Getting Started

Mahara is an e-portfolio technology.

An e-portfolio is a system in which students can record “evidence of learning” – such as essays, reports, reflective commentary, task lists, multi-media or artwork. Basically, anything that can be produced and stored digitally. These digital items are known as artefacts in Mahara.

It is more than just a place to store files as Mahara also provides ways for people to interact with their tutors and peers and create online communities.  Mahara also includes blogging (through journals) and a résumé (or CV) builder.

An e-portfolio can be used for personal reflection and development and to provide assessment evidence for a programme.  Students decide what to share with tutors, peers and friends.  They can also make a portfolio, or parts of it, public.  This can then showcase development and achievements with employers.

The word ‘mahara’ is from Te Reo Māori  meaning “to think, thinking, thought”. As Mahara was created in New Zealand, it was fitting to choose a Māori word to signify the concept of the ePortfolio system.

One example of how an e-portfolio may be assembled.

One example of how an e-portfolio can look.

Some types of activities which take advantage of the affordances of e-portfolio software are:

Group work assignments involving collaborative learning and critical evaluation, with tasks allocated for each group member requiring discussion and consultation before a final ‘product’ using a range of text items and other media is submitted.

Learning journals which encourage an ongoing personal connection with learning and link theory to practice in relation to the students’ knowledge and experience. This type of assignment helps develop the reflective practice necessary in many professions.

Field work / placement reports – such as placements in a relevant workplace – these provide a rich source of learning in an authentic context and an e-portfolio provides a useful way of gathering a range of evidence which shows what learning has occurred during the placement.

Problem-solving assignments – these focus on an issue or challenge relevant to the field of knowledge and allow the student to suggest multiple solutions, evaluate solutions and recommend and justify a particular optimal solution for the problem.

Resource portfolios – these are collections of a range of digital media resources found on the Internet focussed on an issue or learning area, with evaluations of the efficacy of the resources and (if appropriate) examples of their use in an authentic context.

E-portfolios are often used to give students a platform to develop reflective writing skills. Reflection is …

  • thoughts and feelings about experiences, events, ideas, opinions or new information
  • a way to develop self-knowledge
  • a way to achieve better understanding of why and how things happen

Your students can access this University resource on Reflective Writing. It can help them develop the skills they need as a reflective practitioner and improve how they communicate reflections through writing.

Mahara allows students to create a digital portfolio.  They are in control of the content they create, deciding what to share and who to share it with.

You may want to have a Group to bring students together (e.g. in tutor groups, seminar or project groups).  Within groups students and staff can work together to create and share content.

It’s important to understand the difference between personal portfolio work and group work in order to avoid confusion. See the student guidance on how Mahara is different for more information.

Mahara at the University of Bath can be accessed in two ways.

Use your University login details (username and password) and click Login.

Screenshot of login box in Mahara.

Your Profile area stores your contact and personal information. Each of the profile fields can be considered separate artefacts which you can add independently to your profile page or any portfolio page. Thus, you can reveal as little or as much information about yourself to others as you wish.

Your profile page is public, in the sense that by default, it can be viewed by anyone who is logged into Mahara at the University of Bath.

Note about privacy: Be very vigilant with your private information. Think carefully about what you share and who with.  Please discuss this with your students also, as they need to think carefully about their digital privacy.

Complete the form fields with the information you want to add, making sure to click Save.

Screenshot of profile in Mahara.

You can upload up to 5 profile images.

The images you wish to use must be between 16×16 and 1024×1024 pixels in size. Ideally, your profile images are square. Please use an image editing software before you upload your images to reduce a photo’s dimensions to the required ones.

The recommended size of your profile image is 100×100 pixels. Then the image looks good on your profile when you want to include it there and also in the smaller sizes around Mahara.

The profile images that you wish to upload to Mahara must be available on your computer. Choose one image at a time to upload. You can also give it a title.

User menu > Profile pictures

The dashboard is the first page you see on logging into Mahara. You can arrange the items on the page to suit your preferred way of working.  For example, you might want to see your inbox, or recent forum posts.

