More work is needed before we feel a glow of satisfaction

8th January 2010 at 00:00

It was with decidedly mixed feelings that I read the news of the recent extension to the contract for Glow, Scotland's national education intranet, and its proposed upgrades. Mixed feelings because, despite having been working on a research project (featured in The TESS last September) on using Glow to raise attainment for nearly two years, and having been an early advocate of Glow, I feel there are big problems - both current and looming - which have, as yet, failed to be addressed.

While plans for the new appearance themes and the inclusion of blogs and wikis gather pace, as well as increased storage capacity and widely- trailed video-conferences with teaching "experts" and others, I'm forced to ask: why are we moving on without getting the basics right? For, despite the hype and spin from Learning and Teaching Scotland, claiming that all 32 local authorities have now signed up for Glow, the reality is very different. Vast swathes of the country have no plans to use Glow any time soon and, in those areas which do have access and infrastructure, many schools and teachers are having little or nothing to do with it.

Now before you get the idea that I'm turning into one of those staffroom cynics who decry any progress just for the sake of it, I would like to point out that I have been using Glow in my classroom since October 2007, longer than most teachers, and I have demonstrated its potential to raise attainment.

The latest phase of my research (presented at the Scottish Educational Research Association conference last September) shows a considerable increase in pupil time on task with Glow compared to a traditional class setting. But I am very concerned that basic project-management tenets have been ignored in the race for the "full 32", and that Glow is now drifting rudderless, without direction, in an increasingly stormy educational and political ocean.

Take the sharing of resources, for example. The Glow virtual learning environment should be a place where teachers can "tag" their resources so that others can search for and find them. This is fine in principle; however, as always with Glow, the reality is actually quite removed from the true picture, because it seems that local authorities who have to approve this sharing process are reluctant to do so. It has been suggested that this is due to concerns about copyright and quality.

Good project management by LTS would have spotted this potential pitfall in the early planning stages and dealt with it. But, in the rush to push the project through, this issue was left unaddressed and means that teachers now cannot search for resources in Glow, which was always going to be one of the major incentives for using it.

While it is true that most classroom practitioners are using Glow in some very innovative ways, most are not using it at all, dismayed at the lack of an intuitive navigation through the platform; in other words, it is still clunky and not user-friendly, which puts many off.

I tried to write a simple guide to using the video-conferencing this morning and gave up - it just wasn't possible. It takes time to get familiarised with it, and the money to pay for this just is not there nationally and therefore locally. Indeed nationally, Glow has got to where it is now through goodwill rather than good management, and locally due to the heroic efforts of many education authority central teams and dedicated individuals.

So I am arguing for a moratorium on further development until an evaluation has taken place on just where we are with Glow nationally. This must not be a picture based on a few hand-picked schools doing media- friendly glamour projects, but a proper and rigorous process which looks at all schools across the country and their use of the network - with more research into its actual impact on learning and teaching.

Glow is currently languishing on a bonfire of the vagaries and needs more focus from LTS on getting the basics right. Gimmicks like new skins and adding blogs are just window-dressing. A few more practitioners on the national Glow team who have experience of using Glow regularly in everyday learning and teaching with classes wouldn't go amiss either, as it is this experience which would really give credibility to the project in the eyes of hard-pressed classroom teachers with limited time and resources.

Make no mistake, Glow is here to stay, but it is struggling to gain little more than a foothold in Scottish education. This must be addressed if we are, to coin a phrase, to prevent the lights from going out once and for all.

Jaye Richards is head of learning and teaching at Cathkin High, Rutherglen.

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