Review of The Mahara 1.4 Cookbook by Ellen Marie Murphy

The Mahara 1.4 Cookbook by Ellen Marie Murphy claims to present readers with ‘over 50 recipes for using Mahara for training, personal or educational purposes’, and this reviewer is happy to say that it delivers exactly that!

Mahara is a widely used open source ePortfolio system that allows users to build dynamic and engaging portfolios in no time.  This book thinks outside the ePortfolio box and shows readers how to apply for jobs, create a body of work, organise work for certification and accreditation, support teaching and learning, develop classroom projects and even create their own social network. So, in a nutshell, it looks at features users may not have explored and shows how to use them in ways they may not have considered and is of particular interest to anyone interested in building an ePortfolio or in helping others to develop their own.

The book also provides guidance in the use of open source programmes and applications such as Gimp, Picasa and Audacity that can be used in tandem with Mahara and provides the reader with techniques for creating dynamic and engaging templates, showcases, portfolios and professional resume packages.

The book is split into 8 very specific chapters that cover 8 very individual projects: Mahara for the Visual Arts looks at showcasing and reflecting upon a body of work while Literature and Writing examines how Mahara can assist with first and second language acquisition, journals and poetry books and provides a short tutorial on using Gimp, a free image manipulation programme.  The Professional Portfolio reflects upon resumes, CVs, letters of application and references while Working with Groups looks at building a newspaper, setting up web pages and how to make templates, with a very useful tutorial looking at how to create a group newspaper using newsfeeds from student journals.  The Primary Education Portfolio is a fantastic chapter for anyone wanting to use Mahara imaginatively and looks, among other things, at creating classroom pages to share with families, setting up a slideshow to create a book and using ‘secret URLs’ for setting access levels: something vital if working with younger students.

The Social Portfolio is a fun look at how to ‘pimp’ a profile page, add slideshows, write on a user’s wall, and even add features such as a visitor counter and Twitter feed, whereas The College Application Portfolio talks about building a college entrance portfolio creating an academic achievements page and recording extracurricular activities and work experience logs.  Finally, Certification and Accreditation Portfolio for Higher Education looks at how to build the ECIS International Teacher portfolio, creating access pages for outside viewers and archiving portfolios.

At a personal level I do like the way the chapters concentrate on individual projects and uses for Mahara, enabling educators and learners who may be hard-pressed for time to dip into chapters that are relevant rather than having to read the book from cover to cover. This is definitely not a wordy publication, with each chapter’s introduction clearly stating what the chapter is about briefly and succinctly.

Instructions, as with all books by PACKT are clearly written and chronological with keywords emboldened and box outs show warnings or important notes, tips and tricks. Colour illustrations contextualise written instructions, making this a book for people with a range of learning styles.

Definitely recommended reading, whether you are new to the concept of ePortfolios and thinking of using Mahara or already use it but want to see what it can really do.

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