Sway has arrived for Glow users.

Sway allows you to

Create and share interactive reports, presentations, personal stories, and more.

I blogged a bit back in May.

Basically the app helps you present media online in a slick way. I’ve mostly looked at the iOS version. The different versions, Windows, web and iOS so far have different feature sets and a personal Microsoft account allows you do do slightly different things from a business/education account.

The app feels as if it is in pretty active development. Features that were coming soon in May are here.

What is particularly interesting, from my point of view, is that sways can be made public on the web and can be shared ready for remix.

This evening I used the iOS app on an iPad to build another sway (The featured image on this post is a screenshot of the borwser version of the sway, not the iPad view):

It didn’t take very long to add text and images. One difference I noticed was if I was signed into the app with a personal account I could upload video in iOS, I could not do this with my Glow account. Hopefully coming soon.

The browser app has a lot more options, including built in searches over flickr, youtube and other media sources.
Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 21.29.19

It also looks like if you create or even edit a sway in the browser you cannot edit it afterwards on iOS (I might be wrong about this). I do not think either of these things are a great problem, we now know an iPad is a great content creation device and I would hope pupils would be using there camera and their own images for the most part on mobile.

Swaying in Public!

I’ve got the same feeling about the slickness of the creations as I had back in May, mostly about the ‘automatic creativity’ but the most exciting two things about Sway are public sharing and remixing.
Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 21.19.24

Users have control over who the Sway is shared with and if they will allow their Sway to be duplicated by others.

Learning Opportunities

This is the first of the O365 services to allow public sharing which is very encouraging for those who see value on pupils sharing widely.  I also think that the ability to remix, change and improve someone else’s creation is a important skill.

There is obviously the opportunity to discuss aspects of publishing in public, Internet safety and copyright. The copyright issue is also nicely lead into by the browser version:


We want pupils (and teachers) to understand aspects of copyright and creative commons. Unfortunately the editor does not auto-add attribution but it can be copied and pasted in the browser.

Glow Blogs?

I can embed a sway in this blog using the embed code. Unfortunately this is via a iFrame. iFrames are not supported in Glow Blogs. I do hope we can develop oEmbed like functionality in the Blogs soon in the same way as we have for ClickView video.

It looks like Sway itself supports oEmbed of other content so I’d hope that oEmbed of sways is at least under consideration.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of Sway, and look forward to seeing how it is used in Glow.

Update 11.11.2015 Glow Blogs support the embedding of sways, just paste the url to a sway into the editor: Embedding Media | Glow Blog Help.

A few days ago @GlowScot pointed me to this tweet:

After a few exchanges I ended up with:

and now have time to type a few notes.

Video blogging is obviously a powerful tool for learning, used in Flipped classrooms, for showing learning of all sort and an engaging activity in its own right 1.

In the ‘old’ Glow Blogs using the old version of WordPress you could only upload files of <8MB you could use the Anarchy Media player to display video, uploaded or linked from elsewhere.

Our more up-to-date version of WordPress supports better video embedding without plugins and we set the maximum file upload size to 50mb.

Apart from file size video formats are a bit of a barrier to using video in blogs. It is better to use an external service such as YouTube or Vimeo. These services prepare the video for playback on a wider ranges of setups and also will hold much bigger video files. The disadvantage of these services is that they may be blocked on school networks.

When planning the upgrade to Glow Blogs we were advised by the technical team that the blog environment was not an appropriate place for hosting video. I pushed for 50MB file upload as a stopgap in case video file hosting in Glow did not develop in a way that could be used by the blog service.

Using YouTube & Vimeo video on Glow Blogs is a snip, both provides support oEmbed. This means that you just paste the url to a video page into the blog editor and the video will embed. The first time you see this happening is quite a pleasant surprise as the video is embedded in the editing field to.
Flickr video works in the same way but flickr video is limited to playing 3 minutes.

Here is an example of school blog using Vimeo: St Patrick’s Press Gang. A youtube example: Youtube test again | John Johnston. and Flickr Video

In the most recent release on Glow Blogs, August 2015 we added support for ClickView video too. ClickView does not support oEmbed, but or developer added the ability to take the url from a ClickView embed code and use that in the same way.

