Group work on Mahara pages for ‘Lives of London’ 

Instructor: Dr George Legg 
Lives of London level 4 Liberal Arts
Assessment activity:
Students work together in teams to produce and curate a group portfolio on Mahara (a portfolio tool supported by King’s), integrating digital artefacts such as text, imagery, embedded web materials, and sound. This assessment is worth 45% of the final mark, and is now in its second iteration. 

Why did you introduce this approach to assessment?  

‘Lives of London’ is a core module for Liberal Arts students. In the first term of their first year, groups of four or five students carry out an interdisciplinary project on a London-based research area such as ‘Protest in the city’, ‘London and the Public’, or ‘Gentrification in Brixton’. We wanted students to get out into the city and learn how to analyse different locations and spaces using interdisciplinary resources such as mapping, archival documents and photography. We asked students to work together to produce Mahara web pages which would have the rigour and structure of an academic essay, but would communicate using an expanded range of digital forms. They would be out and about in London experiencing the sights, sounds, and cultures of the city, so it followed that they should also be able to work creatively with sources, rather than restricting them to the verbal description of a traditional essay. As well as allowing for diverse media and embedded web material, Mahara also supported group work by allowing simultaneous editing. It also allows anonymous marking, which is our policy. There are 100+ students on the module, which is taught and assessed by four seminar tutors. 

How did you design the assessment criteria and weighting 

The four tutors have re-interpreted the existing Faculty assessment criteria to reflect the new possibilities of Mahara – we thought through what ‘creativity’ or ‘originality’ might look like. The portfolio needs to be aesthetically pleasing, easy to navigate, and use the tools and resources of Mahara effectively. Depth of knowledge can be demonstrated through engaging with material artefacts from the city. Thinking about structure, the artefacts need to relate to each other as a coherent whole. Coherence shows that groups have thought and discussed together rather than aggregating materials separately – you can tell a good portfolio by the cross references and flow between the different elements.  

How did you give opportunities for formative practice? 

Well in advance of the deadline, groups presented informally to each other about fieldwork. Knowing that they would do this meant that they took the fieldwork seriously, and put further effort into thinking deeply about the aspects they found most important and wanted to draw out further in their portfolio. 

The A&H TEL Coordinator David Reid Matthews inducts students to Mahara in a 45-minute session early in the module. Subsequently there is supervised in-class Mahara work, with all students contributing to their portfolio together. 

How did you explain the assessment to students? 

We are asking students who are used to individual work, often as traditional essays, to work in groups and in new forms, so they need support. We ran weekly workshops about how specific readings related to their projects. We analysed particular websites and blogs from cultural institutions which present artefacts from their collections in an interactive, academically rigorous way.  

The TEL Coordinator has created quick, illustrated guides to a few King’s-specific processes with Mahara and KEATS, but for more routine Mahara practice we refer students to the generic Mahara guidance 

Throughout, we repeatedly direct students’ attention to the marking criteria.  

How was the experience of marking this work? 

The assessors all enjoy marking this kind of work. The diverse interpretations and forms of expression are very interesting.  

How did you give feedback? 

Mahara integrates with KEATS, allowing the portfolio to easily be submitted. We used KEATS to create groups, and collected the portfolios using a KEATS Assignment with groups enabled. This allows just one nominated group member to submit the work on behalf of their group. The summary feedback comments we type into the General Feedback field are automatically posted to all members of that group. 

What benefits did you see? 

We see many benefits in this way of doing group work. Creating and curating together requires students to think collectively.  They engage successfully with the city. They tell us they like the group work. Because they work on their portfolio in workshops, all group members are involved in thinking about the ways Mahara can best express their project, rather than perceiving it simply as a technical job that could be delegated to one or two students at the end. 

What advice would you give to colleagues who are considering trying this? 

In the formative exercises such as the informal presentations in seminar time, we’d recommend giving students question prompts to help with focus. 

It’s important that all tutors are familiar with Mahara and know what it can and can’t do. Having the Faculty’s TEL coordinator offer technical support has been crucial. 

Be ambitious about what you think this kind of assessment could let students do. Communicate this to students. 

What are your next steps? 

We would like to take up practice from elsewhere in Liberal Arts and plan an interactive workshop where students interpret the faculty assessment criteria for this project. We also plan more Mahara guidance videos and documents for students.  


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