TL:DR: I think that the problems in embedding digital in learning are complex. Glow, which address the software part is the one that is closest to being solved.

On Sunday I got added to a twitter conversation that started with a tweet about glow use from Derek Roberson

This got picked up by James McEnaney (@MrMcEnaney) and I and other got pinged:

My initial reaction was that there was not much room on twitter for the conversation I though was necessary.

But I dipped in with a couple of replies:

I suspect bad with access to hardware have more of an effect on digital learning than how good or bad glow is.

and

What I’d hope glow did was give ‘permission’ to use digital

Much more was batted back and forth, including this point from Derek:

not as simple as that. Getting the digital in to established practice and attitudes the real challenge.

James:

I’d agree with that, but I’m not convinced GLOW is the way to do it

James said the purpose should be

helping to embed digital & collaborative tools in established practice.

and

I’d argue the only reason GLOW survived is because of the political ramifications of admitting failure.

The conversation was quite hard to follow as it spawned several sub threads with different folk being included in different replies. I am not going to pretend to cover all the conversation, but do have a few thoughts to add and expand on.

Caveat, I was seconded as a “Product Owner” to Glow for 23 months and still support Glow Blogs on a part-time contract to Education Scotland. But this post is very much in the spirt of my disclaimer:

opinions are my own and not those of my employer (the blog is produced in my own time). My opinions are not set in stone, I frequently change my mind, make mistakes and contradict myself.

I’ve also re-written this posts a few time and deleted a podcast. The digital in education, even when confined to Glow is a huge subject.

I do think these questions need to be asked and answered again and again.

Statistics

First, the 9% is a wee bit out, a recent FOI request leads to real stats:

The Cost of Glow – a Freedom of Information request to Education Scotland – WhatDoTheyKnow.

This points to a rather better figure that the 9% teacher login claim that started the conversation. The best month Jan – May 2016 had nearly 60% of Scottish teachers and 11% of pupils logging on.

I am guessing a lot of the teacher use is driven by LAs that have adopted O365 email as their main email system for schools. The pupil login is initially, at least, disappointing.

I wonder what sort of figure would be a good one. What does the use of a more successful tool look like? Do schools or education systems that adopt other systems have better stats? If so what drives these.

Is even the 11% all that poor? I would not expect many primary infants to be logging on independently, they are more likely to access Glow via a teacher’s logging on a smart-board than to be keeping their own blog.

Timetabling and access to ICT equipment in schools will also affect this. How many times does the average pupil in Scotland access ICT in school?

The quality of hardware, time to get set up and online and bandwidth will also affect teacher’s decision to use ICT in learning.

Finally there is the ability of teaching staff to manage digital learning on top of their other workload issues.

Embed digital

Is Glow helping to embed digital & collaborative tools in established practice?

It would be madness not to use digital tools in learning. These are soon going to be tools without the digital. I wonder how many pupils in my class now will handwrite anything as an adult. I know I had not written a sentence in the 8 years preceding my return to class a couple of weeks ago.

If we are going to help to embed digital & collaborative tools it looks like there are three areas that need addressed:

  • The software
  • How we access it (hardware & infrastructure)
  • Cultural (skills and appetite of staff)

Glow provides some of the first and had an affect on the third, some of the money spent on Glow could have been used to help the second.

The software

I was very enthusiastic about the concept of Glow and pretty disappointed by its original incarnation. Compared to the web2 tools I was using it felt clunky. Even once I understood some of the features, it was not, in my opinion, a good solution. I saw many interesting things done with old glow, but this was usually built on a lot of effort and support.

At the point that Glow was introduced it would have been very hard to understand the way that digital tools were going to evolve. At the time I remember being surprised that it didn’t include the tools that were beginning to appear. I now realise that the planning and preparation start a long time before implementation.