The sidebar blocks are not editable.

Click Edit Dashboard to arrange it the way you would like.

Watch below to see the various way to edit the Dashboard.

A screencast on how to edit the mahara Dashboard.

You are, by default, notified of relevant activity in the Mahara Inbox.

However, you can change your notification preferences so that you receive an email instead.

User menu > Settings > Notifications

Change your preferences and click Save (at the bottom of the page).

Screenshot of user menu in Mahara.

Using Mahara Groups

Mahara allows the setting up of Groups, where staff and students can access and share resources, hold discussions in asynchronous forums and give and receive feedback. Note: Individuals do not have to belong to a Group to use Mahara.

One benefit of having a single Group is that the tutor can ‘push’ a template (page or collection of pages) to all the group members.  However, individuals can also ‘copy’ pages you allow them access to, so think carefully about whether you necessarily need a Group. If you want to share a template with multiple Groups, contact the TEL team at tel@bath.ac.uk who can help make your template available at Mahara site level.

There are different types of groups in Mahara.

  • ‘Standard’ Groups created by Members (staff or student) where others can be invited to join.  This could be for personal projects or group collaboration.
  • ‘Course’ Groups created by Mahara Administrators where staff can be added as Tutors or Administrators.  This type of group can allow formative submissions, for Tutors to review portfolios.

You can create a Group by selecting the Main Menu > Engage > Groups.  Click the Create Group button and select the appropriate options.

If you want a group created to allow formative submissions please contact the TEL team at tel@bath.ac.uk and a Group can be created for you.  Once created, teaching staff can be placed in the role of Administrator or Tutor for that Group.

You will need to decide the following for your Group(s):

  • Name and description (i.e. purpose of the group)
  • Whether membership of the group will be controlled (by you), by request (to anyone who wants to join) or open (anyone can join)
  • Whether you want  a standard group (for sharing/discussions) or a course group (for sharing/discussions/submissions*)
  • Whether you want to enable submissions, and have them ‘archived’ (i.e. a copy taken as a backup) and visible to Group Administrators
  • Whether you want all group members to have permission to create and edit group pages, journals and files, or just the Administrator or Tutor.
  • Whether you want the group to be visible to other users in Mahara or hidden (including discussion forums).

Some of these settings can be changed once the Group is created and a staff member given a group Administrator role.

*Members can submit pages to the group for review/comment, and these are locked during this process. These pages cannot be edited until they are released by a group tutor or administrator. This would be for formative feedback only.  If you want students to submit their portfolios for summative assessment please see the section below on submitting via Moodle.

All users in Mahara are given the role of Member.  Staff can also be given the role of Group Administrator or Tutor.

The Group Administrator role can exist in ‘standard’ and ‘course’ groups. The role provides staff with permission to edit group settings to suit their needs, create pages or collections for the group to work on (or copy for individual use). They can start discussion forums and review submissions.

The Tutor role can only exist in ‘course’ groups. They can give feedback on submitted pages. They cannot add or remove users from the group.

As a Group Administrator, once the Group is created, you can access it either from the Main Menu > Engage > Groups or from the right-hand sidebar menu under My groups.

Select the Group and then click Settings.

Note: There are some settings that are only visible to Mahara Site Administrators and you will need to contact the TEL team at tel@bath.ac.uk to change these for you. Specifically these relate to submissions and their backups (called ‘archives’ in Mahara).

Screenshot of a Mahara group.

Work your way through the settings, and click Save group when finished.

The settings have descriptive text to help clarify what they do. For more information you can click the information icons to the right.

Mahara admin settings in Groups.

If you are using Submissions to the group you can request the setting Allow archiving of submissions option to be set to Yes. This will make sure a copy of submitted portfolio work is taken for future reference. You can also request that an ‘archives’ tab be displayed for Group Administrators (this isn’t visible to Tutors).

There are a number of ways to add students to Groups, depending on the type of group.

