Mahara: Celebrating 15 years of supporting learners


On a Wednesday morning in mid-2005, Mark Nichols and Bill Anderson, both then at Massey University's Hokowhitu Campus, came up with the idea to create an ePortfolio platform in Aotearoa New Zealand.

A little over a year later, after countless hours of research, analysis, interviews, and tossing various ideas around the project team, Penny Leach, then-developer at Catalyst, committed the first piece of code to the Mahara code base on 27 September 2006 at the end of her work day at 16:50 with the unassuming commit message “Initial commit”.

The Mahara project code base became official and thus, 15 years later we are taking time out of our regular work day to celebrate the Mahara community around the world.

Over the years, the project has undergone lots of changes and many people have contributed to it. Many of them are still active in the community like Mitsuhiro Yoshida, who has been translating Mahara into Japanese since January 2008 or Lisa Donaldson, advocate for all things portfolios in Ireland.

Catalyst has been involved in the Mahara project from the start as development partner for the tertiary institutions that formed the initial project team. It was decided that the software use an open source license and be made available to the world wide community. Since its humble beginnings in our part of the world, Mahara has spread around the globe and is used in primary, secondary, and tertiary education as well as in the workplace, demonstrating its flexibility to be used for many different types of portfolios.

Don Christie headshotDon Christie, Managing Director at Catalyst, who experienced the project from the start says, “Being good open source citizens we initially tried working with an existing open source project. After several months of that we realised that wasn’t going to work. So we basically started from scratch and built a portfolio system that was then used across many tertiary institutions in NZ, and still exists. It is now used by thousands of institutions around the world.

“So from that perspective it’s been a highly successful project. It has expanded in its scope and what it’s taken on. Mahara was a proof of concept for academics who had a theory about student-centred learning. They had an idea that students should be in control of their own learning artefacts. Mahara allows students to manage how the world sees them, and their own destiny. Which fits with Catalyst’s vision of moving away from institutional ownership and having more control at a personal level.”

While we celebrate the anniversary of the project using the date of the first commit to the code base, the Mahara project is so much more than software and many people have contributed to it without writing a single line of code. Therefore, we want to celebrate the entire community: students, educators, business analysts and usability experts, graphic designers, front-end developers, back-end developers, security researchers, code reviewers, testers, system administrators, translators, documentation writers, event organisers, support staff and learning designers, and official Mahara Business Partners and Supporters.

Every one of them is contributing to the success of this project that has evolved over the years and continues to support learners in many different stages of their lives; collecting and curating their learning experiences, and demonstrating their skills and accomplishments.

We'd like to invite you to learn a little bit about Mahara throughout the years in our upcoming blog posts.

Part 1. Building a bridge: PLE and integration with other tools for assessment purposes

Part 2: Mahara: It takes a village

Part 3: What's in the future of Mahara?