There is also the possibility of using Office O365 video from the glow tenancy. Currently O365 video is awaiting contractual clearance. Of course at the moment Office Video, like the rest of Glow O365, is behind a logon, so not practical for public display.

If you do want to host the files on Glow Blogs there are a few things to consider, the viewing of video files is a complex matrix of the video files and operating systems and browser ability to view them.
The best bet is probably to go for MPEG4 2. These files usually have the extension mp4 or m4v. Lots of video editors export to mp4. If you want to make your video file as small as possible you may want to add an application for compression int othe mix. currently I’ve found HandBrake a very useful tool.

HandBrake is a tool for converting video from nearly any format to a selection of modern, widely supported codecs.

Handbrake only works on the desktop. If shooting on a mobile, you will want to edit the file and export at a smaller size or use a app for shrinking video rather than uploading raw footage. Many mobile phones produce excellent quality video that results in large file sizes.

Personally I’ve found uploading to Glow Blogs works fine for example the Videos on Blogging Bootcamp vary in length between a couple of minutes and forty. These are screencasts which typically compress well.

Caveat, there are Video problem on iOS. The issue is now understood by the developers and we hope it will be fixed in the Glow Blogs environment very soon.


Upload to Glow Blog: limited to 50MB, currently doesn’t play on iOS
Youtube: May be blocked
Vimeo: My be blocked
ClickView: costs
Flickr Limited to 3 minutes
Glow Office O365 not yet available. May not be publicly sharable.

Personally my needs are met by keeping my videos under 50MB and uploading them to Glow Blogs. This will be improved when the iOS fix is in place.

  1. Next weekend I am heading to the Scottish Film and Learning Festival – Home to record and broadcast for Raido #EDUtalk. A quick look at Workshops – Scottish Film and Learning Festival indicated Film’s increacing importance.’
  2. A quick scan of the MPEG-4 Part 14 – Wikipedia page gives an idea of the complexity of video formats.

I’ve spent the last couple of days talking about Glow and Glow Blogs in particular at the Scottish Learning Festival.

Today I was co-presenting at a seminar on Blogs with Mrs Andrea Hunter and three of her pupils from Whinhill Primary. I asked Andrea to be involved as I enjoyed her blog last session at Gourock Primary, for example: Why Blog? Andrea has since moved on to Whinhill Primary and is blogging with her class who joining in with Blogging Bootcamp #2 like champions.

The Pupils did a great job and Mrs Hunter spelled out how to organise blogging in the classroom supporting and scaffolding their learning perfectly. This allowed me to just talk about blogging in general, touch upon my favourite topic of syndication.1 and explain a little about how the e-portfolio plugin is coming on. The seminar was filmed and I hope it published somewhere as Andrea and the pupils presentation is well worth sharing wider.

My day was made when later on twitter let me know about this post: SLF 2015 on Diary of a Whinhill Pupil. The Whinhill team had gone off around the SLF floor and must have commandeered a few computers to post to their blog.

I also managed to show a demo of the new Glow Blogs e-portfolio/profiling plugin to a few folk over the two days and it was well received. We hope to have this released later this year.

Featured image Mrs Andrea Hunter, used with permission.

1. I might have mentioned on the blog a few times that I like aggregation, and believe this is a wonderful addition to Glow Blogs. More on this soon.

I’ll be talking about Glow Blogs in a seminar at SLF on Thursday along with Andrea Hunter PT at Whinhill Primary School and some of her pupils. Andrea’s class blog at Diary of a Whinhill Pupil.

I’ll be at SLF both days spending some time on the Glow stand. If you are at SLF and have an interest in blogging, podcasting and the like please do have a chat. You can catch me on twitter @johnjohnston.

I’ll also be at TeachMeet SLF15 on Wednesday evening. We will try to stream that on Radio #EDUtalk.

Last night I saw this tweet:

The mention Karl was mentioning came from the Suffusion theme which has just been retired from Glow Blogs. Or developers had warned us that they though there would be too much technical debt in supporting it in the long term.

The Suffusion theme had given Glow Blogs many useful features, especially before the WordPress update at the start of this year. One of the features that folk found useful was a google translate widget. Ironically this was one of the things that started us seeing that the them would need a bit of TLC from the developers, they had to edit the theme to support serving blogs over https.

