I've been thinking a lot about glow recently. Banging on the new 365 facility when I can and going over some old thoughts. I felt it might be good to get a few posts out over the break before I start the new post of 'glow product owner' in January. This should let me look back and think ‘how naïf’ or let other folk say, but you said…

One of the complaints I've heard countless times is the glow passwords are too complex for pupils, especially younger ones. Of then teachers turn up to glow training courses without their usernames and password and these have to be reset.

The reason given for problems with passwords is generally, they are too complex, or 'I have too many passwords'. I don't think either of these ring particularly true. I think David Gilmore told m something like, 'people will remember passwords if what is behind them is important enough'.

So part of the problem may be that what you get for remembering your glow password is not perceived as valuable enough. Perhaps we need 'stuff' in glow that is of enough value that folk remember their passwords or do not mind the hassle of getting them reset. Being able to reset your password via an email, as in most online services, might just be a good idea. It would certainly have cut my workload down a wee bit over the last few years.

By valuable I don't just mean a pile of resources, but the password protects a system that  is both powerful and easy enough to use.

The other aspect I think needs addressed is the matter of what is password protected. Should a list of resources be protected? I don't think so. A simple example might be a list of links for a class and a learning opportunity to go with it. Does that need to be behind a password, I don't believe so. If this resource also has a place for pupils to discuss and report then this may need to be password protected, to avoid spam, and perhaps protect pupils.

Likewise resources for staff do not need to be behind a password, it might be handy if tools to organise these resources could be associated with a teachers login, but folk would only need to login to do that organisation or storage.

So there may be value in having part of the new glow being free and open on the web, and for the bits behind the padlock to add value and be easy to use.

It has been five short years since I left the classroom and much to my surprise I am going to be moving on, for a secondment. Recently I was approached to take a role in the development of glow. The role is one of three product owners, I am not sure exactly what I’ll be doing but it involves working with the team at Scottish Government to develop the ICT in excellence recommendations.

Exciting stuff, as I understand it I’ll be working with a team of developers as a ‘product owner’, this is a completely new direction for me. I’ve read a description or two of what the being a product owner entails and it seems somewhat daunting. I am hoping that my enthusiasm for ICT and online learning will carry me through. I’ll also be relaying on Ian Stuart, a member of the ICT in excellence group and one of the other product owners to get me up to speed. (Ian tweeted as Islayian until now, this post requires relocation and a new twitter name: @IanStuart66)

I was interested to read a few tweets in response to Fearghal Kelly’s tweet about the advert for the job for the third product owner. Fearghal had been asked to do this, but a replacement biology teacher could not be found. Fearghal’s tweet surfaces a wee bit of less than positive feeling towards glow from others in Scottish education.

Today Fearghal came back with a solid response on this blog, Glowing Forwards explaining that it the potential not the reality of glow that is exciting.

Personally in private and public, I’ve spent a fair bit of time musing on and criticising glow. A lot of my work in the past five years has been in supporting the use of glow, and I’ve heard a lot of folk talking about the problems. From the start I’ve believed that the concept of a national space and set of services/connections is a good thing but have sometime been disappointed with that is provided. I’ve posted a lot here, varying from beta test reports, through moans to weird hacks to get glow to behave as I think it should. I am not starry eyed about glow but I do think it is needed.

One reason is the uneven access to online tools across Scotland. Some authorities are risk adverse, some are neophiles. There have been some attempts to change this politically for longer than glow has existed they do not seem to have move the goalposts much. Perhaps a new glow could help. To do so it would need to provide a good set of standard tools, the sort that are used for all kinds of things across the internet. I am not talking here about VLEs or LMS, but blogs, wikis and other malleable systems.

A few years ago when I started using some Web 2.0 tech with my pupils I was breaking new ground, at least locally. Luckily for me I was too naïf to ask permission, it would probably not have given. I was also excited and pig headed enough to keep banging away at getting the technology to work. Not everyone likes to spend there time this way and nor should they.

I think there should be two ways to use glow: 1. pick it up and run, 2. Hack and modify. The first would be the general way to use it ,the second would have space for innovation. I do not mean hack in just the realm of software or code but more generally. A way to take a tool and use it in a completely or slightly new way. Teachers constantly do this across the curriculum and across age and stage. They take lessons, topics, ideas and make them suit their class, pupils and situation, it should be possible to do this with online tools.

