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Mahara for practical teaching and learning in an online Theatre Studies programme


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Presentation by David Matthews and Jayne Richards (Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance) at Mahara Hui UK in Southampton, UK, on 10 November 2015.


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Mahara for practical teaching and learning in an online Theatre Studies programme

  1. 1. Mahara for practical teaching and learning in an online Theatre Studies programme Presented by David Matthews and Jayne Richards
  2. 2. Introduction In this presentation, we will describe and evaluate our journey with Mahara on the Theatre Studies (Online) programme at Rose Bruford College. This programme encompasses a worldwide cohort of mature/professional ‘distance learners’ working on theatre studies with a group of tutors from our own institution and elsewhere. The rollout of Mahara was an important step in transforming this traditional ‘distance’ programme into an online offer. In doing so, we were keen to: •  develop opportunities for assessment that went beyond essay writing; •  teaching that went beyond ‘chalk and talk’; •  foster opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and support; •  develop students’ digital literacies and employability skills. Furthermore, Mahara has emerged an important tool in supporting our ongoing attempts to build a practical dimension into the programme and to encourage students to take charge of their own learning. In this presentation, we will describe our early experiences with Mahara and how this has become firmly embedded and a mature part of the delivery of the course. We will share examples of portfolios developed by students and discuss next steps for the role of the online portfolio in students’ learning.
  3. 3. Mahara – what for? In adopting e-portfolio software we needed to consider the function it would serve. As changes to the programme overall aimed to: •  encourage students to take ownership of their learning; •  place focus on process rather than just product; •  build in transferable skills. Each module involves students in broader study around the topic. In the original programme this element (possibly the bulk of the student’s time) was non-credit-bearing. Assessment was based purely on the outcomes of written assignments. In revising the programme Mahara would provide a platform for students’ independent work which could be assessed for process, reflection and research.
  4. 4. What is an e-portfolio? “a dynamic record of learning” [Murray, 2006] “a collection of evidence gathered to show a person’s learning journey over time and demonstrate their abilities.” [Butler, 2006] Specific purposes of a portfolio [Nairn et al. 2006] •  learning portfolio •  credentials portfolio •  showcase •  assessment portfolio •  skills portfolio There are lots of uses: blogs, diaries, PDP, CV/Resume development, learning and assessment, archiving and so on.
  5. 5. Value-added? What can an e-portfolio do that a p-portfolio cannot? Traditional portfolio processes: Collating Linking / thinking Reflecting Collaborating Celebrating [Buzzetto-More et al, 2010] Technology-assisted processes Archiving Selecting Storytelling Projecting Publishing
  6. 6. Relationship of the portfolio to study? A key distinction lies in the way the e-portfolio functions: “The term e-portfolio is still a work in progress” [Duffy et al, 2010] The e-portfolio as visual schemata: [Endacott et al, 2004] •  shopping trolley •  toast rack •  spinal column •  cake mix How might Mahara’s function be visualised on the Theatre Studies programme? What did we want to achieve by using Mahara?
  7. 7. Defining function •  A repository for tasks and exercises undertaken throughout the module. •  A platform for reflection. •  A platform for research. tasks and exercises reflection research
  8. 8. e-Portfolio as Repository Pros? •  demonstrates completion; •  provides a situated visual reminder of progress; •  formalises the student’s work record; •  places emphasis on process rather than product; •  creates hypertext which encourages “multifarious ways of thinking” [Chappell & Schermehan, 1999] •  Promotes focus on student identity / authenicity [Cambridge, 2010]
  9. 9. e-Portfolio as Repository Cons? •  A multi-media version of a p-portfolio? •  A distraction from content: “lamination” [Shulman, 1998] •  Could be seen as an “add- on” [Stefani et al, 2007]. •  Predicates rather than enforces learning outcomes. [Light, et al, 2012]
