February 23, 2010

How Glow will almost certainly shine. Eventually

Andrew Brown
Once more a Glasgow Herald journalist chooses 2% of an argument in his quotation from a McIntosh and leaves out the more positive 98% that he could have printed but would not have made such a 'good' story.

Andrew Brown has indeed engendered "a new mood of collaboration" since he took over the Directorship of Glow, the national schools intranet in Scotland, in November - collaboration was something he, I and what felt like a small band of colleagues at the time felt was missing in so many parts of education. I can't wait to see what he pulls off in the longer term; he's already managing to move on from the hype of usage stats of sign-ins and sign ups and is talking about how he can make things better until a new version of Glow is commissioned later this year.

Here's the full text of what I said in an interview on how Glow may shine once more:

I firmly believe that Glow's biggest challenge is not its usability (Andrew Brown has already made simple, cheap, quick changes for the better in that respect) or cost (it's modest compared to startups trying to do the same). No, the biggest challenge is the approach Local Authorities take in implementing the internet that lives around and within Glow. Most Local Authorities in Scotland continue to operate locked down or highly managed internet access, meaning many of the most educationally useful content and collaboration websites, services and tools are unavailable.

This is not a-typical:
Hours of video archive on YouTube - blocked.
Weblogs where students can publish their work and accept feedback - blocked.
Wikis, where students can collaborate on writing documents together - blocked.
Social networks, where students can not only prune and make acceptable their 'social' face online, but also develop their future professional shop window - blocked.
Skype and other video conferencing facilities - blocked or made unworkable.

Glow was, at the time of its inception, a revolution in offering all of these functionalities at a time when they did not exist, at scale and for free on the open internet. If Glow has failed, it is by default of the tendering process of nearly all Government contracts, by not being responsive (or being able to be responsive) to these changes, not at least, to the degree that a purely commercial venture would have had to be in order to survive.

As these "emerging technologies" did indeed emerge and move more into the mainstream, Glow was still having to train people in the clicks required to do what, in the open market, was quicker and more intuitive to do.

There are four factors that will help Glow seize the day, in the right hands:

1. The new iteration of Glow offers great hope.
First of all, there is potential to offer something more innovative in the very tendering process that leads to the product. Something that demands more responsiveness, not prescriptiveness. Something that demands flexibility, not "deliver what you said you would, or else".

2. There is also technologically a lot more on offer to make something that encourages true lifelong learning.
Currently, it's not clear to learners, teachers and parents where the learning "on Glow" will go when our children leave school. Above all, that online portfolio of work, of students and of teachers, risks being lost when they leave the intranet to head into the Wild World Web. With open source technologies and more interplay between commercial social networks and blogging platforms, for example, there's potential for my portfolio of work, contacts and connections to move with me from school into the world of business, or simply the world of Facebook.

3. Socially people 'get' the point of connecting more than they did even two years ago.
Two, three, four, five years ago I was spending some painful time trying to convince people of the fact that learning knows no national boundaries, and that Glow should not have been about content, content, content. Making connections with people in the education system (and in Glow) and those outside it (and outside Glow) needs to be a key component of any future strategy for Glow.

4. We need local management of Glow to open up.
Local Authorities, the ultimate "deliverers" of the national intranet, either have to be encouraged to open their networks or, quite simply, overruled by central Government to do so. The latter should never have to be invoked. School children and teachers need to be able to access more of the content that is freely available on the web already, through the sites that I've mentioned already. It is not sustainable, when teachers are finding themselves unable to purchase pens and pencils, to spend millions on "content" to deliver online. Glow must not be a "million-dollar textbook". Instead, Glow's role as content provider should be demoted, even made redundant. Instead, Glow should be the connections-maker, a network of trusted links and connections in the same way as LinkedIn is fast-becoming the UK business world's network of trusted business connections.

Likewise, claiming that Glow offers a "safe internet", as some have proffered, is misleading at best, potentially damaging. Glow has the potential to be as risky as the dark corners of a 1970s school building. A platform doesn't remove the risk. Education does. Educating our youngsters and the teachers that have to lead them on this web journey should, in fact, become Glow's top priority of all (see Ofsted Research from February 2010):

Pupils in schools that use ‘managed’ online systems have a better knowledge and understanding of how to stay safe when using new technologies, according to a report published today by Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.

‘Managed’ systems are systems that have fewer inaccessible sites than ‘locked’ systems and so require pupils to take more responsibility for their own safety. ‘Locked’ systems make many websites inaccessible and although this ensures pupils’ safety in school it does not encourage the pupils to take responsibility for their actions or prepare them for dealing with systems that are not locked.

This is where Glow has been making some of its biggest gains, in taking new ways of working, learning and teaching to more teachers through its regular Glow Meets. I say "new" - many of us were working on low or no budgets to train colleagues in these tools up to six years ago, but with blocked tools and lack of support from those that believed "Glow will do that" we've seen great delays in schools being able to take advantage of what the rest of the world have been using more proficiently for some years.

Glow under Brown's leadership is increasingly seeing that support, that optimism that Glow might, one day not too long away, be able to "do that" and more.

The "more" is that it won't be catching up with the technologies that are all around it, but rather inventing new ones and new ways of exploiting what's out there already.

I'd hope that this is the last time that Glow is commissioned by the Scottish Government. But I mean this in a really positive sense:

If, within five years and with the wealth of technological and social promise on offer, a company cannot take on this mantle and make it a workable free venture in Scotland, and a tangible commercial one worldwide, iterative and churning innovation regularly for profit, something is wrong. I'd like to see our public money considered an investment, not a one-off grant to make a traditional publicly procured one-off service.


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Excellent stuff Ewan!

"Once more a Glasgow Herald journalist chooses 2% of an argument in his quotation from a McIntosh and leaves out the more positive 98% that he could have printed but would not have made such a 'good' story."

Dont you find this happening more and more in the media today, the slant is larger then ever before.

And then they even make up quotes. This one came a week later:


(See the apology at the bottom paragraphy - well hidden!)

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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