I also think that Sharepoint, behind the original glow portal and being developed by Education Scotland as a major part of the new glow is not the best way to go about this Eduhacking. I might be wrong about this and look forward to finding out more of how it will fit in the new service. I hope it is just one of a range of tools. To me, Sharepoint looks like a powerful toolkit for centrally designing online spaces. To exploited it best it needs professionals. These professionals can design tools and spaces for teachers and learners based on what is understood about the teaching and learning process. But it does not feel friendly to the casual user who wants to bend it to a particular task. It does not feel like a space where the users will innovate.
I’ve blogged about this recently, Glow should be at the trailing edge.

We need other technologies too, VLEs, mail perhaps video hosting, these are often available at a price or free online already, but I’ve watched quite a few services come and go over the last few years and we need to keep in mind that the developers of these services need to make money somehow:

If you had asked me a couple of years ago about an interesting blogging tool that might be a great fit for the classroom I would have pointed you towards posterous. This was a service that was always going to be free, until twitter bought it and it closed down. Personally I was left with nearly 1000 posts on edutalk to try and sort out into a new system. (The provided tools didn’t work very well with audio!). The point is that teachers comfortable with online spaces would roll with it and find new tools if say Edmodo disappears but a lot of others will become frustrated and disenchanted. Hopefully the new glow will provide a bit of stability if not all of the polish and gloss of brand new and shiny tools.

There is a lot of work to do, glow has suffered from a barrage of criticism and slow response its critics. The transition, and uncertainty around it have not helped much, but it does look like the government is going to push ahead with glow taking the ‘ICT in excellence’ groups advice and that sounds like an interesting place to work.


A little blue sky thinking.

For the last few weeks I’ve been kicking the tyres of the new MS 365 glow. It is not without its teething problems, although these do seem to be getting found and fixed. Education Scotland seem confident that everything will get sorted but we have not had much indication of how long it will take.

The Glow Migration Update from Bill Maxwell, hints that the Local Authorities can take their time moving into 365 and new services will be rolling out:

This means authorities will be able to ensure, that together, we create the best possible experiences for Glow users, matched to their users’ needs.

The services and applications required to support this will be rolled out in partnership with local authorities. This will include the opportunity for any blogs, wikis and other services which local authorities want further time to consider to be uploaded.

There is a lot of work being done in getting the 365 site to work well for education, designing ways to aggregate content and build learner experiences. The one interesting place in the new glow so far is the LearnCat site, which is full of activities,

Scottish learners – you can learn to create, make, build, bake, grow, collect, code, tell stories ……and more

This is exciting stuff. It is hard to tell how this will work out until we have a lot of learners in the 365 glow, but to me, the concept looks great.

I think the main problem with the old glow and the new 365 service is its size, a bit of a behemoth, hard to change and adapt to particular circumstances. A lighter weight and more flexible solution might suit conceprs like learncat better?

Domain of One’s Own: Notes from the Trailing Edge

Yesterday I watch the video of this presentation at TEDx Sagrado Corazón by Jim Groom, who has blogged his slides and text: Domain of One’s Own: Notes from the Trailing Edge.

I think there are some great ideas for taking glow forward in the way Bill Maxwell wants:

we create the best possible experiences for Glow users, matched to their users’ needs.

The services and applications required to support this will be rolled out

(My selection from the Quote from Mr Maxwell above).

Jim says,

A forward thinking IT infrastructure (which would be fairly loose, fast, and cheap using open standards of syndication) would work to connect these various individuals into a network, creating serendipitous connections that taken together reflect the rich tapestry of who the people are that make up any institution.

Jim discussed the idea of giving users, flexible webhosting in a domain of their own. Jim linked to Jon Udell’s post, MOOCs need to be user innovation toolkits where Jon writes:

There’s a reason I keep finding novel uses for these trailing-edge technologies. I see them not as closed products and services, but rather as toolkits that invite their users to adapt and extend them. In Democratizing Innovation, Eric von Hippel calls such things “user innovation toolkits” — products or services that, while being used for their intended purposes, also enable their users to express unanticipated intents and find ways to realize them.