  10. 10. Reflection and Research Discoveries: the pros: •  prioritises meta-competencies and transferrable skills (technological, compositional, artistic, organisational, communicational); •  compositional form (open navigation and evolutionary process) takes students beyond information and description towards analysis as elements become performative; •  multiple discourses and semiotics: visual, aural, lexical, schematic, symbolic exercise different ways of thinking; •  emphasises student ownership of learning; •  concretises and situates accrued efforts drawing attention to the wider process of learning; •  a-linear and aggregative: promotes importance of navigational clarity and sign- posting; •  allows a reader to freedom to navigate thus imposes emphasis on clarity; •  flexibility over content; things can be moved, added and replaced; •  reliability and privacy.
  11. 11. Reflection and Research Discoveries: the cons: Our initial remit for the research element allowed unlimited additional material which often led to illustration and reportage rather than critical evaluation. •  students began to complete with the visual “look” of the page rather than focus on content; •  the e-portfolio began to absorb excessive study time; We decided to slim the research element down to just one artefact per unit placing emphasis on care over selection and rational for choice rather than extent of material. •  this provokes attention to critically evaluation in relation to ILOs; •  limiting the scale of research and reflections as core-components has sharpened tutor feedback.
  12. 12. Beyond the programme… Digital Literacies •  Mahara encourages the development of digital literacy skills through a user-friendly interface. •  Builds confidence working with, for example, different file types, external media and code. •  Allows for tracking of progress and development (which builds confidence). •  Initial steps can be daunting for students working in isolation. Employability Skills •  Theatre Studies students are mature learners, so may be on 3rd, 4th jobs or even retired. •  Many theatre professionals on the programme, and teachers. •  Often studying for pragmatic, career- related reasons – and in fields where technology is increasingly important. •  This said – relatively little use of the resume builder, or of Mahara as an online CV.
  13. 13. Case Study 1 - Reflective Journals •  An example of Mahara for developing a reflective account of a theatre ‘attachment’. •  Recording practical, primary research engagements and reflecting critically upon them. •  A cumulative reflective journal giving the opportunity for ongoing assessment and support.
  14. 14. Case Study 2 – Practical modules •  An example of the use of Mahara for modes of assessment beyond traditional essay writing. •  A digital ‘exhibition’ as the culmination of a student’s studies on live and performance art. •  Digital artefacts are accompanied by critical commentary and reflection.
  15. 15. Issues and requests •  Technical competence – whilst Mahara undoubtedly helps to develop digital literacies, it does require a base level of competence and confidence. •  Training and support – can be challenging to provide at a distance, but Mahara does encourage peer-to-peer support. •  Personalisation – where ‘Mahara for life’ is employed, students require a higher degree of customisation.
  16. 16. Evidence? Qualitative data (survey 2015): •  flexibility •  employability •  range of materials •  enhanced knowledge •  delivery mode •  satisfaction •  personal growth Quantitative data (statistical) Retention rates (annual) Open University average = 52% RBC 2010 = 75.4% RBC 2014 and 2015 = 92.2%
  17. 17. Contact: David Matthews: VLE Development Manager Jayne Richards: Programme Director: Theatre Studies
  18. 18. Bibliography Butler, P. “A Review of the Literature on Portfolios and Electronic Portfolios.” Palmerston, New Zealand: Massey University, College of Education, 2006. Chappell, D.S. & J.R. Schermerhorn, “Using electronic student portfolios in management education: a stakeholder perspective.” Journal of Management Education, Vol. 23, pp.651-662. Duffy, K., Anthony, D.M. & Vickers, F. (2008) Are e-Portfolios an Asset to Learning and Placement? A report of a project funded by ASET, Sheffield: ASET, available at arningandPlacement-ASETandDMUReport-March2008_001.pdf Accessed: 31.10.15. Endecott, Murray and Butler, see Duffy. Gentle, Paul, et al. “Changing the Learning Landscape: Connect to the Future” (final report). HEFCE Available at: Accessed: 31.10.15. HEFCE/Glentraffic. “Review of the 205 HEFCE Strategy for e-Learning”. Available at,of,the, 2005,HEFCE,Strategy,for,e-Learning/Title,93074,en.html : Accessed, 31.10.15. Buzzetto-More, Nicole, Ed. The E-Portfolio Paradigm: Informing, Educating, Assessing and Managing with E-Portfolios. California: Informing Science Press, 2010. Penn Light, Tracy, Helen L. Chen & John C. Ittelson. Documenting Learning with e-Portfolios: A Guide for College Instructors. San Fransico: Jossy Boss, 2012. Cambridge, Darren. Eportfolios for Lifelong Learning and Assessment. San Fransico: Jossy-Bass, 2010. Stefani, Lorraine, Robin Mason and Chris Pelger. The Educational Potential of ePortfolios: Supporting Personal Development and Reflective Learning. London, New York : Routledge, 2007.