Using Mahara in language learning

Language learning is a long process that requires commitment and reflection. Learning a language alongside studying for a degree can be particularly demanding, especially if your main subject of study is unrelated to languages. The Language Centre at the University of Warwick offers an institution wide language programme to all students. This provides an opportunity to measure performance against the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, mainly through summative assessments. However, with a limited amount of face to face contact time, and despite the desire to make  progress in a short period, many students struggle to reach their desired outcomes. 

Against this background the Language Centre decided to award credit for students who could show they had reflected upon the process of language learning and  make their learning journey explicit. Using Mahara, over 100 students a year are encouraged to collect evidence of their experiences and analyse their learning strategies. They produce bilingual e-portfolios evidencing their learning journey.

Mahara interfaceMahara access is integrated through the Languages@Warwick moodle-based platform and linked through a network server block on the relevant course pages. Drop-in sessions to familiarise students with the technology are held in terms one and two where the purpose of Mahara and essential navigation are explained. The interface is quite user-friendly and students are encouraged to concentrate on the collection of materials in the first term, exporting forum posts and assignments directly from their course in order to reflect upon them. Support courses exist both in moodle (all users are subscribed to these) and in Mahara (with optional subscription) to provide easy access to help documentation and forums. Tutors also encourage sharing and offer feedback at one point during the page creation process. Giving an example of a good e-portfolio is deliberately avoided to encourage students to have own their own take on this reflective showcase of their skill development. Instead they are given a handbook explaining the assessment criteria. Submission of the e-portfolio is through Moodle towards the end of the second term.  Marking is done by language teams and then moderated across languages.  This case study describes the e-portfolio project in more detail.

Now in its third year, students are positive about the e-portfolio experience and have increased their digital literacies and their insights into their learning. You can see their feedback in this presentation. Some examples of the students’ work can be seen in this short video. Our team of tutors (Spanish, German, French, Chinese and Japanese) have also found this experience useful as they have gained insights into student experiences which have influenced their teaching and reinforced our shared understanding of strategies for language learning.

Teresa MacKinnon
Principal Teaching Fellow
Language Centre, University of Warwick

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