Request or open groups:

You can invite students to join, either via their profile pages or via a group message. Select the Members tab in your Group and click the link to send multiple invitations at once to students.

Controlled groups:

You can invite students to join, either via their profile pages or via a group message. Select the Members tab in your Group and click the link to send multiple invitations at once to students.

You can also add students directly. Select the Members tab in your Group and click add many users at once link.

Note: If you have a very large number of students to add to a group, or multiple groups, contact tel@bath.ac.uk for guidance.

In Mahara ‘course’ Groups students can submit Pages or Collections for formative review.  When a student submits work to the group:

  • the Tutor or Group Administrator can view the work submitted, not the other students
  • the Tutor or Group Administrator can add feedback comments to the work, or upload a feedback file
  • their work becomes locked until the review is over and the Tutor or Group Administrator releases it back to them

There are two ways to view submissions and provide feedback in the form of comments and/or feedback files and a Mahara ‘result’. Mahara provides 3 results; ‘Revise’, ‘Fail’ and ‘Pass’. We appreciate these are limited and may not apply appropriately to all contexts, however submissions require a ‘result’ to be chosen before students can resubmit again.

1. You will see a Submissions tab in the group which provides an overview list of all submissions. You can assign an Assessor, select a submission to review, select a result and release the portfolio from this page.

  • Select a student submission to view by clicking the ‘eye’ icon in the Portfolio column. You will see their page or collection in a pop up box. Click the link to display the portfolio page/collection.
  • To add a feedback comment to the page, add text to the *Add comment box on a given page. You can also upload a file by clicking Browse. You can add multiple files by clicking Add attachment for each new one.  When finished click the Commentbutton to submit the comment. Making the comment ‘public’ will allow anyone with access to the portfolio to see it. If the comment is ‘private’ only the portfolio author will see it.
  • Click the browser back button to return to the Submission overview page.
  • In the Assessor column select the person giving the feedback from the list of available staff.
  • In the Result column select a result from the drop down box. This is necessary so that students can resubmit these pages again in the future, for example after they have worked on their portfolio for a bit longer. ‘Revise’ is recommended as students can continue to work on their portfolio. Summative feedback and grades should be delivered through Moodle.
  • After feedback comments and results have been completed, in the Status column, click the ‘To be released’ button. You will see the status change to ‘releasing’ until it is fully ‘released’ and available for students to edit again. Feedback will then become available to students immediately (and they will be notified according to their notification preferences).

2. You will see submitted work in the Group dashboard (i.e. the About tab). Under the heading Submissions to this group you will see a list of links to student submissions.

  • Select a student submission and you will see their page or collection.
  • To add a feedback comment, add text to the *Add comment box on a given page. You can also upload a file by clicking Browse. You can add multiple files by clicking Add attachment for each new one.  When finished click the Comment button to submit the comment. Making the comment ‘public’ will allow anyone with access to the portfolio to see it. If the comment is ‘private’ only the portfolio author will see it.
  • Select a result from the Choose result drop down box. This is necessary so that students can resubmit these pages again in the future, for example after they have worked on their portfolio for a bit longer. ‘Revise’ is recommended as students can continue to work on their portfolio. Summative feedback and grades should be delivered through Moodle.
  • To allow students to edit their work again, release the submission by clicking the Release page or Release collection button, as appropriate. There is a delay while the page or collection is released. Feedback will then become available to students immediately (and they will be notified according to their notification preferences).

Select a result and release Mahara submission.

*Bug report: Please note that a bug has been identified whereby tutors cannot delete comments or edit them beyond 10 minutes.  Please take care before posting comments.

Important: Mahara is not like Moodle when it comes to submissions.

  • Feedback is viewable immediately by the student.
  • While it is being reviewed, students cannot edit their work. Releasing work means it becomes editable once again.
  • Students can change the work and delete your comments.
  • There is no facility to store marks or grades.

If you want to assess Mahara work more formally, e.g. for summative purposes, or to give a grade indication on a partial draft portfolio, see our guidance below about submission to Moodle.

