My secondment to the Scottish Government to work on Glow has ended, I’ll be returning to my substantive post on Monday.
Thanks to all who tweeted nice messages last week. I hope to post some more on the whole experience but for now some blog thoughts.

Back in July I posted Glow Blogs 558 days in doing a bit of self assessment on progress on Glow Blogs. I’d didn’t score myself too highly and hoped to do better on the following fronts:

  1. The improved e-portfolio system out of the door
  2. A few new themes and the odd plugin added
  3. Upgrade WordPress if appropriate
  4. Make cast iron the expectations for continual improvement

You can see the progress we have reported on the Releases page on Glow Blog Help.

1 e-Portfolios, here we nailed it I think. Before summer we had hope to release the plugin early in October but by September we announced a bit of a delay. As it turned out we released the 1.0 version of the plugin on the 10 of November. so I think full marks on number 1 as far as the first phase of the e-portfolios goes, two more phases in the works.

In my opinion the plugin is great, we have taken a 108 step setup down to 2 clicks, 2 fields and a popup button. We have gone from 60 themes in need of maintenance to one plugin. The creation of a profile from posts is to my mind elegant. In an earlier post I’ve given a brief account of how the development process worked. This shows what a great team I have been lucky enough to work with.

2 In August we had a release that added five themes, a couple of plugins some fixes and a couple of additions. Along with the e-portfolio release we added the ability to embed sway content to a Glow Blog by pasting in the URL. This later was developed by our developer Stephen Harris in short order. Stephen’s work in general has saved a deal of time in testing rounds. The tester team have sent back few bugs for fixing.

Themes and plugins have been a feature quite a few folk have asked about. I am not much of a theme user myself so am interested in getting suggestions of themes for evaluation.

The retiral of the Suffusion theme disappointed asome users, a lot of sites still are using it. I’de be very keen for these folk to identify a theme that would be a suitable replacement.

3 We are now at WordPress 4.1.8 so have made small updates. We have fallen a bit behind our aim of staying within a point of the main release but I expect that an upgrade will happen in the new year. WordPress 4.2 did not bring much of interest to glow users, the 4.3 and upcoming 4.4 versions will be solid improvements.

4 This is the trickiest one! There are conflicts in developing at a national scale between budget. The added requirements of working in the Government (procurement, security, data protection) all add to time and cost. I think we have managed to show steady progress since the switch over in October 2014. I believe this demonstrates that it can be done. Anecdotally the Glow Blogs service has been well received.

I had hoped that before the end of my secondment that we would have some process for getting things on a to-do list would be in place and visible. I think the need for this is well understood but not formally up and running. We have a backlog of ideas for future development.
The backlog consists of work left over from previous phases and feature requests from users.

On these points I think I’ve moved from what I though of a generous C to perhaps scraping a B. I also said:

More important I hope I see an increase in the use of blogs by pupils that actively impacts their learning.

This one is a bit harder to judge, there are certainly new blogs created all the time. Through the bootcamp, twitter and just poking around I’ve seen some nice posts. I feel quite positive that Glow Blogs lower the entry for classes to start blogging. There no need to get permission, set up accounts ect, so the benefits should follow.

There is has been a lot of good feedback and commentary on twitter. For example:


I’ve also been providing some help and support. A lot via email and twitter. I’ve been building the Glow Blog Help blog.

Any answers I give get added to the help. I can answer the same question with a URL. Although it lacks a bit of polish on the grammar front, and there a few typos, I do believe the help has been a worthwhile activity.

Personally I am a lot happier with the position of Glow Blogs than I was in July.

The featured image on this post is mine, obscurely chosen, I found it searching flickr for evaluate. sub_0037 on Flickr

There is a lot of it about, a lot of find out about. short term I don’t think this will have any effect on Glow Blogs, long term who know. Here are some things I’ve been reading.


Einburgh-WapuuOn Saturday I was talking about Glow Blogs at WordCamp Edinburgh 2015.

Here are my slides as pdf and shared on iCloud (I’ve never used iCloud in this way). The slides are pretty minimal. There should be video of my talk posted at some point.

It was an interesting day altogether, the worst thing about it was there were two sessions at a time so I missed half of it!

A mixture of WordPress developers and designers for the most part, a different audience for me. Of course I came away knowing how I could have made the presentation a bit better…

I also came away with a bunch of links, and ideas to think about.  As usual meeting folk from a different zone there were a lot of good things that could be taken into education, as usual it takes me a few days to start making these connections in my head.

The Edinburgh WordPress group have monthly meetups . Iif they had not been on Wednesdays, when I’ve had Edutalk commitments, I would have loved to get along to while I’ve been working in Edinburgh.