When I joined the Glow team I was still of the opinion that Sharepoint was not a good solution for Education. I began to be quite impressed with the O365 tools, Word online, Onenote and the like, but they still felt a bit Beta compared to the Google productivity suite. Fortunately for all involved I eventually fell into concentrating on the Blogs and stopped complaining about O365/Sharepoint.

Although Glow is not a login to a whole range of digital services there is no doubt O365 has become one of if not the major part of Glow. My own head and heart remain with Blogs but for many online teachers and learners O365 is going to be their main toolset.

What has happened is these tools have matured and continue to improve at a rapid rate. They have been joined by a suite of tools, Sway, Yammer, MS forms and more, themselves evolving, that feel like a much better fit than Sharepoint.

It was unfortunate, IMO, that the first bit of the O365 suite that was ready for business in Glow was Sharepoint. It still is not the friendliest environment I could imagine. I would think it could be very successful when supported by a team of Sharepoint developers, but it is not easy for teachers to modify and customise.

Now Glow provides a secure, safe set of modern cloud based software tools for communication and collaborating. If I was going to criticise the tools set I’d need to be quite picky. I also think that these tools are set to continue to evolve and improve.

A downside this evolution means that some of the services can feel a little beta. I think this is something that users of software in general are getting used to. It also needs a change in support material, not how to guides but how to figure out for yourself help, or a way of rapidly providing answers not just by the centre but by a growing community.

The perception that Glow is a poor set of tools is still held by many, I would suspect that they would not be so skeptical if they had the opportunity to spend a reasonable amount of time trying them out.

An idea expressed by some is that there are enough free tools out there to used and we do not need a national product. This is quite tempting. It would need a greater digital skill set to negotiate the different logons, data protection issues and security. 1

Hardware & infrastructure

I suspect that the effect of hardware & infrastructure far outweighs Glow in its effect. How often do pupils get access to hardware? When they do how long does it take to get machines/devices booted and ready to go? How fast are connections to the new online services?

This is the area I am least qualified to blog about. It does seem I’ve got better bandwidth at home than many primary schools. The efforts to tackle bandwidth need a lot of joined up thinking and investment. Given the cuts on local authority spend recently (I feel that one deeply), I am not sure how this could be resolved. There does seem to be a bit of divide opening up between schools across the country.

On hardware there is national procurement, but this will again be affected by local spending decisions. Some LAs are experimenting with allowing pupils and teachers to bring their own hardware and some with a variety of devices.

Cultural

The old Glow got a bad reputation some of this was deserved. A lot of staff have pretty negative feelings about this. I do get the impression some of these opinions were formed quickly and the holders have not had a chance to really dig into the new tools.

I also thing there were two sources of this dissatisfaction: the digitally confident, who knew of better tools and the less confident who were baffled by the system.

When new Glow arrived, in Oct 14, not much had changes, on the Blogs we had moved to a new setup with pretty much the same system. O365 mostly consisted of Sharepoint, with the business apps being quite rough in places. This unfortunately probably allowed some of the old opinions to stick. I believe that it is now worth folk taking a fresh look at the improved and developing tools.

Permission

One of the most powerful things that Glow does is give permission. Although James disagreed with that:

On various occasions it was also used to prevent me from using digital tools

I was lucky that when I started using blogs, podcasting and wikis with pupils, I was unaware of any rules that would forbid me for allowing pupils to publish online. I used common sense and kept myself and my pupils out of trouble. This is probably not a method that could be embraced by Local authorities and governing bodies.

Since then conversation continued discussing the Stats from the FOI request. James still questioning if Glow was the right way to go.

When I attempted to join North Lanarkshire Council to support ICT, I concentrated on this experience at interview. After I was in post, I was somewhat surprised to find that the council, at that time, did not allow schools to publish to services that were not controlled by the council on council servers. My thoughts of encouraging blogging and podcasting were rather stymied.

When NLC started using Glow and then it was enhanced by the original Glow Blogs I could start to use my experience. Glow gave schools tools and permission to use them. It to some extent, takes care of worrying about data protection and security.