Jim goes on to say:

This is exactly what UMW’s Domain of One’s Own is philosophically grounded in. Giving every student, staff, and faculty their own User Innovation Toolkit so that they can fully understand the principles of the web. Interrogate its limits, and extend its possibilities.

Jim then links to A Personal Cyberinfrastructure where Gardner Campbell writes,

To build a cyberinfrastructure that scales without stiflling innovation, that is self-supporting without being isolated or fatally idiosyncratic, we must start with the individual learners. Those of us who work with students must guide them to build their own personal cyberinfrastructures, to embark on their own web odysseys. And yes, we must be ready to receive their guidance as well.


What if….

The quotes above are from folk working in tertiary education, I am wondering if they could be adapted to schools. What if

  • Glow gave every learner and teacher in Scotland a domain. (Perhaps not at nursery, start with training wheels, at a certain point the wheels are taken off, 13 or 16 maybe). The domain could be kept for life. When a learner left full time education they could take their domain with them.
  • Glow added simple webhosting to it services for every user.
  • Folk could use something like c-panel to start up a new blog/wiki/eportfolio/whatever.
  • Glow was therefore open to using old tools in new ways.
  • This part of glow would not be one large application but lots of small ones that can be linked and aggregated in lots of ways.

Sounds a bit like glew.org.uk, it is a lot like Glew with even less centrality.

It does not preclude using 365, google docs or anything else. This would be a service that users would use their glow authentication to logon to.

I do not think this would need to be expensive. By using trailing edge technology, that is used all over the internet, this could be started fairly simply and grow if there was a demand.

Give teachers and learners in Scotland the opportunity to innovate. Much of the innovation in online education has not come from new applications, but teachers finding ways to use old ones in innovative and creative ways.

The argument in the current glow for not being able to add plugins or update the software for blogs (for example) was security and stability. By adopting standard webhosting, these problems would be to a large extent negated. Most webhosts can handle users doing daft things without the whole thing falling over. (I say this, not because I understand webhosting, but because I’ve done a few daft things as a customer). Taking things even further how would something like OpenShift, where it takes minutes to get a cloud application up and running, fit.

Why Not Just use the ‘real’ web

It has been suggested a few times that Scotland gives up glow, and teachers can choose to use any existing services on the internet. This might be fine if we all had access to use these services and they met with national and local security and data protection needs. As things stand we do not and there is not a level playing field across Scotland.

What Then…

Who knows, the field would be open. Just thinking about blogs and RSS (and I don’t think of a lot else), I’ve blogged ideas for using blogs and aggregating them a few times:

I’ve no real idea of how easy it would be to set up authenticated web and domain hosting for a whole nation, but give the time and money that has been put into glow as a large central service, it might not cost too much to provide a structure for a lightweight loosely joined corner of the web for Scottish learners and teachers?

Might it be that by being at the trailing edge, using tried and tested tools, thatost and risk might be low, but provide platforms for teachers and learners to innovate?

I’ve not posted anything about the Scottish Learning Festival or the associated TeachMeet here. I did do a quick audio review of my two days SLF 2013 on EDUtalk and am starting to post tmslf2013 audio at EDUtalk too.

One of the three things I talked about in my 7 minutes at teachmeet was the new ScotEduBlogs site. I posted plans about this here, ScotEduBlogs Evolving a while back. The new site is now running at the old domain. It seems to be running fairly smoothly with a fair number of posts pulled in so far:


I particularly love the zero spam comments. Although the new site is a blog there is no opportunity for commenting, clicking on titles of articles directs you to the original post.

So far I’ve kept the them very minimal, just using the standard Twenty Twelve theme, with a few adjustments in a child theme, the main one being the ability to toggle the amount of text show for each post. I’d expect some folk just to want to scan down the titles, clicking on the ones that interest them, this will open the original post in a new tab.

Seb View

I’d be happy to get advice on this or any other aspect of how the site runs.

We have refocused the site on professional blogs at the moment, to see how it holds up.

I’ve also installed the jetpack pluging mostly for the mobile theme:


Please Join In

If you are a Scottish educational blogger and you are not listed please Add Your blog. Please also spread the word if you know any other Scottish educational bloggers who might like to join in.