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 21.52.56

This post is just a quick note to log a problem and its solution. It only took a wee bit of googling but might help me or someone else at a later date. It only applies to self hosted WordPress blogs.

This evening I tried to log on to my blog only to be met with a blank screen. I tried my DS106 blog and that was fine so it didn’t look like the first google suggestion about php being out of memory. Next suggestion was .htaccess corruptions, so I opened fetch and had a look at the file, looked pretty much the same as I recall (note, keep better backups).

The third google suggestion pointed to plugins and suggested solutions 1. This is what I did:

Using using my ftp application (cyberduck) I edited the wp-config.php file. Changing:

define('WP_DEBUG', false); to true

Trying to load the page showed an error mentioning the medium plugin that had been updated earlier in the day. So I changed the name of the plugin folder (still in cyberduck) to medium-broken. This allowed me to log in. Checking the plugin page showed that there was another update for the plugin, crossing my fingers I updated and all was well, the renamed folder was removed and a new folder was in place.

  1. How to Fix the WordPress White Screen of Death


Whether explicitly stated or not, this is precisely what I see many folks advocating for with our students and educators alike. Telling kids to be careful and thoughtful in what they share is important. Telling them to be calculating and strategic is dangerous. It might be a good thing to consider if you’re selling soap but not if you’re a human being. I see people applying these principles being applied to the way they interact online. The things they share are strategic. They share content and ideas they know will get a lot of views/likes/retweets rather than things that are simply interesting to them. They are careful to maintain the desired reputation of their brand. The schedule their posts and content to get the most traffic and interaction. None of these things are inherently bad but when this criteria drives you, I think you’ve crossed the line from human to brand.

Source: If I Ever Think of Myself as a Brand, Slap Me | Ideas and Thoughts

Love this post from Dean Sharski, I think this is how I’ve subconsciously chosen to pay attention to folk. The more machine like they are the less likely I am to pay attention.

Hence my recent tweet:

I don’t particularly want to have professional twitter account. I do think about what I share and I don’t think I’ve ever posted anything that would scare the horses, but a fair proportion of my online life is nonsense. Some of this eventually feeds into my life as an educator but some might appear quite strange sometimes. I tend to post different things different places, this blog steers clear of ds106 related things, gif got to tumblr but everything ends up on twitter in a messy stream.


Featured image: Tiger Brand on Flickr  No known copyright restrictions.



One of my favourite blog post series, Tom Woodward‘s Weekly Web Harvest had a good haul this week including a link to this delightful twitter bot, moth generator (@mothgenerator). I took a few hours to get my moth but worth the wait.

The bot generates a moth image from the text you tweet it.

The talk will give a view of how blogging with WordPress fits well with Scottish education’s ‘Curriculum for excellence’. Some loose linkage of Community, Connections & Openness in software and education. How Glow blogs, a set of 32 multi-sites with a total of >160,000 blogs are used and are developing. Some notes of the ‘Product Owner’ role and working at large scale to fit the needs of stake holders from a wide range of ages and needs.

Source: Speakers | WordCamp Edinburgh


I am talking about Glow Blogs next week at  WordCamp Edinburgh not my usual audience of colleagues so wish me luck.

Urban Dictionary: wean.


My raspberry pi, was having problems. For a while it had sat on the windowsill happily posting images to tumblr day and night on skypi and broomhill sky’s, it served up a small website itself too.

At some point it stopped working. I rebooted the device a few times, turned if off and on again, then left if for another day.

I had a bit of time on my hands on Thursday so decided to story it out. Since the device didn’t seem to be working at all, I could not connect to it via ssh and it was not serving the website I though I’d better just start from a clean install. So this is what I did.

  • bought a new SD card.
  • downloaded a new image from NOOBS for Raspberry Pi
  • wiped the card and copied the files over
  • moved the pi to the living room and hooked up the to and a keyboard
  • booted the pi and went through the initial setup
  • shut down the pi to prepare to move it back to the windowsill where I planned to connect via ssh and redo all the server and script stuff to get it working.

At that point, while the pi was still hooked to the tv I though I’d give the old card a final try. Of course it booted up straightaway!

I then took the pi with the old card back into the other room and connected to power and ethernet. Back to the Mac and tried to ssh on. Fail, check the website that sits on the pi, fail.

Finally I took the Ethernet cable out of the powering plug and put it back in again. Everything started working properly.

I do not know how many times I’ve repeated this sort of routine expecting the worst and skipping the obvious. I do hope I’ve learnt my lesson but somehow I doubt it.