Currently you cannot add a google translation widget to a Glow Blog, you can add a link to an automatically translated page for one language, and visitors can swap languages to that page.

Here is a link to translate this blog to Dutch

You could link to a google translate page using a text widget on the side of your blog.

Here is how to do it:

Continue reading

Top 10 Reasons for Students to Blog by sylviaduckworth CC-BY

I tweeted this lovely image the other day when I saw it on Classroom Blogging Options. The Glow Blogs option was not discussed 😉 but I’d hope that it would be under consideration for Scottish learners and teachers.

Saw the graphic again today along with this advice from Stephen Downes:

It has been a while since I ran a good ‘blogging in schools’ post, but the activity – and the advice – still makes as much sense today as it did in the heyday of blogging. Maybe even more sense, because unlike the early 2000s, there are many other shorter and less-structured ways students can communicate online, and blogging pulls them back into the realm of extended descriptions, arguments, explanations, and actual efforts to communicate thoughts and feelings rather than quips and reactions (or should I say, reax). Theere are many reasons to write; conveying information is just one of them. Wes Fryer also summarizes a number of the tools available as we start the 2015 fall session. Nice graphic, too.

Classroom Blogging Options (August 2015) ~ Stephen’s Web

Some great advice.

Just in time for Blogging Bootcamp #2 | Get your blogs up and running Autumn 2015 which we are starting to organise. If you want to learn a bit about classroom blogging over 5 weeks you can sign up

This is a pretty random time to look back, but I was browsing through some old posts here looking for a link and came across this from 22nd December 2013, before I was started my secondment to the Glow Team. I’ve changed the unordered list to an ordered one so that I can score myself.

I hope that glow will both continue to supply WordPress blogs and to make them much more powerful. I’ve no idea if I will be in a position to influence this, but this is what I would like:

  1. The MetawebLogAPI to be activated, this allows posting to blogs from mobile applications.
  2. More plugins, especially FeedWordPress that would allow a teacher to ‘collect’ their pupils blogs or anyone to create a space were others could easily contribute from their own blog.
  3. Access to editing the code, either through the web interface of via ftp (I guess this might be the hardest one to pull off).
  4. More themes (there are only about 6 in glow) would not do any harm.

One way to do this, would be for glow to supply web hosting, these spaces, like cheap web-hosting all over the internet, could allow one click installs of WordPress (and lots of other software). I explored this in a recent post here: Glow should be at the trailing edge? but have not really got an idea if this is possible from either a cost or execution point of view? I hope to find out soon if this is a possibility or a pipe dream.

from: EDUtalk, learning to love WordPress

We do continue to provide WordPress blogs and in my opinion a better service. The upgraded version of WordPress and much easier setup of a blog as the two major benefits.

As for the List:

  1. I failed at the first, right from the get go the developers, security advisers and technical experts told me the MetaWebLogAPI was not an option for Glow Blogs. It would not work with the RM login and other options did not seem to fit the bill. Since I’d being going on about this for years. It is a big disappointment to me. It is mitigated somewhat by the improving mobile interface of WordPress which will only get better as long as Glow keeps up with WordPress in a timely fashion (as planned).
  2. More plugins, especially FeedWordPress, we didn’t get FWP but we have a syndication plugin that does much of the same thing. I am not sure I’ve convinced many folk to use it or explained it properly, but the potential is there. There are not a host of other plugins that have been added, but there are a few. Jetpack in particular, even in the cutdown version running on Glow, is very useful.
  3. Access to editing the code, a pipe dream on a multi-site that values security and performance. We do have access to editing CSS via the Jetpack plugin. This is useful and probably usable by more folk.
  4. More themes, we gained TwentyTwelve, TwentyThirteen, TwentyFourteen when we upgraded to WP 4. Later we got TwentyFifteen, Yoko and P2. We will be losing Spectrum News and Suffusion in the future. There are a few more to be added when we have the resource to do so.

If I was being generous I’d give myself 5 out of 10 for this list, a could do better C.

I’ve probably got a bit of a better idea in the amount of work involved in doing something as simple as adding a theme or a plugin. I’d like it if there was a way for Glow users to submit requests and these to be evaluated in a reasonable time frame.

