Mahara – a Versatile Open-source ePortfolio

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Mahara is an open source eportfolio system first designed in 2006 in New Zealand – hence its name, which comes from the Maori verb “mah-hah-rah” meaning “to think, thinking, or give thought”. Mahara is software that I have personally become very familiar with over the past two years – a relationship that has fostered a deep appreciation and respect for the community who built it and continue to keep it evolving and dynamic.

Mahara is packaged as a free stand-alone personal learning system that can be installed and managed from any web site that has the latest editions of php and mysql databases. It integrates beautifully with the Moodle learning management system and offers wonderful administrative functionality and security features.

Mahara can be used by schools, agencies, institutions, businesses, and individual people to create attractive ePortfolios to showcase detailed and customized profiles, resumes, creative work such as photographs, digital art, scanned creations, files, folders, videos, and links. It also seamlessly incorporates a social media like interface through the inclusion of forums, blogs, journals, a wall, and the ability to connect with and display friends – as well as ways to embed links to other social media accounts such as a Facebook page.

ePortfolio as Repository

Mahara serves as a file repository in a very user-friendly and sophisticated way. Pages are easily created, organized into customizable columns (see Figure 1), and populated using an upload then drag and drop approach to organize the various sections. Each uploaded document, image, video and so on has its own special compartment that can be easily shifted and dragged around the page to reorganize content.

Figure 1: Column choices in Mahara

Mahara columns

These characteristics cater to users with a range of technical know-how: from a beginner who needs easy to use drag and drop, to the experienced developer who wishes to customize how content appears by coding individual compartments with html (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Edit screen for adding content using drag and drop compartments in Mahara

Mahara editing

ePortfolio as Personal Learning Space

Mahara provides the tools to support reflective and personalized learning for students or expression for practicing professionals. Users can decide whether they want to write a journal or blog that is easily showcased on any page in their ePortfolio and shared with whomever they wish. It provides excellent tools to showcase one’s resume and personal /professional profile that can be shared with teachers, existing or potential employers, or even licencing bodies (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Profile and Resume page example

Mahara profile

Mahara offers lots of support for creative as well as scholarly and professional work. Galleries of images, photographs, and other artwork are easily displayed, complete with headings and descriptions (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Gallery style page example

Mahara gallery

Writing can be displayed, entered directly as text or displayed as uploaded files (for instance, as pdfs, Word, or Open Office documents) or as links to writings on other web sites. Assignments can also be uploaded (and marked) within Mahara pages. In the program I coordinate, students create collections of pages for each semester, with a single page for each course. Over the semester, each page blossoms into a living testament and medium to showcase their work, and engage with their instructor and fellow students (see Figure 5).

. Figure 5: Writing style page example

Mahara writing page

ePortfolio as Reflection Space

The journal, blog, and forum capabilities also foster reflection by allowing users to easily write their thoughts, respond to assignments, share their experiences, and generally reflect on their personal and/or professional development. Privacy settings allow full control over each individual page, thus users can determine who they wish to share each page with. Sharing ranges from full public view to self only access. Permissions are easily modified at any time, so the user has full control over their eportfolio.

The more I use Mahara, the more I appreciate its richness and capabilities. The Mahara community have truly created a rare gift for teachers, students, professionals, or anyone who wishes to create a brilliant eportfolio. It is a remarkable program, well worth the time and effort to set it up on a web site and learn to incorporate into your classroom, agency, or personal web site. Go to to learn more!

SOURCE: Kaminski, J. (2013). Mahara – a Versatile Open-source ePortfolio. Online Journal of Nursing Informatics (OJNI),17 (3). Available at

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