On Tuesday this week we released the Glow Blogs e-Portfolio plugin

The biggest reason for creation of a blogs in the Glow Blogs system has be e-Portfolios. There are 10s of thousands in the system. Until now the system used was based on one of 60 different e-Portfolio themes created by Alex Duff during his time at Education Scotland.

The old system had a couple of problems, firstly the creation of blogs was time consuming due to the way the old Glow Blogs were hooked into SharePoint, secondly the themes all needed maintenance and updating. This maintenance would be expensive as the 60 themes were all different. The amount of development and testing would have needed more resource and time than we have available. The first problem was solved when the blogs were decoupled from Sharepoint in October last year. The e-Portfolio plugin solves the second.

Early on in our planning of the new WordPress blogs in glow and the migration of the old plots we decided that the best way to tackle this was to move away from theme based e-Portfolios to ones based on a plugin.

This plugin would produce profiles from posts that were added to the blog. The profile is really the only way that the e-portfolio blogs differ from a standard blog.

Initially our thoughts were to separate the e-Portfolios and other blogs onto two different instances of WordPress with different functionality. At the start of development it became apparent that this would be both technically difficult and would risk loss or damage to the data in the system. As we got nearer to the old system being shut down it was decided that the e-Portfolios would be developed in a future phase after the initial migration and upgrade to the WordPress software.

During this time we did develop the requirements for a new system, and over the past year I’ve discussed these plans with a lot of our stakeholders. The requirements were put together and rationalised beautifully by Sonali Nakhate who was first the business analyst and then project manager for Glow Blogs.

We finally had space and time to start developing the e-Portfolio solution and Stephen Harris was brought into the team to carry out the development. Stephen took our ideas and turned then into an elegant solution that fits in seamlessly with the WordPress backend. For example on the profile creation screen you can reorder the sections of the profile by drag and drop. You can also tab through the sections and use the arrow keys to move the sections up and down.1

Running along side this development and feeding off the requirements was the creation of a test plan. David Orr and Grant Hutton from the Glow test team planned to test all of the new functionality and equally importantly that the new features does not break any of the old ones. As development finished the test team fed back and the odd bug were found and squashed. It is testimony to Stephen that the testing took less time than planned allowing us to get to release ahead of schedule.

The development and test teams are coordinated and run by Geoff Turnbull Glow’s technical architect, Geoff also fed into all aspects of the blog requirements gathering and development from the start. Many other members of the Glow team fed into the process along with colleagues from the digital directorate and other parts of Government (procurement, security and more). All of the blog team are also involved in other parts of the Glow program too.

There are still two other phases of e-Portfolio work planned, the adding of class sets to user mange to and a way for teachers to easily see activity from the pupils they are working with without having to visit individual sites to check for activity. I am look forward to watching these developments from a bit further off as my secondment finishes at the end of this month.

One of the most interesting and enjoyable parts of my secondment has been the chance to work in the blog team alongside these folk who both understand their respective jobs and how they fit together. In the past when I started blogging and podcasting with my pupils I hashed and bashed my way through the technicalities, it has been delightful to see the way this can be done well at scale.

We are developing some help for the e-Portfolio plugin on the glow blog help site.

I think the biggest smile I’ve had on my face in the last couple of years was on first seeing this page.

Featured image: Team Working Flickr by Mauro Public Domain.


UoD EduShare | The central sharing hub for #UoDedu teacher education students at the University of Dundee

Derek described the project succinctly:

On of the things I am most happy about in my involvement in Glow Blogs is the syndication plugin. The UoD EduShare site is a better example of its use than I could have hoped for.

UoD EduShare aggregates posts from student teacher’s blogs at the University of Dundee. In the short time it has been running it has pull in links to and excerpts from over 400 posts from over 90 blogs. A few clicks and a bit of reading shows how involved the students are with their learning and an enthusiasm for sharing their thoughts.

I am excited about this project because it is a great example of what blogs and syndication can do. Longer term we will have teachers entering the profession with a great understanding of this digital environment.

Bugs and Fixes

Previously I’ve used the syndication plugin a couple of times now for Blogging Bootcamp #2 and #ShareOurLearning. These are smaller aggregations than the one Derek is running. In fact Derek found that the plugin had problems. Once he had added around 70 blogs he could not add any more.

This bug has been fixed and the fix applied to the blog service last week. We are currently very lucky in having a great team working on Glow Blogs. Our technical architect prioritised this as a degradation of an expected service and between our developer and test team a solution was found, developed, tested and released quickly.


If you are a user of Glow Blogs and want to use the syndication plugin there is a help page on using the plugin: Syndication Plugin and I’ve put together a page on Running An Aggregated Course or Collaboration in Glow Blogs. I’d be more than happy helping folk get started with using the plugin on Glow Blogs.