Mahara Can Do More
How does Mahara describe itself? What's it really on about? From the website - “...a simple, easy-to-use, creative platform for people to showcase their learning.”
I like the sound of that, but I wonder how it stacks up when graduates leave school, when they learn beyond institutional frameworks.
Will they continue to use Mahara in the cluttered social media environment? Without doing a point by point comparison, I highlight a couple of essential differences in various eportfolios, and indicate how it can do more.
Why Not Linkedin?
An obvious comparison is with Linkedin, and, since integrating linda.com learning, it has made a highly visible, professional eportfolio. Its badging system works really well. But so does the Mahara-Open Badge Factory pairing. For example, we encourage the use of badges on profile pages.
Add a group around a Linkedin profile and there's interactivity at your fingertips. Skilled Mahara users might find this meets many of their needs. Yet in some respects it limps along, notable around forum/comment interactions where adding graphics is simply not an option.
What About Behance?
Another contender is the Behance community, now well established within the Adobe Creative Cloud.
Add in the Publish Online feature and Adobe Spark, and design/arts afficianados have web results which are stylish, edgy, elegant. It's the most serious contender, but like Linkedin lacks all the features of a Mahara instance. The big plus is it's free with Adobe Creative Cloud membership and that's a very powerful incentive.
For those who prefer to develop an eportfolio from a personal website, WordPress continues to have many draw-cards. Not the least of these, is its monetization features which can be purchased to get instant, reliable results on your WordPress website.
It also has a huge range of plugin options and customization features. So competition beyond the Mahara experience is strong, yet if an institution continues to provide a Mahara platform for alumni, it may well deliver more. Why?
Actively Curating Mahara Content
I constantly test content in a variety of social media, particularly in Facebook and Youtube. Neither of these are serious contenders for an eportfolio. But content success or otherwise in social media isn't nearly as compelling as content success from a Mahara page, and that's the key point.
My sense is that Mahara offers more to the user who really wants to showcase work. How?
The answer is twofold. It's first about how content is displayed, walked through, given a sensory feel.
Second, it's about how that content is marketed, how it finds its audience.
So rather than use Linkedin, Spark, Facebook, Youtube, etc, as alternatives, the Mahara portfolio becomes the work which was done on those platforms. In a nutshell: curation.
Mahara offers possibilities for active curation which generates social media interaction.
For example embedding a Facebook post somewhere on Mahara page can achieve significant mutually modifying marketing options.
The example below is an instance where we recorded the interview in kiwiconnexion's Live-on-Air Group for a FB promotion. The ultimate benefit, however, is when we promote the kiwiconnexion Live-on-Air collections.
Best of all...
The Mahara eportfolio is both networks of pages and and blocks on a page, and also an ecosystem of relationships. It explores relationships of text, soundscape, video, graphics with user interaction.
There is always a hidden geometry, a hidden ecosystem of relationship in the eportfolio. There is the line, the square, the circle on the square, and the relationship between the stable Roman arch transforming into Islamic arch defined by intersecting circles, and so on.
All this takes time and thought. Curating work in an eportfolio is all about active design. Best of all, it's fun and the possibilities seemingly limitless.
That said, Mahara has limitations in designing effective page layouts.
For example, InDesign is the industry standard for print layout. When Justin Putney developed the In5 plugin to enable export to HTML5.5 it gave a new lease of life to web page design for non-coders.
But the problem is how to efficiently curate this HTML in Mahara. Unfortunately the HTML block in Mahara is very limited. Instead posting In5 documents to a third party website, such as WordPress, is one option. Or for a quicker solution use the standard Publish Online directly from InDesign. Either way the webpage has to be embedded back into Mahara.
In practical terms, the example below, via In5, gives more interactivity than the bottom example, direct from InDesign's Publish Online. That interactivity definitely helps reader retention. User experience is where design aforethought really shines through.
Simply exporting the InDesign pages as hi-res jpegs is another, simpler, option. Mahara could handle these as an image gallery, but, of course, that would preclude interactivity. It's not really an option.
Embedding i-frames can make all the difference to a Mahara network of pages and blocks.
i-frames in Mahara make magic
Will it all one day be designed in Mahara? If only...
Our Mahara instance is called kiwiconnexion.nz It publishes web zines doing the embed work-around, and the above designed zine indicates what can be very usefully curated in a Mahara portfolio, especially by using Mahara as the website.
The work-around is not the most elegant solution, and it certainly takes time to develop, although the results can and do read/scan well for our specialist audience. If anyone in the Mahara community can come up with a plugin for InDesign that exports HTML direct to a Mahara page, you will be on a winner!
Of course the site does promote other work for its content creators as well, and I use a personal example to show how Mahara can make a marketable video course that is easy to promote in Facebook: Through the Year with John Wesley.
The question remains whether or not Mahara users will want to put time into such development. For those that do, it offers some unique opportunities in social media presence.