FeedWordPress a glow wish

As you might know, glow, Scotland’s national intranet is undergoing a refresh at the moment. I believe a new wordpress provider is being commissioned, I really hope that the new service will either alow us to install our own plugins or includes the feedwordpress plugin too. This pluging powers the aggregation at ScotEduBlogs. This would be a wonderful tool for glow. Teachers could aggregate all their pupils eportfolio onto one blog, schools could aggregate posts from their class blogs onto a school one. I also hope they are going to enable the MetaWebLogAPI that allows posting from mobile apps, this is sadly missing from the current glow blogs.

On Friday Professor Muffy Calder Chief Scientific Adviser for Scotland announced The ICT in Education Excellence Group completes its report on the requirements of a future Glow service the report can be downloaded from the Excellence Group Report page on The Scottish Government site. I’d recommend that anyone interested in using ict in Teaching and Learning read it.

First Thoughts Quotes

There is a lot of detail in the report covering many aspects of Glow Plus, here are some bits that have jumped out at me in the first read through or two:

While these documents refer to this service with the working title of “Glow Plus”, the Group proposes that a rebranding of the service – involving users – should be part of the implementation.

I’ve heard a lot of negativity for teachers about ‘glow’ some of the more clunky aspects of the initial implementation and the confusion over the transition to a new version have created some negativity. From talking to teachers where I work I’d guess the use of glow has dropped off considerably except for the use of e-portfolios. Rebranding might help, but a solid system will help even more.

The new service should be as open as possible, with only personal and procured content and services behind an authentication barrier.

Interesting to read Jaye about forcing teachers to use glow to access national 4 & five material. The more that is openly and easily available the more folk may use ICT and that is surly the point. I know some material must be behind paywalls, because we pay for it but not everything we logon to use needs to be behind a password.

Fearghal’s post Fearghal Kelly’s thoughts » Evaluating Glow Plus #ICTex questions this closed aspect of glow too.

The development of Glow Plus will necessarily be an iterative process and the Group recommends development using an agile development process with close involvement of users and other stakeholders.

I’ve blogged enough about the need for glow to be in perpetual beta to love the agile word here.

Teachers should be trusted to use their professional judgment about how ICT should be used.

Enough said.

To allow a power user or third-parties to develop integrated services a simple application programming interface (API) will enable support for applications to be integrated to the platform and feed the learning stream. As a result of integration, single sign-on will be achieved for that app. This API will also allow the limited release of user data based on authentication and attribute release/data exchange.

Some of the most interesting, most used, parts of glow have been the bits hacked by teachers and others rather than developers. Alex Duff’s bending wordpress into a usable e-portfolio despite the restrictions built into the glow implementation, Con Morris’s CPD groups that make the portal look nice and more importantly act like a web 2 site and Glow TV, developed by Pam Currie I believe, all show the power of users being able to develop what they need. An API and the open systems promised by the report could make the new glow a lot more open to this sort of development.

There is a lot more to the report than these quick takes, I recommend again, go and read it. I hope to think aloud a bit more about it here at a later date.

Meanwhile in the House of Love

While working as part of the ICTEX group Charlie Love has been developing Glew. Charlie is allegedly a computing teacher, which is hard to believe if you look at how Glew has developed. Glew is a prototype of what Glow Plus could be. It has been in steady, rapid and agile development for a year or so (guess). It pulls together a pile of open tools: wordpress, moodle, google apps, and more into an open but cohesive whole. It is the sort of Glow I’d want and when it is not a hint to Charlie is usually enough to get a new service added or bug sorted.

I am very keen to find out what Glew could be if it was under full time development and if Charlie had some assistance in developing the site.

A while back I said ‘I want a couple of things’:

  1. I don’t know what sort of technology I’ll want to learn and teach with in a few years. I want to be able to use new services and techniques as they arise.
  2. I also want to be able to alter and change these tools that some folk are excited about. Give me a wordpress blog, but one I can change, hack, repurpose add plugins and theme when needed, easily without fuss.

from: #EDUScotICT small things – transcript – John’s World Wide Wall Display

I still want these things and believe that the ICTEX’s vision and Charlie’s interpretation would give me these.

