As we start the new academic term in the Northern Hemisphere, many universities, colleges, schools and other training establishments will be looking to use Mahara as both an eportfolio and social networking site. We’ve been fans of Mahara here at OurLearning for several years now, and have showcased the latest 1.5 features on this blog. Irt was with eager anticipation then that we received our copy of Packt’s Mahara ePortfolios. This book, a significantly updated version of the earlier 1.2 Mahara Beginners’s guide, overcomes two major challenges and does it very well.
First off, it’s a team effort, being co-written by Mahara experts Richard Hand, Derrin Kent and Thomas W Bell. Kudos to any authors who can produce a book collaboratively where chapters move seamlessly from one to another without any unsettling change in style or approach.
Secondly, the book, one of Packt’s Beginner’s Guides, actually tries to do more than just be a Beginner’s Guide and attempts to be All Things To All Men. And achieves it! You can get something from the book whether you are a student wishing to get to grips with Mahara for your own personal use, a teacher or tutor needing to understand Mahara to use with your class or an administrator setting up Mahara for an institution. The latter, a more technical aspect, is dealt with neatly in an appendix the end of the book along with another appendix offering very helpful advice on implementing Mahara in your institution (free download here) Having these in appendices leaves the book itself free to explain Mahara in an easy to read user friendly manner. It’s also made clear at the start that whether you are an inchworm (likes to be taken through, step by step) or a grasshopper (likes to hop around bits of information) you will get something out of this book, and we found this very much to be the case.
The chapters are arranged in a logical order, building up knowledge as you go along. You can see the chapter order and more detail on the Packt site here. We liked the use of four case studies – people from different establishments with differing needs – as this made Mahara accessible to a variety of users. Something for everyone! And even if you are the techie guy (or girl) who is going to implement and install Mahara using the appendices at the back, we really do recommend you read through the main chapters as they give a very good overview of how Mahara is used in institutions by tutors and learners and will help you better understand any potential queries that might come your way.
The book is very much “hands on” – if you don’t have your own instance of Mahara, either in your institution or set up by you then Chapter 2 points you in the direction of sites online to enable you to practise anyway. We move from customising your own space, to creating and collecting content, to organising and sharing your portfolio and then we go into the networking side of Mahara, investigating groups. Chapter 6 will be of particular interest to tutors who wish to use Mahara for assessment, and Chapter 7 deals with really useful extensions such as CPD, My Learning, Embedly and so on. Throughout the book, fun and friendly “pop quizzes” test our learning.
Conclusion: This is a book that would sit well on the shelves not only of students or tutors but also of administrators – inchworm or grasshopper; you will certainly end up with a sound appreciation of Mahara.