Reflections on the MaharaIRL Autumn Webinar

By Lisa Donaldson

The MaharaIRL user group met for our first online webinar on September 19th 2017 following on from the success of the inaugural face-to-face meeting in April. The group was founded in early 2017 to build a community to share information, support learning, and aid collaboration on eportfolios across Ireland.

Originating from a small group of pilot leads adopting eportfolios in Dublin City University (DCU), the wider MaharaIRL community encompasses faculty, learning technologists and technical staff from many Higher Education institutions. Attendees from eight institutions were represented at the webinar which was aligned with the theme “Using eportfolios to support and assess students on work placement and to track competencies”.

Anne Stevens, a Learning Technology Leader from New Zealand, presented a fascinating insight to using Mahara eportfolios to track competencies of graduate nurses. Lively conversation ensued around the delicate balance between providing structure and inhibiting creativity when using a template approach with students as well as the positive impact of eportfolio grading on the assessors.


A Q&A session around using eportfolios to support work placement highlighted that the majority of programmes had a work placement element but there was a three way split between those using, not using and those about to consider using eportfolios to support same. Time, technical support, money, and resistance to change were identified as the main impediments to integrating eportfolios.

Fingers were flying across keyboards as those currently using eportfolios in this capacity offered examples of how they were assessing experiential learning and what supports they were providing. Supports referenced included:

  • short videos
  • introductory lectures
  • followup emails
  • FAQ’s, prompt sheets
  • lectures on professional development and critical thinking
  • webinars
  • handbooks
  • weekly supervision
  • online forums, and
  • student eterns

The collaborative nature of the group was evident through the many offers to share these valuable resources.

The majority of cases discussed did not feature a peer-to-peer component but this came out strongly as an area attendees were interested in exploring further. Conversation again turned to templates and whether templating helps or hinders the development of the placement portfolio and digital literacies. Templates, prompts and rubrics proved to be commonly used among the group particularly when first introducing eportfolios to students.

The webinar then moved on to Kristina’s Corner. A specially recorded piece by Kristina Hoeppner (Catalyst IT) on tracking competencies through Smart Evidence – many thanks Kristina. The functionality of Smart Evidence proved appealing and the video was posted online for further review. An earlier and longer presentation by Kristina on this theme is available in the following video…

With time against us, we had a whistle stop tour through attendees Wow moments and Woe moments when integrating eportfolios. Sample Wows included:

  • an oral showcase of final year portfolios
  • student expressing gratitude for the “space” provided by the portfolio, and
  • graduates reporting huge success in securing teaching jobs through presenting their portfolios at interview.

The inevitable Woes featured educators own lack of experience; students not being able to see past the need for technical skills; and a desire to see greater focus on softer skills/graduate attributes.


The webinar closed after an hour of amazing and generous interaction with a suggestion for a next face-to-face meeting/eportfolio day and perhaps a regular Twitter chat. We hope to plan for those before the end of 2017. Watch this space for more information! If anyone would like to join our ongoing conversations around sharing impactful eportfolio practice, please contact

Many thanks to attendees from Dublin City University, Marino Institute of Education, Hibernia College, National College of Ireland, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Sligo Institute of Technology, Mary Immaculate College, and the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. 

Footnote: A special “eportfolio Unconference” on the theme of “Integrating Authentic Assessment” will take place at DCU, with funding from the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, on Friday, 26th January 2018 from 10:00am to 4:00pm. Click here to find out more information and register for this event.

DCU selected to host World Conference on Online Learning

Ireland’s reputation as a digital frontrunner continues to grow with news that Dublin City University (DCU) has been selected by the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) to host the 2019 World Conference on Online Learning. Held every second year the World Conference is the largest and most prestigious international event exploring new open, online and flexible models of education.


Gard Titlestad, ICDE Secretary General, reports, “DCU submitted an outstanding case to host the 28th ICDE World Conference, which in November 2019 will attract to Dublin the world’s leading scholars, researchers, innovators, policy-makers, industry partners and practitioners working in the field”.

DCU’s success in winning the rights to host the 2019 event was formally announced on Thursday in a presentation to over 1400 delegates from 96 countries during the closing ceremony at this year’s World Conference in Toronto. The announcement was marked earlier in the day by an official signing ceremony, which notably was sealed by the DCU delegation sharing a glass of Irish Whiskey with the Secretary General and members of the ICDE team.


Professor Mark Brown, Director of the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL), and 2019 World Conference Chair says, “Our successful bid in hosting the World Conference with a theme of Transforming Lives and Societies is recognition of DCU’s leadership and growing international reputation in the area of online learning”.

As Professor Anne Looney, Executive Dean of DCU’s Institute of Education, Ireland’s largest teacher education provider, reports, “DCU has a strong team working in the field of digital learning and is committed to opening access to education and providing opportunities for life-long learning through new digital technologies”.

WCOL Promo 1 Updated

Global demand for online part-time study continues to grow internationally, with currently over 6 million students in the U.S alone estimated to be completing some of their degree online. Professor Brown notes, “In Ireland, despite the current restrictive funding model, the demand from part-time mature students for more online and flexible learning pathways continues to increase as people look to earn as they learn”. This year DCU accepted a record number of new registrations for online degree programmes offered through the DCU Connected platform.


Professor Brown reports that more than 60 million learners worldwide registered for a free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in 2016, and this figure is expected to continue to grow over the next few days. Notably, DCU will be launching its first official MOOC in 2018 on Irish Language and Culture through the FutureLearn platform. This MOOC initiative is part of the Fáilte ar Líne – Welcome on Line project supported by the Irish Government under the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language.

FutureLearn Purple 1

Associate Professor Mairéad Nic Giolla Mhichíl, Head of the NIDL’s new Ideas Lab leading this collaborative initiative between FIONTAR & Scoil na Gaeilge says, “Further MOOCs are planned over 2018 as DCU looks to innovate in new models of online learning and to provide access to engaging, learning opportunities to people living throughout Ireland, and beyond”.

Minister of Education

DCU’s commitment to promoting the Irish language and widening access to life-long learning was discussed at this year’s conference in Toronto with Hon Mitzi Hunter, Minister of Education, and further recognised at this year’s World Conference, with Professor Brown’s appointment by ICDE as a Global Ambassador for Open Educational Resources.

According to Professor Brown the World Conference in Dublin will provide an excellent platform to showcase both Ireland’s innovation in digital learning and global reputation in the IT sector. He says, “DCU is looking forward to working with both major industry partners and the Irish Education sector in staging such a significant world event in Dublin”.

DCU would like to acknowledge the support of Fáilte Ireland and Happening Conferences and Events in the preparation of its successful bid against other competition to host the World Conference. More information about the 28th ICDE 2019 World Conference on Online Learning will be available from the following website:

WCOL Promo 2 Updated