Skills and confidence

Lots of teachers feel quite negative about their own ICT skills. Workload issues in the classroom are huge. How we provide support and training for the use of digital is really important. The training is also knitted into the software, hardware and infrastructure available in schools. It is not much use being trained on using great devices on a wonderful network to return to limited old kit of a stuttering connection.

How we provide that support nationally and in local authorities, with the spending constraints, is again a thorny problem. The kind of support you provide for an evolving and improving toolset is an interesting one. Past attempts (NOF, Masterclass, the old Glow roll outs) gave spotty results. I am hopeful that the embedding of digital in trainee teachers I see happening at the University of Dundee are a good start. Linking this with national, local and community support would perhaps give a jigsaw of encouragement. It would, I fear, require a bit more investment.

Glow is not the problem

The problem is a challenging. One part is the software. I think it is the part that has now been best addressed. I think that the hardware/infrastructure one needs to be solved while we address the culture/skills issue.

An invitation

If you are interested in this topic I’d love to discuss it further. I would imo, make a great topic for Radio Edutalk. Leave me a comment of get in touch (@johnjohnston) if you would be interested.

Featured Image: cropped from Components of Hudson Brothers chaff cutter No known copyright restrictions

1. I also think we need to think a lot more carefully about or software choices for all sort of reasons. I’ve tagged some thoughs DigitalUWS in old posts.

I’ve started a new blog Glowing Posts | Collecting interesting #GlowBlogs Posts.

The title says it all. The purpose of this new blog is to collect some examples of interesting ways that Glow Blogs are being used. I’ve found some good ones already.

The idea is to highlight posts rather than whole blogs. If you know of any you can let me know via a form on the site, twitter or any other way you can thing of.

#Autumn #autumnleaves

I’ve not really checked out the new features of WordPress 4.4 in any depth but this new feature looks interesting. Just pasting a url to another WordPress blog post into the editor creates an embedded ‘card’ with some details.

I could imagine this would make a nice way of linking to pupil or class blog posts in a school blog. Hopefully we will not wait too long before Glow Blogs get to WordPress version 4.4.

I’d have like it even more if the embed above had picked up the featured image for the post. Update, I think there is something unexpected going on with this post, either from the styles here or on the embedded post. looking at the source, there does seem to be an image in there! More investigation tomorrow. Update 2: the thumbnail shows up for me now!

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.

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.

1.
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.

DIY

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.

I tried this iPhone app out before the summer on the recommendation of Ian Stuart. At that time it was not integrated with O365/Glow and its main selling point seemed to be it took great pictures of whiteboards and straightened them up nicely.

Back then I gave it a try and it did that job, but not, IMO, as well as Scanner Pro. Scanner Pro is £2.99. (I like paying for apps, if you are not the customer…).

So last week when Ian mention that it was now integrated with O365 for business/school (ie Glow), I didn’t get that excited but I did download it. Not being at a conference or near a whiteboard I just did a quick scan of a newspaper and saw that it uploaded.

Continue reading

Hot on the heels of Sway comes Delve. This is a sort of search engine come Pinterest for O365.

This post is just a quick note. I’ve only spent an hour or so last evening having a quick look at delve in the browser and iOS app.

I have been amazed by the results of searching. Who would have thought there were so many results for ‘voles’!

If you have a glow account it is worth heading over to O365 and opening delve from the waffle. Then just search for something.

Next step is to start a board. This is the Pinterest bit. The more folk that do this the more interesting it will get. Boards are not supported on the iOS app but appear in the works. Boards are shared, looks to me like a collection of tags. It seems to take a while sometimes for these to come through if someone else tags them.

I’ve not really spent that much time in the O365 bit of glow.  I have been fairly critical of sharepoint in the past but delve looks like it might be the most interesting part of the whole O365 setup.

More info on the Glow Help Wiki.

 

You can opt out of sharing your stuff on Delve, but I am not sure why you would, other users only see your documents if you have share those particular docs with them.