A New Dawn?

Beach Sunrise_120920223921 by bfaling Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

Michael Russell,
The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning reflects on the work of the ICT in Education Excellence Group

and my priority is not to lose momentum on this quality piece of work.


It is now important to consider the report and the feasibility of the recommendations therein and I am immediately establishing mechanisms to do that, including retaining the Excellence Group as a Reference Group to advise us going forward.

Seems we will need to wait a bit longer, I hope not too long. I feel that the Government missed a trick after the eduscotict / ICT Summit in 2011. From Mr Russell’s post it certainly sounds as if they will not this time.

ipad coding

A while back I noticed a post on the glow forums (glo login needed) where someone wanted to embed a google calendar on a glow blog. The problem is that the glow install of wordpress does not support iFrames (it does support short codes from youtube and vimeo).
After thinking about his I posted a solution that uses JavaScript, the suffusion theme supports adding a buit of JS to the blog template. this is the result: School Calendar » John Paul Academy

About a week ago I had an enquiry at work from a local school on how to add iFrames to their school blog which was fortunately using the suffusion theme. I revisited the code and made it a little more flexible. It is pretty simple stuff but seems to do the job.

You can add JavaScript to the Custom Footer JavaScript field in the Blog Features– JavaScript to the Custom Footer JavaScript in the Blog Features- Custom Includes section of the suffusion theme settings. section of the suffusion theme settings.

	var iframesArray= document.getElementsByClassName('ifr');
	for (var i=0; i < iframesArray.length; i++) {
	var iframeDetail=iframesArray[i].innerHTML.split(',');
	var newHTML='<iframe src="'+iframeDetail[0]+'" height="'+iframeDetail[1]+'" width="'+iframeDetail[2]+'" seamless="1" frameborder="0"></iframe>';

Once that is added you can add a iFrame to a post or page by adding this sort of text with the html editor:

<div class="ifr">http://johnjohnston.info/flickrSounds/show3.php,400,500</div>

The above will result in an iframe showing the page http://johnjohnston.info/flickrSounds/show3.php with an iFrame height of 400 pixels and a width of 500 the idea is to be able to control the ifRame height and width.

What does the code do

For any other JavaScript neophytes out there this is what happens:

The code runs every time a pages is loaded.

  1. var iframesArray= document.getElementsByClassName('ifr'); this gets an Array of all the divs with a class of ifr.
  2. for (var i=0; i < iframesArray.length; i++) { we then loop through all of the divs with the class.
  3. var iframeDetail=iframesArray[i].innerHTML.split(','); we make a new array splitting up the content of the div, id URL,Height and Width
  4. var newHTML='<iframe src="'+iframeDetail[0]… we make an html fragment for the iframe
  5. iframesArray[i].innerHTML=newHTML; and replace the contents of the div with the iFrame code
  6. }; finally close the loop.

I am not sure how much longer glow blogs are going to be wordpress ones:

Glow Blogs (e-portfolios and school sites) – Stakeholders raised concerns about the plan to migrate away from the current WordPress implementation of Glow Blogs. In response to this, and to increase user choice, we continue to seek clarification on the feasibility of making available a new installation of WordPress that will be available in parallel with SharePoint Online. In the meantime you have my assurance that the data sitting in the current version of WordPress will continue to be available to you while we consider the next steps.

from: Glow Scotland » Glow – December 2012 update from Craig Munro

I really hope that we will not loose the traction gained by training many users, teachers and pupils in the use of wordpress blogs over the last year or so.

Ironically just after my last post I had a very interesting and useful time on twitter today. Mostly about Glow and GlowPlus and Glew

I’ve collected the tweets here: #glow blogs – #glow365 – #glowplus #glew (with tweets) · johnjohnston · Storify

Interesting points include:

  • Glow blogs will be moving from wordpress to sharepoint. My worries is that they will then go back to wordpress with glowPlus, I am nor worried about WordPress, I believe it is the best of breed (see next post) but to many unnecessary changes in too short a time is not good.
  • Charlie Love can add something to glew as you think about it.
  • It would be possible to bypass 365 and use glew as way of getting from glow to GlowPlus, I don’t see that as being official enough for Local Authorities.

