends are all mixed in for what we share with ‘friends’. Some social tools do allow this type of filtering, but as a general population we are not great at using it yet, I predict this is something that will change as time moves on. After all not everything is for general public consumption.

So I have yet to decide how I will deal with these issue. A lot of it depends on what has happened between now and when I do eventually have children, and of course I wouldn’t make any decision until I was at least pregnant (which I am not). I further predict that I wouldn’t even make a call on this issue until [push came to shove.  It is also possible I will change my mind on the subject, which could prove problematic once images have been posted. I think this perhaps further supports the need to be forget, as who of us would be happy if our parents all took to social media tomorrow to post pictures of us before were kids.

We all want to be in control of our own image, whether that is present, future or past – the question is will our future children share this concern, or will ones image mean something different by the time they are old enough to consent?

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Social media has no deadline

As part of my job as a Learning Technologist I often have to deal with online assessments, whether they be submission via the VLE (using either in innate tools or Turnitin) or on our Mahara e-portfolio platform. Every now and then I am faced with the challenge of a member of staff wishing to use a social media platform (external blog for example) to run and assessment and how can we lock this down at the deadline? There is normally some uncomfortable work-around I can come up with such as taking screenshots, or downloading a version of the content to submit an non-live version. I call these workaround uncomfortable because for me they do not address the core issue.

The real discussion for me is about the conflict of using ‘slicker’ external tools and being able to lock the student’s work for assessment. We should consider whether ‘locking’ and ‘deadlines’ are compatible with creating an online multimedia site, especially using social media. Although professionals using social tools may have deadlines (e.g. a deadline by which to set up the campaigns Facebook account or by when to have developed the blog/ website) they do not expect the sites to be locked down at this stage. Quite the opposite in fact, they expect the pages/ sites to be live at the deadline. To have been launched into the public sphere and to be received external engagement. It is this conflict of external social tools being designed to be open, and traditional assessments being designed to be closed and lock that means we often tend to try and persuade staff members to base their assessment son internal tools, which may offer features similar to social media, such as those found in Mahara. Using these internal tools means, everything is backed up on institutional servers, we can (better) control down-time for the system and we can ensure assessment are locked at the deadline.

It is no secret I am a fan of Mahara, despite its flaws, but I do think there is room for the exploration of other tools as well. The problem, as I previously mentioned, is that many external tools are more advanced than the policy and practices involved in Higher Education. Is it time we considered moving past the concept of deadlines? I realise that their purpose is to ensure fairness by making sure no-one person gets more time because their work was marked last. A possible solution for this could be to have presentation day, where all of the students must come together in a hall or computer cluster and load up their sites. An assessor or assessors can then mingle around the room, looking at the sites and talking to the students about what they did and didn’t manage in the time frame, why they choose to do x or y etc. If you do not wish for students to be their to explain themselves then perhaps the sites must be loaded and then the students leave the room and enter a holding room where they cannot make any changes and have their technology removed from them. Maybe they could be made to do an exam during this time.

Whatever the solution may be I certainly think that social media is challenging our traditional assessment structures, it is very difficult to use a tool designed for openness in a closed environments. The easy answer is to ban them, but we are disadvantaging our students if we do not at least consider all of the possible tools available to assist their learning and development.

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Capturing tweets

I received a question at work about how to capture tweets for review at a later date. I thought I would share the advise I gave on here for two reasons:

1) It might be useful to someone who reads this blog (unlikely but you never know).

2) It might make it easier for me to find if I ever need to give the same advise again (more likely)

So here it is – how to capture tweets:

It is easiest to capture tweets if there is a common thread connecting them, like a hashtag.

For collecting tweets from a conference, I would normally use something like Storify: https://storify.com/ which will let you collect and arrange tweets.

Alternatively if you set up a hashtag you can always register it with a service like Twubs: http://twubs.com/ which will allow you to collect all of your tweets for use later (and goes back longer than Twitter’s interface).

I hope this is helpful.

If anyone has any other tips they’d like to add please leave them as a comment :)

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Social Media addiction, from Newsnight

A colleague shared this segment from Monday’s Newsnight, about potential social media addiction. I watching it and was pleasantly surprised to find a fairly well rounded, reasonable and well balanced piece about addiction. It was not the usual millennial bashing or scaremongering nonsense you get from many media outlets.

I would recommend giving it a viewing for yourselves:

Newsnight: Social Media Addiction

http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/b04004mw/?t=29m46s

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MUGSE – Initial meeting

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:

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Potential scenarios for MUGSE

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.

Potential scenario for MUGSE – Mahara User Group Southern England

Potential scenario for MUGSEE – Mahara User Group South East England

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S is for System, not Sorcery

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…

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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

 

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