School: Language Centre, SLLF
Students on a level 3 foundation programme worked on a project to gain a deeper understanding of the place where they are learning and used Mahara – Groups and Portfolios to successfully present their work.
Background and Context
The IFP is a level 3 programme for international students who are seeking a clear route to an undergraduate degree in the UK. Around 50% of the cohort will progress to Queen Mary. There are a 100 students on the programme of approximately 40 different nationalities. They are divided into seven tutor groups according to their English Language ability. A major part of Semester 1 activity is the completion of UCAS forms, which are submitted by the 15th of January.
At the beginning of the semester we had experimented with using Mahara to record students’ visits to different parts of the borough of Tower Hamlets. This was intended to give students an opportunity bond as a group, develop their confidence in exploring London, develop their reflective writing skills and gain familiarity with Mahara.
Sample pages from this first project are available here:
- Group 2’s visit to Shoreditch (loosely defined)
- Group 4’s trip to Brick Lane
- Group 3’s visit to Canary Wharf
- Group 6’s visit to Spitalfields
The rationale for this second project – Using Mahara to enable IFP students to both develop their understanding of the UCAS process and to develop transferable skills – was to build on the skills students had developed with this first project and also to provide an opportunity to presenting their work orally to other students in informal presentations. The overall objective was to build students’ knowledge and understanding of certain key aspects of the UCAS process so that they could make more informed decisions on their own UCAS applications. We were keen to develop students’ critical thinking skills in responding to this material. This activity replaced a poster presentation fair that had been used for a couple of years. The advantage of Mahara is that the information on the page can be repeatedly consulted after the initial presentation stage.
- Students were reminded of the Tower Hamlets project and shown some of the sample pages. There was a recap on the tools available and the principles to consider when creating a page. The importance of deciding which of the layout options best suits a given purpose was stressed.
- This project – Using Mahara to enable IFP students to both develop their understanding of the UCAS process and to develop transferable skills – explained to students. Parameters established in terms of groupings and deadlines. Students working in their R&W groups on their page – each group allocated a different topic.
- Students work together to produce their page with guidance from tutor. Students research their topic, create content and consider how best to present it on a Mahara page. This develops their teamworking skills. They refine and edit their page in order to have a publishable page ready by the stated deadline.
- All 100 IFP were then resorted into 7 new groups with at least two representatives from each group in each new group. A two hour slot is then set aside for students to present their pages to other groups and answer questions. Students were strongly encouraged to assimilate this information into the decisions they had to make when completing their UCAS application form.
- Members of the e-learning team kindly agreed to judge which was the best page. This decision and feedback was communicated to students via QMplus.
All seven groups did produce a page to an acceptable standard, which was pleasing. Students generally seemed to be able to manage the software quite well and used a reasonable range of tools. While there quite a bit of cutting and pasting of content in an uncritical fashion, there was some imaginative creation of new material and also some good examples of critical reflection. Many students seemed to enjoy the experience and the standard for presentation was generally high – students seemed to respond well to the challenge of presenting their work to other students. There were some very good examples of teams working effectively together and overcoming problems in a constructive and imaginative manner. Perhaps inevitably, there were problems in some groups with certain students ‘not pulling their weight’ and also some repetition of effort/ redundancy due to inadequate communication within the group. Also, when it came to presenting, accessing the pages via QMplus was very laborious and detracted from the momentum of the presentations. Nonetheless, despite this, students generally seemed engaged and interested in other students work.
Key points for effective practice
Creating page on Mahara is not always intuitive and it is important to be clear in your own mind on how the system works before introducing it to students. Within any student group there will generally be several students who are particularly adept at using the software and it is a good idea to take advantage of these students to help induct others. Stressing the point that a Mahara page is simply a website is important and that students should map out their ideas on paper before they start building the page. There were some problems in some groups with students not agreeing the overall layout – or rather not communicating that choice – at an early enough stage. Examples of previous students work really help to convey to current students what is being sought. It is important to explain to students clearly how to share their content. When presenting pages in small groups, it is important to allow time for logging in and be aware that poor WiFI access (and problems with QMplus) can scupper this activity.