High time to shine the spotlight on Glow

9th September 2011 at 01:00

At last someone in authority has had the courage to stop Glow in its tracks (page 5). For years, IT buffs and teachers have been criticising the Scottish schools intranet, saying it was not fit for purpose. Only last week, Skills Development Scotland, a Government agency, had to admit that many schools and authorities could not get access to its newly- launched careers videos on YouTube. It's an absurd situation.

Glow was a brilliant idea, light years ahead of what English authorities and other countries were doing. Scotland seemed the perfect size for one great network to bring together all its schools (well, at least the state ones) and allow them to share their work. Inspiring projects were dreamt up, where an artist like screenprinter Willie Rodger could teach whole classes across several authorities via video-conference, coach individual pupils through blogs, and exhibit their work on Glow. A prominent scientist could perform a post-mortem on a bird in North Berwick and science classes in the north of Scotland could observe and ask questions.

When Glow was conceived, the idea was groundbreaking, but by the time it hatched, it was so big and cumbersome that it had turned into a dinosaur. Slow and clunky were terms applied to it by a generation of teachers and children who at home were enjoying fast broadband, social networks and video sites. Instead of opening up new avenues, Glow was closing them off with frustrating restrictions. Teachers complained loudly, though some were afraid to, for fear of being reprimanded. So they moved on - who needs GlowMeets for CPD when they can set up their own TeachMeets via Twitter? Even the great and good are doing it.

What went wrong with Glow? One answer given to TESS was that the Scottish Executive of the time was cutting back on costs and insisted RM (the computer firm running it) remove future development funding from its bid. If true, it would certainly go some way to explaining how the multi- million-pound network failed to move with the times and incorporate new developments as they happened.

Many teachers will celebrate Michael Russell's decision to stop the tendering, consider the full range of alternatives and listen to what they want. Staff and pupils who are being positively pushed to be creative and free-thinking in Curriculum for Excellence require access to all kinds of resources - and increasingly these are online. Learning and Teaching Scotland tried to provide schools with a one-stop shop - guidelines, case studies, reports, videos, Glow - and there's much to be said for that. But if it excludes access to other sources, it can smack of Big Brother.

With a new slimmed-down curriculum agency in the shape of Education Scotland, and new restrictions on Government budgets, now seems the right moment to stop and take stock.

Gillian Macdonald, Editor, gillian.macdonald@tes.co.uk.

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