If you are interested in the glow/glew/glowplus events have a read of the tweets.

Jaye commented here:

My other thoughts are about the need for anything at all. Are we past the age of intranets? Should we concentrate on disseminating good practice and let teachers use all the miriad tools available now and in the future

(Jaye had already expressed this sentiment on her blog).

It is a compelling idea. If I was still in the classroom I am pretty sure I’d be happy with using some of these tool myself rather than a set of nationally provided ones. When I was in the classroom I tended to use unconventional tools, self hosted pivot blogs and a pmwiki for example. I was happy researching and choosing what I needed.

However there are a couple of problems with this approach.

  1. Services are often blocked in schools. I recall building A flickr CC search toy so that my bloggers could easily attribute pictures for their posts. Unfortunately I could not persuade the Local Authority that Flickr was a suitable site for children.
  2. time: I was naturally inclined to spend a lot of time on the web, researching, setting up and playing around with the tools. Many teachers do not have that interest, time or sometimes the confidence in their ict skills.

These two problems were partially tackled by Glow. Glow provided a set of tools, eventually including blogs and wikis, that were otherwise unavailable in some Local Authorities. Glow also did. A great deal to encourage the penetration of ICT into the curriculum. Partially by giving teacher access to the tools but also by proving a fair bit of cash and other resources for training. The national push to get folk using Glow filtered via the Local Authorities into schools and classrooms.

I also believe that being a member of a community can be useful. A sense of being in it together, helping each other and having fellow practitioners with similar experiences and challenges could be provided by a national intranet. Although I am fairly indifferent to political nationalism I do feel identified as a Scottish educator.

Jaye also commented:

So far though, I can’t see how we could better Glew, or something similar.

No argument form me there.

Blogged with a hand knitted system

Education Secretary Michael Russell has appointed the Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Muffy Calder to convene an ICT Excellence Group to consider the future development of the schools’ intranet ‘Glow’.

As previously indicated, the new ICT excellence group will draw on the experience and expertise of end-users, and educational technology experts to scope the long-term user-centred future of Glow.

from: Engage for Education » Archive » Glow – Schools IT Excellence Group set up

The list of members was posted yesterday. There are some great choices, personally the inclusion of Charlie Love give me great hope for the technology behind glow being flexible and adaptive.

I was a wee bit disappointed that mainstream primary education was not represented. I’ve also noticed, from the twitters a few other omissions.


ICT Excellence Group – Am I the only one really disappointed in lack of Primary on this group?? We were pioneers surely ??


ICT Excellence Group – Who on this group has a thorough insight into additional support needs and the role of ICT in support?


Very blinkered. There is more to ICT than Glow. Too many are excluded from Glow. FE, as usual, not represented.


ICT has massive positive effect on ASN pupils but their needs are different great to see teachers on panel can we ASN as well?


Make up and balance seems wrong somehow. No problem with those on group but it needs more balance, spread & depth

Of all the folk on the list I know, or have read/listened too, I would not want any to be omitted but the list could certainly do with some additions.

Lots of information about glow and glow2 trickling through twitter recently. There seems to be a change in timescale for Glow2. This was discovered: View Notice – Public Contracts Scotland which is a strange way to find out about the change, especially after Mike Russell’s initial announcement how Glow will be developed in September 2012 on YouTube. That announcement and the following summit last October lead me to expect more regular and open engagement.


On monday Charlie Love sent me an interesting link and which I then discussed tonight on Radio EDUtalk, after which Charlie tweeted:

Glew Tweet

What is Glew

Glew is beta software of a single sign-on framework which can be used to integrate Google Apps for Education and other services such as WordPress Blogs, Media Wiki, Moodle and many more. This is a test site so please accept that authentication and users may be removed during testing.

So pretty much a glow 2 style site with a lot of tools I’d expect from Glow 2. Although a Beta you get a really good idea of how this would work. The most interesting feature, to me was the expandability of the site, I asked Charlie about the possibility of adding a wiki to the feature set, in 15 minutes he had added a MediaWiki (the software used in Wikipedia!)


I highly recommend you pop over to Glew and have a look around.

Hopefully the 15 months that the Government have to work on glow will let them build something like this, if I was the Cabinet Secretary I’d give Charlie a call.