User Guide/0 Introduction
Welcome to the Mahara User Guide! This user guide is designed to provide documentation for people who will use Mahara on a day-to-day basis. This document is designed to be read by any user of Mahara, as most users will have access to the features documented here. Site and Institution Administrators (will eventually) have separate user guides.
Without any further ado, let's begin!
What is Mahara?
If you're wondering what Mahara or an e-portfolio is, why you might want one and what it can do for you, then read on - you're about to find out.
At the simplest level, Mahara is two things: an e-portfolio and a social networking system combined. An e-portfolio is a system in which students can record "evidences of lifelong learning" - such as essays, artwork or other such things they produce that can be stored digitally. Such things are known as artefacts in Mahara. Social networking systems need little introduction - think Myspace, Facebook or Bebo. Basically, they give a way for people to interact with their friends and create their own online communities.
But Mahara is much more than just a place to store files. Mahara also includes blogging, a resumé builder, Moodle integration and the standout views framework.
What are Views?
Views give students a way to display their artefacts in a way they choose, to the people they want to see them. For instance, a student could have one view that contains a journal of their progress and some notes for a project they are currently doing, visible only to their teachers. Also, they could have another view, showing photos from their holiday in Scotland, that their friends can see.
This framework gives users tremendous flexibility in how their data is shown to others. Furthermore, they are not restricted to just placing artefacts in their views - Mahara allows users to insert Youtube videos, Flickr photos, RSS feeds and much more. And the entire framework is pluggable - so anything you imagine could become part of a view, simply by writing a new plugin.
The Mahara framework
With Mahara, you control which items and what information within your portfolio other users see. Such items and information are termed artefacts. To facilitate this access control, all artefacts you wish to show to other users need to be arranged into one area. In Mahara this compilation of selected artefacts is called a View. You can have as many Views as you like, each with a different collection of artefacts, and intended purpose and audience. Your audience, or the people you wish to give access to your View, can be added as individuals or as a member of a Group. It can even be made publicly available.
For example you could create a View for your friend and family that includes holiday photos and a personal Blog. You could create another View for your tutor, which includes assessments and your reflective learning journal. You could create a third View to showcase your best pieces of work and your resumé for potential employers. In fact you can create as many Views as you wish for work, study and leisure purposes.
The diagram below of example artefacts, Views and groups illustrates how content in Mahara can be shared and reused in different contexts and for different audiences.
How does Mahara fit in to the e-learning landscape?
If you think of LMSes such as Moodle, Sakai and Blackboard as the formal, structured side of e-learning, then Mahara is the social, reflective side. An LMS and an e-portfolio complement one another in an online learning environment.
In particular, while Mahara's APIs are open to all, Mahara can integrate with Moodle to provide a streamlined user experience. Currently this is limited to SSO, but from Moodle 2.0, students will be able to export assignments, blogs and much more straight into Mahara to use as artefacts (which can then, of course, be placed into views).
What if Mahara does not support a feature I want?
Mahara has been designed from the ground up to be an open, pluggable system. Creating new artefacts, authenticating against a custom system and much more can be implemented simply through writing a plugin that uses the appropriate core API. What this means is that it is free and easy for you to customise almost anything about Mahara to suit your needs - and paid support is available from the creators of Mahara should you require.
Other things to do
Now you have a basic idea of what Mahara is, you could: