Many in our state, as well as the entire country, wans to provide a way to assist students in organizing content for the Graduation Project. While not yet required to complete the GP, students in our schools can participate in this process. The idea of the Graduation Project is definitely a way to help students prepare for college and careers. Students choose a topic, and I have seen topics such as designing organic hair products, the history and culture of tatooes, and building a chair. Students almost must identify a mentor with whom they can interview, seek for guidance, and to encourage their work. A great way to allow students to explore future careers, build a strong relationship with someone outside of the traditional school environment, and develop 21st century skills.
While this will allow for some great collaboration, technology must provide easy tools to allow for total asycnchronous communication between the student, teacher, and mentor. And of course, in a school environment, cost definitely matters. We solved both of those challenges recently when we came across the open-source ePortfolio application, Mahara. From our early explorations, we saw that Mahara is used extensively in other countries, especially in New Zealand. What we liked first was the fact that Mahara is an application we can download to our own servers. Another reason it sold us was the ability to allow each user (student) to create a dynamic website where students can post 21st century content, including blogs, video content, tagging, and more. While the possibility of an RSS feed on each student’s content may not initially excite most people, when you consider the possibilities of the teacher being able to pull all the feeds of her students to an aggregator, this is a strong feature. The teacher then will not need to check 30-60 sites everyday for updates. Now the updates will come to her.
With our district using Moodle extensively, the opportunity of full integration with Moodle definitely appeals to us. While some of the initial features have not wowed us with this partnership, the future planned roadmap offering of a teacher being able to pull Mahara portfolios into her course and the student being able to pull assignments into his portfolio has great possibilities.
We looked at many free and proprietary resources. Many districts are using them, with varied success. Many allow users with a set size of storage space for student content, but where Mahara excels is allowing us to fine tune things down the road. If a student needs more space, our administrators can easily do that. The fact that Mahara mirrors Moodle in its ability to add additional modules, some not even yet developed, also excites us for future use. When summarizing the benefits, the fact of Mahara being open source, as many applications, will only allow us to further develop a strong application to assist students and teachers in this project, and in other projects.