TurboTEL 2013


I mentioned this year’s JISC SW TurboTEL in my last post here. I try to get to this particular event every year, and have presented at the last 3 events. The premise of TurboTEL is great: all presentations have to be delivered in 10 minutes, meaning that delegates can attend up to 12 presentations in one day, and meaning that all presentations have to be straight to the point. However, with four presentations running simultaneously at any one time this can make choice vast but difficult for those who have the misfortune of wanting to go to two presentations running at the same time: it’s like Sky+ without the ‘+’. Logistics aside, this year, as all years before it, was a proper success, so here’s a quick look at the day.

The first workshop I went to: Creating interactivity: going through technologies may not have had much new to show, it’s always heartening to see someone demonstrating stuff who speaks well, knows what works, what doesn’t work and how to use the equipment on show. After a whistle stop tour of questioning styles (which took me back to my teacher trainer days) we looked at the mimio – still doing the rounds after so any years, and still spending most of its time falling off a whiteboard. Next up – tools that hook up to interactive whiteboards such as the graphire tablet and voting kits like quizdom and smart response. Thank the Lord there are more flexible options than the voting pads of the old days. I have recently been drawn to BYOD and web-based voting sites and the ability to do more that have ‘yes / no’ or multiple choice questions. This then, teamed with students’ smartphones and tablets makes a lot of sense. Systems like Socrative allow people to share a mobile device and make duel responses. This ability to have multiple responders assigned to one device also renders the argument that not everyone has a smartphone or tablet moot.

What is augmented reality? provided a nice overview of AR and some ideas for use in an educational environment, but I’ve written about it elsewhere, so am moving on…

…Making to most of Mahara ePortfolios showed some imaginative use of the open source ePortfolio system, used in this instance with music students who uploaded audio tracks directly to their ePortfolios. Talking to presenter beforehand confirmed something I have suspected: that ePortfolios are Marmite, and staff and students either love or loathe them.

In a brave move, no prior training was given to staff or students, who were simply let loose on the system. When their pages had been individually customised (many looking oddly reminiscent of early MySpace pages) and their work uploaded and assessed, each student’s ePortfolio can be stored as an HTML zip file and transorted / uploaded elsewhere, linking into the notion of an ePortfolio for life. Curiously, some staff and students at the same institution are using Mahara as an alternative to Moodle (and Word). To replace a Virtual Learning Environment with an ePortfolio may sound like an unworkable mash up on paper, but with a heightened element of student ownership, no passwords and the security of a secret URL to send to invited people only, everything looks sparkly. One downside though: Mahara isn’t (currently) very accessibility friendly.

The next presentation, linked explicitly to the previous, showed how Plymouth College of Art are using Mahara as a professional portfolio with staff profiles, resumes, records of practice and details of research all added. This negates the need to go to HR every time staff details change and gets rid of the need to repeat details that are on other sites such as Linkdin. These can simply be…linked in. Again, the secret URL allows for invitation – only viewing, so makes for an interesting use for the software.

ePortfolios have been in the ILT ether for several years, yet there is still little take up, and what take up there is is currently not ‘brilliant’. Systems, apparently, are also not used brilliantly. With Cardiff University looking at using Mahara as their own ePortfolio system, it may be worth taking a look at a JISC publication: Crossing the threshold. For me, we need to have a sense of where the institution will be 3 or 5 years down the line. I think that a single login is also important, and if implemented, it’s important to collect evidence of emerging benefits to show other staff members down the line. As always, the learning should drive the technology, not the other way around. Vitally, time and money will also need to be spent in order to implement a range of proper support strategies. We should aim for consistent use across all programmes to make the experience simpler for all, so it may be worth setting up communities of users. On a technical scale, the university needs to plan for improvements of infrastructure. Use of ePortfolios should be embedded into institutional strategies and the curriculum design & review process. Finally, ePortfolio activity needs to be regularly reviewed and an ongoing part of the planning process.

The Edited Web began with a book recommendation for The filter bubble: what the Internet is hiding from you. There’s a 10 minute that’s worth checking out:

Ever been in this situation? picture the scene: there are two or more of you in the same room. You all happen to use Google to search for the exactly the same thing, using exactly the same search term. You expect to be presented with the same list of results…but each list looks different. And have you noticed all of this personalised news stuff on your Facebook feed? I keep getting adverts for sofas in Cardiff (I happened to be looking at the DFS website as few days ago), and money off offers for cosmetics for over forty year olds.

Back in 2009, Google hid a clause way, way down their list of terms and conditions. It told the use that it was starting its personalised search programme. That every individual will now have a search experience tailored to their literary, film and music preferences, their outside interests, location and profession. And even though they think they are helping you by doing this you will now realise that you have been aced inside your very own ‘Internet filter bubble’. And because you agreed to Google’s terms and conditions, this has been forced upon you. You have no choice. So. Will you now only see things where people agree with you? Does this mean Google et al are controlling what we see? Terrifyingly, does this mean I now have a purposely skewed idea of what’s happening out in the real world? Isn’t this all a bit Orwellian? I need a lie down and a cuppa.