We have managed to upgrade WordPress itself and were a bit unlucky that 2 security upgraded had to be applied in a very short space of time recently. The notion of keeping reasonably up to date is firmly in place. We should get a lot of good things just by doing that.

The final post, provision of space for hosting your own blog, seems a bit starry eyed, but as I notice earlier today the idea is getting some traction. I don’t expect we would see this any time soon, but I still think it is worth thinking about.

I’ve another 141 days until the end of my secondment, in light of progress so far this is what I’d like to see before then:

  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

I’ll mark myself on these in December.

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

The photo at the top is one that is averaged from several I took, I guess a C is average.


The new Syndication plugin gives Glow Blogs the ability to bring content in from other sources aggregating content into one space.

For example a School site could aggregate several department or class blogs. This gives the classes/departments a degree of autonomy and control. Schools could decide to only pull in posts with a particular category or tag onto the mothership site.

I’ve been a big fan of aggregation of information ever since I started blogging. Blogs provide a stream of their posts as RSS. This can be used to keep on top of a lot of content through an RSS reader and RSS can be used to distribute information. For example you can show posts from one blog on the sidebar of another with the RSS widget.

Going further than that usually takes a bit more work and either a plugin, specialised software or a workaround. For example on the Blogging Bootcamp I am pulling in links from over 50 blogs through one aggregate RSS feed. The aggregation is being done by an external site inoreader. The only option was to display this in the blog sidebar. I hope to be able to do similar projects from now on with the syndication plugin and displaying posts.

The Syndication Plugin

In phase 2.2 of the Glow Blogs project we added the syndication plugin. This is a simplified version of a more complex plugin being developed by Automattic. The plugin allows you to add RSS feeds so that their posts appear on the syndicating blog. Once you have activated the plugin you can create a group, add sites to it via their RSS feeds and pull that content onto your blog where it is published. Importantly you can set it so that the source link for the post is the original blog and commentators will be redirected there, you do not need to steal the content.

This is what we do on ScotEduBlogs where over 100 blogs are aggregated for easy reading. Until now it would not  be possible to do this in Glow.

It is also how the best, in my opinion, course on the internet is run DS106.. There the course activities are posted and participants responses, published on their own sites are pulled in. the syndication plugin will give us a chance to do this inside Glow Blogs.

I’ve started a guide to using the plugin on the Glow Help Blog (Syndication Plugin | Glow Blog Help) and am starting to use the plugin for a couple of projects (#ShareOurLearning | Gathering Learning from around Scotland).

Last week I attended the WordPress Big Media & Enterprise Meetup in London.

I was asked down to talk about Glow Blogs. Given this was a meet up of pretty serious WordPress developers I was reasonably nervous about talking to them. I decided that I’d give an overview of Glow Blogs through the lens of a look at the parallels between of the benefits of publishing in the open by pupils and teacher and open source software.

My point was that the benefits of sharing collaboration and serendipity are applicable to blogging in education and developing open source software.

The VIP wordpress folk have been kind enough to post the video WordPress For Weans – how the Scottish education system is encouraging kids to contribute with confidence

Apart from anything else this makes me realize that the number of physical tics I have when speaking means I should stick to podcasting.

I was fortunate to be speaking first, which left me able to listen to the other presentations in a more relaxed frame of mind. In each one of them I found ideas that would fit in well with the Glow program.

These presentations are beginning to find their way onto the WordPress VIP News

WordPress on the inside: bringing humanity to the corporate intranet

Steph Gray & Luke Oatham, Helpful Technology talked about WordPress On The Inside – how the UK government is deploying WordPress as an intranet platform
My main take out from this was how powerful and simple WordPress can be for providing information. Steph and Luke talked of how they hard replace a Sharepoint intranet with WordPress, one of the most interesting benefits was reducing the amount of time that people spent on the site. Rather a different aim from most sites! The site they spoke about was designed to help people:

  • Work out how to do something
  • Find a person
  • Find a document

Perhaps having a chat along the way
At the moment Glow blogs are used for school web sites, class blogs, e-portfolios, information portals and more, but this presentation points to other uses I’d not even considered if we can develop the service further.

