I worked with Mahara since June 2007 at Danube University Krems, Austria at www.mahara.at. At the moment I am involved in different ePortfolio projects at the University for Teacher Education in Vienna, Austria:
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Most of my work is in German - only some results are published in English.
In July 2009 the Department for Interactive Media and Educational Technology of the Danube University for Continous Education in Krems, Austria organized an international conference on the potential of E-Portfolios for Higher Education.
The conference proceedings are focusing on crucial aspects like implementation models and case studies, international experiences, information ethics, didactical implications and interoperability of software systems, this book provides a critical overview of recent research and practical experience with regard to e-portfolios.
My part at the conference was to organize a session about implementation strategies and different case studies of E-Portfolios in several German speaking universities (the presentations of this session are available here).
My contribution offers an overview of various strategies for the implementation of e-portfolios at Austrian universities. It discusses four different approaches (strategy models A to D) and describes the necessary organisational framework for successful conception and implementation processes. The development of the four strategy models is based on theoretical insights from current international literature on e-portfolio implementation, on papers about a taxonomy of e-portfolios as well as an empirical study. This study (interviews with project managers and students) comprises of six case studies carried out at Austrian institutions of higher education and was conducted within the framework of the project “Case studies for implementation strategies for integrated e-portfolios within the tertiary education sector“funded by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Science and Research (bm:wf). The four strategy models discussed in this article are: A. Design of development portfolios as a university service, B. Learning portfolios as a teaching/learning method in individual courses, C. Evaluation and showcase portfolios as integral parts of technology or media related courses of study, D. Combination of the models A, B and C in connection with a university-wide strategy. The article offers a basic description of these four models, more detailed information is available in the study report, which is in possession of the bm:wf (a preprint version for personal use is attached)
Model C is based on the E-Portfolio implementation at the study course "eEducation, MA". The virtual environment uses a bundle of tools and technologies, the most important are Moodle as LMS, Media Wiki for collaboration and Mahara. The following figure shows how the students use Mahara to create portfolio views for assessment:
It's quite difficult to say which software is an E-Portfolio software. According to this there are less systematic evaluations of E-Portfolio systems so we conducted an evaluation within a research project to provide decision guidance for implementing E-Portfolios in (Austrian) higher education in 2008. We developped a taxonomy for E-Portfolios and created a criteria list based on the WCET feature list published 2006 at http://eportfolio.edutools.info/.
Considering our propositions and minimum requirements, a list of roughly around 60 E-Portfolio providers was created at the end of January 2008. The evaluation of the software products was carried out in the period of April/May 2008 by a panel of 25 E-Portfolio experts, using our weighted criteria list. After the last evaluation period in June/July 2008 a shortlist of 12 products was created that can be recommended for E-Portfolio implementations in higher education:
The additional category “effort for first time installation” describes the time expenditure the institution has to count on if it prepares its platform and the users for portfolio work. Epsilen, Exabis, Mahara and PebblePad are “out of the box” systems, which can be used right after the first time installation. Factline, Fronter, Sakai and Taskstream are systems with a modular design principle and hold the advantage that they are very flexible. But, on the other hand, they also require basic adaptations in cooperation with the provider. A similar situation applies to the Blogging software Wordpress. Drupal ED and Movable Type as CMS, as well as the social networking software Elgg are, after the first time installation, just conditionally suitable for portfolio work and require certain adaptations and additional installations, in order to provide users with the full comfort of an E-Portfolio software.
The section “collecting, organizing, selecting“ shows a very pleasant result: most of the products are recommendable in this category. A result which is by far worse was achieved concerning the boilerplates for “reflecting, testing, verifying and planning”; just Taskstream is thoroughly convincing in this category. For the composition of a presentation portfolio Factline, Mahara, PebblePad, Sakai and Taskstream can be highly recommended. But it has to be mentioned that Drupal ED, Elgg, Movable Type and Wordpress did not achieve the best assessment in this category because an individual access policy and keeping more portfolios at once are not possible or just possible in a very laborious way. In regard to the category “administrating”, five products are highly recommendable; in the “usability” section this holds true for only three products, namely the three “big” open-source projects Drupal, Elgg and Wordpress.
Mahara and PebblePad represent the most balanced products, which can be used for portfolio work without huge time expenditure for installation. Both systems require some acclimatization effort but – once their logic is clear – they are easy to handle. However, it has to be said that by abstaining from traditional structures of homepages (e.g. menu navigation, data management), PebblePad cuts its own idiosyncratic path. As “learning suites“ Sakai, Taskstream and Fronter offer, in addition to an E-Portfolio tool, various other tools to support teaching and learning processes; that is why they might under certain circumstances be interesting for institutions which want to install a learning platform as well. Wordpress, Drupal ED, Elgg and Movable Type are completely different software types, but they can definitely be used for the purpose of portfolio work. Although they all require a relatively high adaptation effort at first time installation, they have the advantage, that they represent successful open-source projects with a huge and active community. They are the best available technology and offer individually configurable solutions through various plugins. The Factline Community Server also offers the user individual solutions. But by employing a very particular concept, the software is not easy to handle for newcomers and certainly requires a much more intensive study. Exabis provides Moodle users with an easily operated and structured data pool with an export function, which is hardly offered by any other tool. On the other hand, Exabis shows serious weaknesses concerning the support of portfolio processes, especially in regard to the design of a presentation portfolio. Epsilen is a simple and clearly arranged system, which offers support for designing an E-Portfolio as a personal homepage. But at the same time it is also highly inflexible; the scope for design is very limited and the technology is partly antiquated, which calls for the further development of the software.
The results are available in different versions: