The Moodle Podcast

Why create ePortfolios for your learning community? | A conversation with Kristina Hoeppner, Portfolio Project Lead for the Mahara project, an open-source ePortfolio system.

January 31, 2023 Season 1 Episode 7
Why create ePortfolios for your learning community? | A conversation with Kristina Hoeppner, Portfolio Project Lead for the Mahara project, an open-source ePortfolio system.
The Moodle Podcast
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The Moodle Podcast
Why create ePortfolios for your learning community? | A conversation with Kristina Hoeppner, Portfolio Project Lead for the Mahara project, an open-source ePortfolio system.
Jan 31, 2023 Season 1 Episode 7

In this first episode for 2023, we will talk about the importance of ePortfolios to empower learners to be creative in representing their credentials by leveraging a platform that allows more authentic assessments. Listen to find out more about the topic and where open-source educational projects are heading in the future. 

Hosted by Sonya Trivedi, Communications Manager at Moodle.

Join the Moodle open source community at 

If you are interested in Open EdTech, visit

Follow Kristina Hoeppner on LinkedIn:

Follow Mahara's podcast ‘Create.Share.Engage’:

Join the Mahara community site for conversations:

Visit Moodle at

Show Notes Transcript

In this first episode for 2023, we will talk about the importance of ePortfolios to empower learners to be creative in representing their credentials by leveraging a platform that allows more authentic assessments. Listen to find out more about the topic and where open-source educational projects are heading in the future. 

Hosted by Sonya Trivedi, Communications Manager at Moodle.

Join the Moodle open source community at 

If you are interested in Open EdTech, visit

Follow Kristina Hoeppner on LinkedIn:

Follow Mahara's podcast ‘Create.Share.Engage’:

Join the Mahara community site for conversations:

Visit Moodle at

Martin Dougiamas (00:05):

Hello and welcome to the Moodle podcast.

Sonya (00:16):

Hi everyone. Thank you for joining me today on the Moodle Podcast. I'm Sonya Trivedi, communications manager here at Moodle, and I'm very excited to welcome you to our first episode for 2023. Today I have together with me a very special guest, Kristina HoeppnerHoffner portfolio project lead at Mahara, an open source, a portfolio platform. has quite an interesting and diverse background in the field of education, working for more than 12 years. For Catalyst, has quite an interesting and diverse background in the field of education working for more than 12 years. For Catalyst, the largest independent open source technology specialist in Australasia and a Moodle certified premium partner. We'll talk about Mahara, the goals of the project and the problems it solves, the impact of open, open source educational projects and more. So I can't wait to start our conversation. Hi Kristina, it is great pleasure to have you with us today as a project leader and community facilitator for Mahara. Could you please tell us more about the project's vision?

Kristina (01:26):

Hi, Sonya. It's lovely meeting you today and um, I'm really excited that I can be the first person that you're talking to in 2023 because it's certainly got to start the year with a collaboration that has been going on for many, many years because Moodle and Mahara are very close to each other. So I'm excited to be yeah, chatting with you today. So what is the est, uh, Mahara projects Vision? Well, as you already said, Mahara is a portfolio platform and like Moodle. It is open source. And so we aim to provide a flexible learning environment that is online for learners to create a variety of portfolios to suit their needs. And in those portfolios they would typically collect their learning evidence. So be that, um, be that essays they've written, photos they've taken, video they've shot, maybe even audio recordings they've made, and then reflect on that learning.

Kristina (02:33):

But it's not just about that creation side of things because of course you can collect all your learning evidence, reflect on your own and never shared with anybody. But often we do learn through the reflection and also through the connection with others, showing other people what we have done, discussing it with them. And that's why it's also very important for Mahara to be able to share the work with other people, either individuals or multiple people, and then also connect with them, collaborate with them, and have conversations with them. That's also why our tagline is create, share, engage, which we also talk for our own podcast just to really illustrate that it is those three main actions that people can do in the portfolios.

Sonya (03:27):

Great, thank you for sharing this. And I'm curious to know a little bit more about the challenges that Mahara is solving.

Kristina (03:34):

So Mahara and Moodle are very close to each other. They, they are different platforms. So Moodle is a learning management system and Mahara is a portfolio platform, but they are really complimentary in what they want to do. So often what community members in the Mahara community say is Moodle is theirs and Mahara is yours. And I think that is also really nicely exemplified by the Moodle tagline, which is "empowering educators to improve our world". So your focus is on the educators, on the learning management and providing learning opportunities, teaching scenarios and teaching opportunities that students can consume, that students can partake in. What sometimes might not really be that easily possible because in an LMS like Moodle, students can only do what a teacher ask them to do. So they can upload an essay, they can participate in a wiki, they can fill in a glossary collaboratively with others, they can engage in workshop activities, but only as long as the teacher said, this is part of our course.

Kristina (04:50):

If there is no glossary, if there is no workshop, students cannot do that in the online environment. So that is then kind of where Mahara comes in being complimentary to the learning management system because we say, well, the student is in the center of attention in the sense that in Mahara they can pretty much build their personal learning environment. So that of course is a term that was very popular, especially in the mid 2000, so around 2005, 2006. And also showing kind of when Mahara was started because that is when the first project to develop the software was begun here at organizations or in particular tertiary institutions in Aotearoa New Zealand, is that at that time people were very keen on making it possible for learners to have a place of their own online where they can collect all their learning, be that, um, formal, non-formal, um, learning contexts, but also informal learning scenarios because the learning management system of course typically only looked at formal learning contexts.

Kristina (06:04):

Sometimes also the non-formal ones, but informal ones like workplace learning directly when you're talking with somebody or just learning a new hobby was not represented. But of course, as we know, informal learning and also non-formal learning outside of formal learning contexts make up a huge amount of what we learn on a day-to-day basis. And so of course there should be a place where learners can represent that, where they can keep a record of that and also reflect on it. And that is we, uh, Mahara came in that it is complimentary to learning management systems, um, but of course a full-fledged environment. We don't need a learning management system to operate. It's not a plugin. And for us it is really important that the learners have the decision making power because they decide what they want to keep, how they want to keep it, how they want to represent themselves, and what in the end they then also want to share.

Kristina (07:11):

So that's kind of one of the first key challenges I would say is that we want to solve the challenge of bringing non-formal and informal learning contexts to the wider learning ecosystem and have them represented. Second of course, though is also that we can't forget about formal assessment scenarios. And that is where Moodle is really wonderful because you can submit your mahara portfolio in Moodle and teachers still have their regular grading methods available. But the nice thing with a portfolio is because you can showcase who you are. Also taking all of the informal learning into context that the assessment can oftentimes be more authentic that students can bring in themselves because it is up to them how they want to represent themselves. It's not just here, write an essay, have a title page, table of contents, then your content and list of references. But students can be more creative, they can design their portfolios, they can put a background on use different fonts, they can put images and videos in.

Kristina (08:26):

So all the things that we have available online so that we are really also having an opportunity for providing a platform for more authentic assessment and also allowing for more formative assessment because of reflection oftentimes shouldn't happen on the last day of class or in the last week of class, but ideally throughout the semester so that you can see the progress over time, that you can also make adjustments throughout the academic year if we are looking at the education sector in particular and not just look back out of hindsight or long hindsight, but really have a reflection in the moment in order to make incremental changes. A third part or a third challenge really that I think, um, Mahara and also in particular any open source project in education and beyond wants to solve is in the area of data privacy, data security, data storage, and also transparency around where the connections are from the platform to the outside world.

Kristina (09:45):

And um, also taking therefore digital ethics into consideration because it's becoming more and more important that we actually know where our data sits so that we know who has access to it or who doesn't have access to it. Because oftentimes we do share sensitive information or information that shouldn't be public, and therefore we do want to know, well, what are the protection measures? What is my privacy? I mean, we don't have the G D P R for no reason and that we also know where is our data stored. And that is what is also part of the, the vision of Mahara that we provide that security, that privacy for organizations and to individuals and don't just look at one part of the equation. So why the pedagogy side is extremely important, the technology side and privacy and most general areas like that are equally important as well.

Sonya (10:45):

Great. Thank you very much for this detailed answer. I really loved what you said that reflection shouldn't happen at the last day of the class. And I'm really curious if you can explain a little bit more to our listeners. How does this really look like? I mean, you said I can also record my hobbies, is that correct? Mm-hmm.

Kristina (11:08):

<affirmative>. So a portfolio is not just one thing. So like in the learning management system where you can teach in many different ways, so you can use your course just to provide the reading material, the syllabus, basic information about the course, just have everything available as PDFs, you can then take it a step further and say, okay, my course is, um, using some sort of online quiz activity that is available through Moodle, where you have, um, multiple choice questions available that people can fill in and they get automatic feedback so that it is essentially a self learning course. Or you can then have an online course that might even be a blended course where you have online conversations, you use the forums, you engage your learners online in the many different activities that Moodle has available in order to allow them to learn with each other outside of the confines of asynchronous classroom.

Kristina (12:13):

And so similarly in the portfolio, we have the flexibility of creating different types of portfolios. So one portfolio would be more of a learning portfolio where we are kind of wanting to track our progress over time where we want to record the things that we have learned, but it's not just recording things, but it is also reflecting on these, because that is where the portfolio is not just your dumping ground for all the files that are stored on your computer or all the, the videos that you might have uploaded online, but where you actually think back, well, how did that go for me? What did I learn from it? What did I like about the activity that I've gone through? What did I not like about it? What do I want to do differently next time? And so that's what can be recorded in a learning portfolio.

Kristina (13:09):

Then we have an assessment portfolio because of course in education we oftentimes still work with grades quite a bit and we want students to then graduate. So portfolios are also heavily used for assessment purposes, and that is standard portfolio that might be more structured where students receive instructions of what needs to go in there, what needs to be present, but often still give them the flexibility of the students deciding how they want to represent their content, how they want to represent themselves. And then in particular, sat an assessment portfolio is being used in conjunction with a learning management system such as Moodle, in order to provide the assessment rules that the teachers need to then put a grade into a grade book, give feedback, record that feedback, and also keep the records for however many years they need to be kept depending on the jurisdiction.

Kristina (14:09):

We also see increasingly that portfolios are being used for work integrated learning activities. So those are your internships, your externships, your practicums. So if you're becoming a teacher, you often need to go into a classroom teach yourself. And because the university is not present in those environments, but you are working in a company or with an organization, the portfolio allows them to stay in touch with the students. The portfolio allows the advisor to provide feedback, provide encouragement, and employer might also do the same thing so that we are again, tracking the activities that are being done and also reflecting on them in order to further the profession. Another type of portfolios that we see very frequently that of course is also used in particular in the workforce or when we are looking for a job is, uh, the showcase portfolio or presentation portfolio. So that's the one where we are saying, Hey, look at me.

Kristina (15:14):

This is what I've done. These are all the great things that I've achieved. And that can also ensure to also include reflections because if I were to employ somebody, I do want to know, well, what have they done? But also what have they learned from it? How have they grown over time? And lastly, kind of of the, the five, five of the types of portfolios that I typically focus on is a professional certification portfolio. Because portfolios exist beyond primary, secondary, and tertiary education, they are also found in the world of work. In particular when we deal with professions that have competency frameworks. So for example, teachers, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, anybody really that has a competency framework typically has some sort of portfolio. Whether they call it portfolio or not is a different question because of course you can call it in something different.

Kristina (16:18):

But, um, it is a way to record what you have learned and reflect on your practice. And that is really the, at the heart of the portfolio that you kind of in a way collect everything that you have done, put that into your private online space. And when you are ready to know, okay, in this instance right now I'm creating a learning portfolio, then you pull out all that evidence that is most relevant. So you make a selection, you curate your entire evidence, and you reflect on that and you decide what is most pertinent for me to show. Because we don't want everybody to look at everything because then they would not really know what to look at. And so with the curation, we can really point toward the most important aspects and in order to tell our learning story. And so that of course allows for highly personalized learning and allows learners to bring their whole selves who the portfolio to the work that they are doing rather than just reiterating what was told in class or writing an examination that retrieves some learned facts rather than kind of ask what they think about it or what they want to reflect on experiences that they've been part of.

Sonya (17:53):

Okay. Thank you for this answer. I'm really interested in the portfolio work and everything that you just said. And is it fair to say that portfolios really kind of change and transform the way we present our skills and also the way employers assess their potential candidates? Right. Am I understanding you correctly?

Kristina (18:20):

I think portfolios definitely have the power to do that because we are putting less emphasis on grades that somebody has received because we all know that if you go to one university and get a grade, if you were to take that same course at a different university, your grade might look very different, because the standards are different, what is being taught is different. So it's kind of comparing apples with oranges. And so in contrast, the portfolio doesn't really have that problem because you are providing the learning evidence. You show this is in your case, for example, let's, let's assume you have written a marketing plan and then you are being graded on that, and you also give a reflection and you say why you have written that marketing plan as you have done. And that gives an employer the necessary context in order to judge what they see in your learning evidence and with your reflection because they can then make a better informed decision and say, well, she might have gotten that grade, but actually I really like how she's represented it, um, what the context is like.

Kristina (19:39):

And yes, there might have been a couple of issues, but really those are minor. That is something that can be learned and we really want for, or we, we really like the idea of what is behind it. And so anybody who is looking at a portfolio can make up their own mind because they have the, the evidence presented to them along with the reflection, with the thinking of what went behind it from the person that they are talking to.