Straw poll at lunch: who knows what a MOOC is? Of the 90 or so attendees, about a dozen put up their hands. This surprises me, as MOOCs are headline news at the moment aren’t they? Or have Google been tinkering with my web experience again…

Me up next…and I gave a presentation about content creation because it’s another thing that’s quite prominent in ILT at the moment, and could be a useful thing to for teachers and students to be aware of too. I can report with some relief that the presentation seemed to go down well. I’ll be putting it up here somewhere in the next few days too. No posts for ages, then three come along at once. You lucky buggers.

The day moved on to a look at some great ‘on the hoof’ audience participation tips for using voting pads and reference to groups of medical school students using these to vote for revision topics (and not waste time going over already familiar content), straw poll questions at the start of taught sessions, me again showing participants how Captivate 6 can be used for engaging online learning and assessment, then a very useful workshop called Video captioning made easy.

Here I learned that (apparently) audience engagement levels are 4 times higher when watching a film with captions but that captions often don’t relate information as accurately as they should. As a regular user of YouTube, I was a little ashamed to realise that it’s possible to caption a video on the ubiquitous site very simply.   However, it seems that when it comes to accessibility features in technology enhanced learning, I’m about as cutting edge as a betamax tape.  And that’s worrying because it’s something that should be at the back of my mind all of the time.

So, another year, another TurboTEL.  As always, it was entertaining, inspiring and informative, and it was great to see familiar faces from JISC and Cornwall College.

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.

ePortfolios. Brill or Bobbins?

I think they’re pretty brill, and here’s why…

 …I’m currently checking out an ePortfolio system for which the college has a licence, but is making little use of.  It’s called SkillWise and is probably very familiar to loads of educational establishments and businesses.  Having had a brief scan of the website and a chat with IT Services so that I can have a play, so far it all looks reasonably easy to use.  However, that’s not the real point of today’s post, which is about my ongoing love of ePortfolios and my frustration that nobody else seems to understand this strange love affair!


The shared office I have just left is packed to the rafters with ex-learners’ bulging, paper-based portfolios (some up to five years old).  They take up so much space there is barely room for anyone to work in there.  Were there to be a landslide of ring binders, people may get injured.  Paper cuts would be the least of their worries though – a heavy lever arch file with sharp corners falling from a high shelf can cause rather a lot of damage to one’s ears. I know this to be true. The obvious solution then would be to pack them up and stash them in the college‘s archives (all attempts to contact the portfolios’ owners having come to nothing).  Thing is, the college now has to charge for archive space, so this isn’t a viable option either.  Which is the first reason I like ePortfolios.  Here are a few more:


1.      They save space (yep, already mentioned that, but I’m neurotic and the list has to be complete)

2.      They save on travel time, and therefore petrol.  No more having to lug your portfolio on a 76 mile round trip that costs a fortune in fuel and takes a chunk out of your day.  And I just read that back as ‘They save on time travel’, which would be a ridiculous notion.  I mean, why would you want to curtail regular visits into the future / past?

3.      They save costs – and by that, I mean the cost of paper, ink and the electricity needed to power a printer.  And have you SEEN the cost of ring binders nowadays?  Tsk.

4.      External moderators can access learners’ work remotely, so have no need to travel from Invercargill to Cornwall to moderate one cohort’s work.  This, again, saves time, money and petrol.


I’ve been using ePortfolios for several years now and they haven’t cost me a penny!  (I’m assuming that ePortfolios from other companies can cost quite a lot of money).  Using Moodle, I’ve found that there’s a workaround.  That’s a lie.  I was told by someone who had discovered this for themselves, so it isn’t my invention.  Anyway, I now set up groups named after each learner, and then enrol that learner into their named group. I then give each group its own forum.  Moodle forums are very easy to use and learners can either type their work directly into them as a ‘forum post’ or can upload their work as an attachment to a forum post.  The beauty of the group system is that learners can see their own portfolio/forum mashup thingy, but nobody else’s.  However, as course teacher, I can access each portfolio – as can anyone else (such as a co-teacher or external moderator) as long as they have access as a teacher to the course.


My aforementioned frustration stems from the fact that both practitioners and learners alike seem to be very wary of ePortfolios.  Not sure if ‘wary’ is the right word actually.  Apathetic?  Confused?  They think that it’s going to be a really complicated and time consuming thing to implement and use? Maybe that someone will pull the plug on the ePortfolio provider and all their work will be lost?  Maybe it’s that feeling of having something tangible at the end of a course – a piece of work that can be held and seen and even smelled…and has physical substance?  But if that’s the case, then why are so many portfolios uncollected and mouldering in my old office?