Digi Domi

Sharing my passion for technology and learning.

Together we better: User groups whys and hows

Here you can find the poster I presented at Mahara Hui UK 2015. You can find a video version of this poster on YouTube – which was created for AAEEBL 2015 in Boston.


Together We Are Better Poster A3

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Together we are better: user groups why and how by Domi Sinclair is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Thoughts from AAEEBBL conference 2015

Recently I was fortunate enough to attend and present at AAEEBL 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. You might be wondering what AAEEBL stands for and what this event was all about, especially if you have never heard of it before. The Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning focuses on the usage of portfolios at their annual conference. In fact one of the key points to come out of the conference was a consensus that as a community we should stop referring to e-portflios (or eportfolios depending on your preference), which is distracting and in many cases superfluous. Instead it is time we just talk about portfolios and focus on the pedagogy. This conference was very much aimed at focusing on the pedagogy, and in most cases the tool used was almost irrelevant to the presentation. In education it is far too easy to get caught up in our own silos, whether that is a department based silo or a tool based silo. When we stop and look to the outside we can often find valuable input we would have otherwise missed.

Collaboration was also a key theme from the conference. To make a portfolio effective involves everyone working together. It involves tutors and students having a clear dialogue about what is expected in the portfolio. It also can benefit from peer-to-peer collaboration, whether that is academics helping one another out with creative ideas/support or students giving each other tips and feedback. It can also involve working with your local learning technologies support team (e-learning support) to combine their technology and pedagogical knowledge with a tutor’s subject expertise and student experience.

The final key theme I’d like to highlight is badges. There were a number of presentations and a keynote on the use of badges with portfolios. This seems like a natural fit as portfolios are a great way of collecting evidence for a badge. A badge in turn is a nice way to recognise competencies or skills that might not otherwise be acknowledge by assessment criteria or formal credit. The McArthur Foundation have produced a video which explains the basics of what a badge is, if you are still unsure.

If you’d like to get a wider overview of the conversations from AAEEBL then please see my Storify, collecting my tweets and all the best other tweets from the event.

You can also see my presentation on utilizing the (portfolio) community: https://youtu.be/wcFBsON_-6Q.

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MUGSE 3: Royal Veterinary College (RVC)

The third meeting of MUGSE was held on Friday and kindly hosted by Ben at RVC. This was the first meeting in London and there was a nice mix of experienced and new users. We were also very lucky to have Don Christie from Catalyst IT in attendance.

The session kicked off with a round table of questions and issues. Everyone got to ask a Mahara question or describe a problem they are having. We then worked through the list and crowd-sourced answers and solutions from the mixed experience at the group. This was showed just why user groups are so powerful and useful, as we were able to prove that many minds are better than one.  Some of the questions and problems that came up included:

  • Wanting to see examples of practice
  • How to Auto create groups?
  • Moodle integration
  • If anyone else was using Institutions
  • Open badging in Mahara
  • Who will be moving to the new version in April?

Most of these had answers, some of which will be touched on in the rest of this post, and as for those that aren’t, well that is why you need to come along to a user group meeting.

After our group discussions, we had a short break before moving into the presentation half of the session. This began with Roger and Sam from Southampton Solent University (SSU) telling us about their Mahara help, which is integrated into the ‘i’ information buttons. They have come up with a system so that each ‘i’ button provides three key areas of information, what is this, how do you use it, and a link to examples. Roger kindly informed the group that SSU’s help pages are open and publicly accessible via: http://mahara.solent.ac.uk/ Sam then took over from Roger to share some case study videos she had made with staff and student’s at SSU who have used Mahara as part of their course. Although we only watched clips of the videos, these are also available for anyone to access online, though Sam did add the caveat that they need a little more editing, they are very helpful: http://mahara.solent.ac.uk/casestudies

Following on from the SSU presentation was Don Christie from Catalyst IT who explained the Mahara release cycle and then gave an overview of the upcoming version. He told the group that the April release has some small changes to the UX, such as the ability to comment on artefacts (not just pages). more importantly is the introduction of web services, which will allow many new functions to be carried out and plugged in. Don also gave us a sneaky peak to the future and said that they have been working on bootstrap for an upcoming version of Mahara (not the April one but possibly the October release). He then wrapped up his section by asking if anyone in the community could send Catalyst wire-frames of ideal workflows in Mahara to improve the way the system works, as we have more experience of using the system in the real world. This might include being able to share from the files area instead of having to put stuff on a page or anything else you think would make Mahara easier to use.