Sonya (20:12):

You are also very experienced in providing training for Moodle LMS and you mentioned a little bit about that, but I would like to ask you to elaborate and mainly tell us a bit more on what synergies do you see between Moodle and Mahara and how does Moodle contribute to Mahara's vision?

Kristina (20:32):

Uh, thank you for mentioning my long history with Moodle, there. It is indeed, uh, that I started out with the learning management system at university in Europe and then transitioned more into more into portfolio work. And of course course also at Catalyst I've actually been involved in providing support services for some of our clients for a number of years. So it's, I'm definitely having a fondness for Moodle and while I'm not following its directions extremely closely these days, um, it is still wonderful to look in the environment here and then and see the improvements and the ideas that are coming through and that are also being discussed in the community. So to your question synergies between Moodleand Mahara and how Moodle contributes to the Mahara vision, I'd kind of like to start with the, with the last point there because that I think is, uh, part of the the important thing why, why we are really also looking into integration because Moodle doesn't want to change what students do.

Kristina (21:44):

Moodle kind of does honor that when that, that we can connect the portfolio for the learning management system and students do all their portfolio work in Mahara and then though they bring that into Moodle in order for have that assessment part that is often needed. And all of that takes then place in Moodle, which kind of goes back to the concept of the two platforms being complimentary because we are not trying to become a learning management system and Moodle doesn't try to become a portfolio system because we know that both of our platforms have lots of strength. And while there is some sort of overlap in certain functionalities, because of course both platforms are full-fledged, so we have a notification system Moodle has a notification system, we have forums, Moodle has forums. So there, there is some natural overlap of course because of the, the nature of wanting to do similar things.

Kristina (22:44):

However, the, at the essence, they are still very different in what they want to achieve. And that I think is really a wonderful thing because we can focus on our strength, the portfolios and Moodle can focus on its strength of being the learning management system. And together we are providing a better overall platform as part of an ecosystem. And that's where I'm really excited about, uh, Martin Dougiamas having revived the open EdTech community last year in 2022 because that is an opportunity for open software in the education sector, open software projects in the education sector to come together and see how we can collaborate, how we can integrate with each other in order to provide an ecosystem for education organizations. So, so kind of providing a buffet for people, a fee that that works because it gives you everything from breakfast to late night snacks and it is very varied.

Kristina (24:07):

You do not need to eat breakfast, you can start at lunch, um, or you can skip the midnight snack, but you have the options available and you have the connectors. So you always, and now I'm getting kind of complicated with my metaphor. Um, you have the connections, you can, you have the plates available, you have the napkins, you have all the tools that make connections between the, the different, um, items on the menu. You also have your drinks so that you can wash things down and or clean your palate. But breakfast doesn't want to compete with lunch and lunch doesn't want to compete with dinner. We all have our own responsibilities. We all have, we are all there for a reason, but we can work well together. And that I think is one of the biggest areas that we can all benefit from in that space is to be in the open community to build an ecosystem that uses open source at its heart in order to provide tools that organizations can use in order to data privacy, data sovereign data security and transparency of where the information is and where they want to keep it and make that a possibility so that we can build sustainable open source tools in order for support organizations.

Sonya (25:39):

Okay. You mentioned couple of times open source, you mentioned also open deck, which we strongly believe in. And I would like to ask you a little bit more about your view on the future of open source educational projects.

Kristina (25:57):

I think the last few months have shown that opensource is, is a really, really good option knowing where your data is, who has access to the data, who owns the data and what happens with the data and also with the tool, because with open source you actually have choices and you have options. You can have the software hosted by ideally Irreputable, uh, provider and knowledgeable in supporting the, the applications and be diligent about making security updates and so on. Or you can also host it yourself if you want to give it a go first and don't want to incur the, um, any fees and the technical staff available. Often we do speak about open source software, but for me it is actually a bit more than that. So there is also the term floss, so not flossing as with your teeth, but floss is in free Libre.

Kristina (26:57):

So freedom open source software, and that really means that open source of course, that the source code is freely available, that it can be edited, that it can be changed by anybody. And that the license also outlines what rights you have as organization, but also what responsibilities you have. However, it is more than just the, the source code being open. It is also about that freedom to be able to make changes, freedom to decide what you want to do with the platform, where you want to take it. If you want to give it a theme, if you want to change the icons, if you want to change the language, if you want to add a new feature, fix a feature, add a plugin because it is that freedom to decide. That is very important I think for open source and also for the sustainability because unless something is sustainable and you can move between platforms, you are locked into a particular platform and then that platform is not supported or provided anymore, you have a problem because you don't have access to your data, you can't get it out, you can't transfer it somewhere and you lose a lot of work.

