Mahara 1.2 ePortfolios: Beginners Guide
By Derrin Kent, Richard Hand, Glenys Bradbury and Margaret Kent
Packt Publishing, £24.99, ISBN: 978-1-847199-06-5
This recent publication provides an accessible introduction to using Mahara within business and academic settings. It is great to see that the authors’ work for TDM, who provide Mahara & Moodle based solutions for a broad range of clients. This professional experience has contributed to a coherent and easy to follow text that provides essential information for new users. This comes as no surprise, as many individuals within the academic sector regularly benefit from Derrin’s advice within mailing lists concerned with educational technologies
Covering key functionality that the reader should be aware of, the book comprises of 7 main chapters dealing with reasons for using an Mahara, set up of account, adding artefacts, creating portfolio views, creating & managing groups, interacting with friends, overall site settings and administration. TDM have also provided an installation of Mahara for readers of the book to interact with, if they do not have access to an installation of their own.
Looking at this from the perspective of higher education, I can see this publication being used in two main ways. Academics can dip in and out of the publication to cement their understanding and it can also be used in formulating support for students who are using Mahara for the first time. For both of these purposes, the authors’ previous experience of writing instructional text for technology shines through, with flowing informal writing that is easy to digest and a logical stepped approach to introducing each of the key features. Use of screenshots is intelligently done and you are provided with questions to test your understanding within every chapter. I particularly liked the ‘Have a go hero’ sections provided throughout the book, which are designed to encourage deeper investigation by the reader.
Other highlights include Derrin’s example of a multi-page Mahara view, an easy to understand explanation of tagging and its great to see the authors highlighting the importance of folder structures for files that you may store online. The publication also deals with quality checklists for information that you publish online, which is important to consider from an accessibility perspective.
For a new edition, there are only a few improvements that the authors could consider. The main area for improvement relates to the provided case studies, which are referred to at appropriate points within chapters. These are designed to illustrate how Mahara functionality can be used in particular situations and they manage to fulfil this purpose. This useful idea could be significantly enriched if case study examples were integrated into TDM’s companion Mahara installation for readers to access. This would also help to encourage active community involvement around the installation, which could bring further collaborative benefits between readers in the future. It is also worth mentioning that the index could be improved for those that want to dip in and out of content.
I can whole-heartedly recommend this publication to anyone who is intending on using Mahara for the first time. If you need a more general academic justification for using ePortfolios or looking for a way to compare the different solutions available for use, you would be better off looking somewhere else. This book is unashamedly for those who have already considered this and have come to the conclusion that Mahara is the best fit. With the close integration of Moodle with Mahara on the horizon, using this book to learn the basics becomes a no brainer for those who already have this popular open source VLE."