Last, but hopefully not least, I finished the session by talking about the importance of utilising the community through various channels, including:

It was pointed out that I missed out contributing code, and of course this is very important as well, although might be less accessible for some people, but if you can then this is always a valuable contribution. In regards to making the best use of MUGSE and the Mahara Tracker, I also suggested that we could pool our resources and target particular bugs or feature requests, either by all voting for them or by pulling together funding if multiple institutions are willing to contribute a small amount. It is worth a try.

If you would like to attend a future MUGSE then please keep an eye on the Twitter account @mugseUK or direct message it or me if you would be willing to host a session. The next meeting will likely be after the MaharaHui.

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Son, respect my privacy!

I was watching a BuzzFeed video where they got people to read their old Facebook statuses, as you can imagine it’s pretty funny and embarrassing, sometimes they have no idea why the wrote posts but there they are, available for always. You can watch it on YouTube:

At the end of the video one of the people makes an interesting comment. She says that one day all of this will be available for her kids to just scroll through, then she comes up with a plan ‘no, I won;t friend them’. At the moment there is the classic battle of children/ young people being frustrated and embarrassed by their parents trying to friend them on Facebook, because they want to protect their privacy and maybe keep certain things from their parents. This ladies comment made me think, will my generation (I’m currently 25) be trying to stop our kids from friending us, to protect out historic privacy? Could future dinner conversation be about ‘mum, why haven;t you accepted my friend request? Aren’t we friends’ ‘No darling, we are friends but I think it’s best to protect your privacy’ ‘it’s fine mum, I’m web-smart and wouldn’t post anything online I wouldn’t want the world to see’

Yeah well, mummy’s generation hadn’t quite learnt that but I’m not sure I’ll want to share that with my kids. I don;lt want to say ‘we can;t be friends because i might have some embarrassing posts from when I was younger’. If they are anything like me that will spark their curiosity and they’ll have found the stuff 15 minutes later with or without a friend request.

Perhaps we will have to be more open about our past with our children. After all, I was always taught honesty is the best policy.

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Credit where credit is due.

For certain reflective, portfolio based professional accreditation and titles you are required to detail your impact and influence in the High Education (HE) community. Trying to assess if you’ve had an impact on people within HE is pretty difficult. It’s a pretty abstract thing to contemplate, and certainly for me difficult to evidence. People tend not to email me after a presentation to say how much the appreciated it and detail what changes they will make based upon it. Does that mean I’m not having an impact and should stop presenting? Sometimes kind people will come up to me afterwards and say they enjoyed a presentation, or say something nice like ‘thank you’. How am I supposed to capture that? Should I wear a wire? Or say ‘thank you so much, I’m glad it was helpful. If you could just send that to me in an email so I can later potentially use it as evidence in a qualification or bid for promotion that would be great!’. That all feels a little bit more arrogant an egotistical than I’m (currently) happy with.

To that effect, when I’ve been to a presentation or read an article that has impacted how I think and perhaps enhanced or changed my practice would I ever think to then contact that person and let them know? My current behavior would say no, I don’t and so that person would never know what a positive and helpful effect they’ve had on me. Should I let them know? They might also find it helpful for a job application, qualification or accreditation. Personally I’d feel a bit creepy contacted someone unprompted with that kind of praise. Is that just a British thing? There is no reason I should be socially concerned about giving someone a compliment or telling them they’ve helped me, most people like to hear that kind of thing and it would probably make the person (and me) happy if I did do it.

I suppose I will try and Tweet someone if they have done a good presentation to say it was good, but even that can feel a bit gushy. As such a tweet is instantaneous, it is unlikely I would follow up and tell them what impact they might have had on my practice long term. Should I offer follow-up?

This post is mostly just questions, I do realise, but it is mostly a though exercise for myself, and I felt that others might also benefit from reflecting on these questions. If you do have any thoughts, answers or suggestion feel free to post them in the comments.

If you changed something because of someone else, would you tell them?

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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.


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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