Snakes In A Plugin

Duncan Stuart is Head of Products at dxw presented on
Snakes In A Plugin – WordPress plugin security. He started by getting the room on their feet and then sitting down if they did not have various security procedures in place. Glow was one of the last ones standing, speaking to the formality of the testing that we do on the program.
Duncan then demoed hacking a WordPress site though what appeared to be a regular comment notification email.

Scary stuff but I am somewhat reassured by the Scottish Government development and testing team. I’ve often moane about the time taken for testing and security, this talk clearly demonstrated how valuable this is.


Matt Haines-Young, Human Made: ‘Making WordPress shortcodes a piece of cake’ (link to video to follow)

ShortCake is a plugin that allows developers to develop further plugins to allow users to insert Content Blocks into their posts in the same sort of way they insert media. Dialogs to enter content without codes and WYSIWYG editing in the post editor after it is inserted.

This supports the kind of thing that users have been requesting for Glow Blogs and a much nicer experience for bloggers. Given that we still need to develop the process for getting plugin and enhancement requests and implementing them I am not sure how we would do this, but on a brighter note there was some discussion of this becoming part of the core WordPress system. We would then have access to it when we upgrade WordPress in Glow.

The Tab

Jack Rivlin & George Marangos-Gilks, of The Tab: ‘User generated plus: blending professional journalism with a disparate network of voluntary contributors’ (again link to video to follow)

The Tab is a bit like your student paper – except better. We cover the news students care about, in a style they actually want to read.

The Tab is actually quite like a red top, not only in it colour scheme. What is interesting is the system, based on WordPress, allows a mix of professional and amateur content. This was a great demo of the power of WordPress to bring content together and present it. students from across the UK contribute to this huge online student mag.

Off to the Pub

In a TeachMeet fashion everyone headed over to a nearby bar and I had some fascinating chats. This reinforced my feeling that we can do a lot more with GlowBlogs, there are endless exciting possibilities.

I was also impressed by the amount of effort some WordPress developers put into giving things away for free. This extends way past source code to education projects of all sizes. I spoke to someone planning a huge project to educate prospective journalists through blogging in school and college, the idea being that the WordPress editor would be custolmised to help the students write balanced and well researched pieces.

If you are interested in Educational blogging I’d recommend the videos linked above, not because they are directly aimed at education but because they point to and hint of endless opportunities for different ways to use blogging in education.

Thanks to the Organizers for inviting me.

A couple of weeks ago I kicked of a blogging bootcamp as part of my day job. The idea is to help folk through getting started with class blogging. Each week for 10 weeks there are, technical tasks, discussions and blogging challenges which participating classes (or teachers) can choose to do.

My thinking is based on my own experience in a few online classes/MOOCs and, of course ds106. The bit I really wanted to do was aggregate the participants blogs back to the bootcamp blog. Hopefully this would lead to some connections and community.

I had hoped as part of the progress with glow blogs we would by now have had a plugin in place that would help with this. Unfortunately this has not happened yet.

My next though was to set up a blog outside glow, install the necessary plugin (FeedWordPress probably) and aggregate the posts there. This aggregation could be brought back to the bootcamp blog as an RSS feed.

I ended up going for much less work. I use Inoreader as my RSS reader. It has the rather nice feature when you can get an RSS feed for any of your folders of feeds. This is how it works.

After participants make their first post, they send me a link. We are asking them to categorize their posts bootcamp so I use the feed for that. For example Wemyss Bay Primary P6, their bootcamp category is:


So the RSS feed will be


I add that to my Inoreader and put it in the BootCamp folder:

inoreader screeshot

From the Folder Settings menu I can then get a link to the aggregated RSS feed and a page that aggregates all the posts too.

Back on the bootcamp blog I’ve added a RSS widget to the sidebar using this feed. This displays the last 20 posts from participants on the blog.

rss widget on bootcamp blog

I’d prefer to show more of the participants post on the main section of the blog but I believe this is a further wee story that shows how nice this sort of technique could be. If we get a suitable plugin in glow blogs, we could run all sots of ‘events’ and learning experiences by just aggregating participating class or school blogs through a ‘mothership’ blog.