In Mahara terms a template is a pre-created page or collection that others can copy to use for themselves. You can create any page or collection and allow it to be copied, acting as a template. Or it is possible to mark any page as a ‘template’ in the settings, allowing it to be copied with layout and instructions intact.

You can create a template in a Group:

  • Main Menu > Engage > Groups > select the group, then Pages and collections
  • Select the relevant page or collection or click Add and select Page.
  • Edit the settings as appropriate, changing the Template option to Yes if required.
  • Click Save.

You can also create a template from your list of Pages and Collections:

  • Main Menu > Create > Pages and collections
  • Select the relevant page or collection or click Add and select Page.
  • Edit the settings as appropriate, changing the Template option to Yes if required.
  • Click Save.

mahara template.

Think about:

  • Adding an instructions block and locking it in place. Students won’t be able to delete this, but will be able to use an accordion to toggle the instructions on and off.
  • Choosing a layout that suits the template you have in mind.

Now build the template by adding relevant blocks to the page, and typing in the content you wish the students to see and edit. For example you might present them with a task and relevant space to complete it. Or, you may provide a table for them to complete. You can view the completed template by displaying the page, from the display icon on the right hand side of the page.

Finally, you can make the template available to students.  You can do this in three ways.

  1. You can enable copying for the template so students can find it and make their own copy.
  2. You can push the template to everyone in a group, so students will see it in their portfolio space when they log in.
  3. You can contact the TEL team at tel@bath.ac.uk to discuss sharing your template at site level.This can be a good way of ensuring there is only one up-to-date template.

Navigate to the relevant Group and select the Page or Collection that makes up your template > click Edit (pencil icon) > click the Share button.

Under the Advanced options drop down menu you will see an option to Copy for existing group members. Change this to Yes and scroll down to click Save.

Screenshot of copy options in Mahara.

A copy of the page or collection will be placed into the personal portfolio area of each member in the group.

Watch this short video to see how to push templates to students.

A screencast gif showing how to push a Mahara template to students.

Select the Page or Collection > click Edit (pencil icon) > click the Share button.

Under the Advanced options drop down menu you will see an option to Allow copying. Change this to to Yes if you want students to be able to copy the page or collection. Scroll down to click Save.

Students in your group can select the Copy button (in Pages and Collections) and select the page or collection.

Note: If you want to stop students from being able to copy your template, return to the setting and change ‘Allow copying’ to No.

Setting up a Moodle submission point to assess a Mahara portfolio

If you want to assess Mahara work more formally, create a Moodle Assignment where you can provide marks and feedback, at a time controlled by you.

A recommended workflow for students in Mahara Groups would be:

  • Create a Moodle Assignment, selecting the ‘online text’ submission type. (You may see a ‘Mahara’ option, please don’t use this as we’re in the process of testing that functionality).
  • Ask students to save their Mahara work to the timeline (so there is a time stamped version just before they submit).
  • Ask students to Submit their Page or Collection to the Group. This locks their work so they can not edit it while you review it. If the Archive setting is enabled (in Group settings) then a copy of the submitted work is held in Mahara).
  • Students should then copy and paste the URL of their submitted work in the text box available to them in the Moodle Assignment (and use the HTML editor to turn the URL into a clickable link).
  • The Tutor should be able to access the work if they are in the same Group as the student.
  • If another Tutor needs to assess the work then the student can share access with them.
  • Marks and feedback should be recorded in Moodle and released in the normal way.  If you want students to be able to continue working on their Mahara content you can release their submission in Mahara.

If the work needs sharing with an External assessor (i.e. someone who does not have a University of Bath account) then the student can generate a secret URL which can then be shared.  The student can delete the secret URL once the assessment has been made.

Further help

 For more guidance you can access the Mahara Manual.

You can access context-specific help from the Help link at the foot each Mahara page.

This guidance material has been adapted from the Mahara 21.10 Manual under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 unported.