Kristina (28:22):

Whereas with the freedom that you get through open source software, you can have the choices, you can always access the database in order for it maximum transfer things out of there. And I think while we of course talk about open source and the source code and those freedoms in general, if we want to have a future for this type of tools, I think we do need to look very much at the sustainability because software is not written by itself, though some programs might suggest that at times, um, they're always humans involved and those humans need nourishment. So to maintain and advance applications such as moodle and mahara that are used by hundreds and thousands of organizations, development teams are needed who shouldn't be required to do that in their spare time to support a solution sustainably, but they should be paid for. And so many members of our communities, of course volunteer their time.

Kristina (29:30):

And so I do not by any means want to diminish the uh, contributions because they're absolutely necessary and absolutely fantastic if we are just looking at contributions like from Mitsuhiro Yoshida who's been translating both Moodle and Mahara into Japanese, sometimes even just a few hours after we push something into Mahara, he's already translated everything Dominick in Switzerland who was taking care of the French translation and many, many others who spent countless hours just on supporting a project because they like it. Um, they like contributing for open source and they love it. So their efforts make it possible that software spreads so far and wide because uh, they localize it. They may, they bring the open source software to their communities and therefore also grow the communities and grow the products. However, they are volunteers. And so we can't completely expect of them that they then do all the releases, deal with security updates that need to be dealt with in a timely fashion in certain cases really pretty much immediately and manage new releases.

Kristina (30:52):

So that works, I think should not be shouldered by volunteers because that is just a very bad recipe for quick burnout. And what we've learned over the last few years really is that that is not a good idea, that we don't need to look after the wellbeing of the people that we are working with, that the people that we are engaging with. And so those things should be done by organizations that employ staff in order for allow them then to contribute to open source projects during their working hours. So you might ask, well, how's that then any different from proprietary software really because you employ somebody to write software? Well, we still have the freedom and we still have the open code, we still have the freedom to make changes and to implement features that maybe only we want without needing to ask for permission or waiting until somebody of the proprietary software decides that yes, we are going to implement it. You still have all those choices, but you are also making it possible that people can actually earn a living

Sonya (32:02):

Community is actually in the core of everything we do as well. And we are firm believers in digital technologies that improve accessibility to learning. So coming to the end of our interview, I would like to ask you, how do you see these tools evolving and what's their role in supportive in supporting a reflective, personalized and lifelong learning?

Kristina (32:25):

I think I've already mentioned it a little bit with the educational context for the pools. That if we have open learning, open access, open education, um, that we also need open tools and in order to be able to do lifelong learning, we often do need transition from one education sector to another and then interpret life of work. Of course, as if everybody uses different tools. We need to have a possibility to move our content between those tools. So again, if we have open technologies with open standards, open protocols, they allow us to do that because then we can take our content from one system and put it into another. And Mahara doesn't restrict whether an organization, um, university for examples as well, we do want to give our alumni access that is perfectly fine and very welcome because that way they can also keep their alumni close to them.

Kristina (33:25):

They don't need to find them in yet another software that they might not have access to or where the data is hosted in a different country where they might not agree with the privacy policy, but if they keep everybody in their learning ecosystem, they can continue talking with them. And I think that is an area that should become increasingly important because connections network building is an important aspect of education and beyond. So in New Zealand, for example, catalyst has been supporting a Mahara platform called My since 2008. It was started by the Ministry of Education here in the country as response to tertiary institutions starting to use portfolios because then the teacher said, well, if you want to prepare our students for university, we also need the tools and we need to give our students the opportunity to learn about these tools, to learn about reflection and working with portfolios.

Kristina (34:37):

And that's how the schools got portfolios. So now across all levels of education from primary school to high school, students can keep a portfolio throughout their entire school and career and they can then take it with them to their respective university tertiary institution. And if they then finish that or if they go direct to workplace learning, if the organization has a portfolio like Mahara, then they can import their content there and can make all sorts of changes or start from scratch. But they do know the technology. And so that I think also answers your question around accessibility because you still have access to your data, you can take your data with you and you have control over who has access to it and who shouldn't have access to it.

Sonya (35:36):

Thank you very much Kristina, Joining me today. I think there is no better way to end this topic. I have learned a lot about mohara, about open source and many other wonderful things that you are doing. And at the end if you like, uh, to learn more about topics like this, we encourage all of our, uh, listeners to join the mood opensource community and get involved at And if you are interested in open tech, as Kristina mentioned, which our CEO and founder Martin Dougiamas is leading, visit And last but not least, of course, you can connect with Kristina on LinkedIn or follow her podcast Bye and see you soon.