This is how I, Angelique Bodart, am encouraging and supporting the usage of Mahara at Cranfield University.  There are always two sides to a story, here's mine versus the user (teacher or student).

Learning Technologist experience

DESIGNING a group work page to share with sponsors

Written by:
Angelique Bodart, Learning Technologist

The spark:

ELF ticksheet mini verticle.pngAt Cranfield Defence and Security (CDS) we work with academic staff to develop their modules, on Moodle and pedagogically, with regards to incorporating learning technology. We call these Module MOTs. 

During one of these Module MOTs with Bec McKeown, we discussed how the Organisation Development module (part of the Information Capability Management MSc) was currently being taught and assessed, and any barriers to engaging students with the content.  The main issue that cropped up was that some sponsors felt student commitment to the group project wasn’t 100% because students weren’t sharing their progress and the final report, detailing recommendations, was vague.  Were students leaving it til the last minute to do the write-up?  Were students communicating with the sponsors regularly enough to ensure they had all the intel they needed in order to progress the project? 

The Module Leader wanted a method of

  • Checking student progress.
  • Encouraging students to share their progress with their sponsor.
  • Enabling the sponsor to visibly feedback to the students throughout.
  • Keeping a record for students to refer back to when completing their summative assessment.

The fire

Mahara can help with all of those things! I’m not a Mahara bod (Moodle’s my baby) but I’d seen the good work Sam Taylor had done with other academics so knew of its amazingness and the different ways it could be used…I just didn’t know how to do it technically.  I invited Sam to meet with Bec and I to help with the template creation.  And so the template you see before you was born.

The setup

The template includes the different elements of the work students are expected to complete as part of their project, including instructions to guide them through. We also decided to include a reflection section to encourage students to reflect on how the project went, what they could have done better etc.  What are the components used to create this thing of beauty?  Mainly the Notes block (so students can upload relevant information sent by the sponsors or interview notes).  We also placed the students in groups and gave them access to their pre-created individual group pages (5 groups in total) to make it easier for them to get started.

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Image: the Organisational Development group work template

Student support

To support students with the use of the template, as part of their pre-module task, they had to complete the CDS Mahara Induction online. I then delivered an in-class demo to introduce them to the template and how they were expected to use it, including how sponsors were to give feedback i.e. through the comments on their Mahara page (everything in one place, nice and organised).  Out of the three tasks I gave them during the demo what was their favourite?  Coming up with a team name!  It’s the simple things.  You just need to find the spark in order to make the fire.

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How did it work out in practice?...see the Module Manager's perspective ^


User experience

USING the group work page to engage sponsors

Written by:
Rebecca McKeown, Lecturer in Applied Psychology

My story:

The Organisational Development module forms part of the Information Capability Management MSc and is run once per year at Shrivenham.  The aim of the module is to provide students with the basis for using a systems thinking approach when considering the implementation of information systems within the wider organisational context.  For a number of years, the course has been run using flipped classroom principles e.g. Pre-reading consisting of the theory of systems thinking and introduction to a methodology, followed by practical implementation of the pre-reading during the taught component of the module.

The students were divided into groups of five and each given a ‘live’ case study – a problematic situation – then briefed by the sponsor who was either from the University or from an external organisation. During the taught week, the students were briefed on each stage then left to implement the methodology. At the end of the week, students present their results to the sponsors.  Mostly this has been successful with the sponsors getting some interesting results to consider and the students enjoy having a practical experience.  However, we have found that students were sometimes rushing through the methodology and missing things out.  We found it logistically difficult to spend time, in-between the teaching sessions, to coach each group sufficiently.  An ELF Module MOT offered up a solution – Mahara.


Image: Examples of student work in Mahara

Using Mahara as a place for students to record their progress throughout the week would enable to staff to see what was going on at each stage and provide timely and appropriate coaching.  We could also constantly give formative feedback very easily.

In addition to this, we cut down on the lectures so we didn’t duplicate any of the pre-reading. This gave the students more time to use Mahara and work on the case study.


Did it work?

Like a dream. We were able to access any of the groups work whenever we wanted.  This meant that we were able to provide written formative feedback for them to consider and implement immediately. We were able to keep a close eye on their progress and when we went to see them, we were able to coach appropriately and straight away rather than spending time finding out where they had got to. We felt that we were far more productive.

During the feedback session at the end of the module the students were unanimously in favour of the use of Mahara. They found it easy to use and appreciating having a template to guide them. Some students were cynical before the module, thinking it would be a waste of time and were quite happy to say the experience had completely changed their minds.

The sponsors liked having access to the Mahara page as it enabled them to communicate easily with the students throughout the week and to see progress.  They also felt it was good to have after the event as they will need to go back to the results as they implement change in their organisations. Previously they made notes during the presentation but didn’t have anything else.

My advice:

  1. Make sure you think carefully about why you are using Mahara and what ‘data’ you will want at the end of the exercise. We wanted to know what students were doing at each stage of the module but we also wanted them to be able to use the information from Mahara to write their essays. There was also a requirement for the sponsors to have permanent access to the pages and we had to consider their requirements too when designing the page.

  2. The students moaned about doing the Mahara Induction as part of their pre-reading as there was no explanation as to why they were being asked to do it. In future, I would explain the purpose of doing the exercise beforehand instead of in class.

  3. We found we needed a ‘secret area’ of Mahara. This came about because the groups wanted to store their raw data on Mahara but it would not be appropriate for sponsors to see that data. We resolved it by removing raw data from Mahara but, going forward, would like to see if this could be possible.

  4. During the ELF MOT we talked about assessing the Mahara page instead of asking the students to write an essay.  I asked the students what they thought of this idea at the end of the most recent module.  The answer was a surprising NO! They felt they would spend more time getting the Mahara page right than doing the work if it was assessed – it would detract from the learning experience.

  5. Videoing presentations: The sponsors would like to see this added to the page but the students were resistant to having it done on the module. Discussions during feedback showed that this was because they hadn’t received an adequate explanation of privacy etc, beforehand. We will introduce this properly next time.