Ten years down the line, Glow has really taken off

18th September 2009 at 01:00
TESS celebrates a decade of the Scottish Learning Festival

Original paper headline: Scottish Learning Festival - Ten years down the line, Glow has really taken off

A seabird's stomach is opened up and the contents seen, though not yet smelled, by pupils all over Scotland. Parents study children's classwork without leaving their living-room. Pupils download and discuss hours of classic film-clips. An art masterclass goes into nine schools simultaneously and pupils peer-assess their paintings.

What is the common factor? Glow, the Scottish schools intranet, which is delivering the goods in all subjects, lots of schools and nearly every authority. "All 32 are signed up," says Andrew Brown, Glow development manager at Learning and Teaching Scotland. "But they're at different stages and have adopted different models for rolling it out and training their teachers.

"Some have set up pilot studies in schools. Others have selected and trained a group of mentors. A few have trained as many teachers as possible. Highland has given everybody a login which takes them straight to a Glow group that talks and walks them through everything they need to know."

It might have been more straightforward for the national Glow group, he admits, if all authorities had taken a similar tack. "But that was never going to happen. It's not in the nature of teachers or educational technology. One of the nice things about Glow is that it can be adapted to local ideas, but pupils and teachers in any school in Scotland can also still use it."

For Alastair Smith, South Ayrshire schools technology officer, there were benefits to being a relatively late starter in the Glow stakes. "In my experience, which is technical ICT, early adoption means high risk. The leading edge is fine but the bleeding edge is scary. So we held back, waiting for a stable product and good experience we could look at and learn from. As a small authority with finite resources, we had to get it right first time."

That was also the thinking behind the decision to get their feet wet last session with four pilot schools - one being Troon - rather than go straight to a full set of mentors. "We got the national Glow team to put us in touch with a school that was further down the line, which we then visited," says Moyra Morrison, the head. "They were using Glow groups with their magazine club to share ideas, and Glow Meet to let infants chat with characters like dragons and clowns that would bring their topics to life. We liked what we saw and it gave us confidence. There was nothing we were afraid of."

Teachers in each of the four South Ayrshire pilots were then trained as mentors and given the dual responsibility of training teachers in their own school and new mentors in non-pilot schools. These first-generation mentors had to be teachers with knowledge and enthusiasm - and time, says Mr Smith. "Pilot schools were selected on the basis of size, location and individuals within them. We needed people who would put in the extra effort if it were needed. And it always is needed."

"As Troon Primary's mentor, I decided to use the Journey to Excellence structure in our planning for Glow," says principal teacher Fiona Paterson. "It's a great framework for school development. There's a user- friendly structure, it's easy to read and if you're not sure about something, you can always find practical examples on the website."

The major problem in the first year has been getting on, says Mrs Paterson - closely followed by staying on. "I understand that it has to be a secure system. But when something is so secure that kids struggle to use it, that makes life very difficult.

"The password has to be eight characters long with one special character. So kids forget them or they make a mistake in entering it. We have 350 pupils, which means Moyra and I spent a large part of the first week back resetting passwords individually. It's a huge job and it's not just the kids - I'm often asked to reset adults' passwords."

Another problem is that the system logs users out if there has been no activity for a fairly short time - and typing does not count. "Our wee ones aren't fast," says Mrs Paterson. "So they'll be working on their lovely project, and when they finally get to the end of typing in `I think my dinosaur egg is a triceratops', they've been timed out and have to start all over again."

Aside from this dichotomy between IT people's expectations and normal child development, the experience of Glow for the Troon teachers and pupils has been very positive, they say.

"Learnnewsdesk is a fantastic resource, written in child-friendly language," says Mrs Paterson. "It's interactive as the children can vote on topical issues, email their thoughts and express their views on the news, or summarise what they've learnt through discussion boards. It's great for functional writing, with a part on how to become a journalist, and where they can write articles and send them in."

Glow Meet has been a boon to creative writing lessons. "To get the whole class working on it, we divided them into groups and created a Glow Meet area for each. We put beautiful photographs up on the Glow whiteboard, as a stimulus to writing descriptive phrases, appropriate to age and stage, using similes, metaphors, alliteration, personification. The children then used the chat facility to enter these and get feedback," she says.

"We do similar things with images of characters, with pupils first describing them, then entering what they might say. They really enjoy that. It encourages them to think quick and be creative."

Teachers have used Glow for instructional writing, with one pupil typing instructions in the chat facility and others using these to draw a picture on the whiteboard. Maths and numeracy are well-served, with lots of links to games, animations and maths films, and a whole new dimension can be brought to topic work. "We're using Glow for our Second World War topic, with my P7s working on a webquest about evacuees, the Blitz and propaganda."

The Troon teachers have been Glow-ing at different speeds over the past year, and have achieved varying levels of confidence and competence, says Mrs Morrison. "A number have taken to it like ducks to water. You can't expect everybody to be enthusiastic about anything right away. But they are coming on board as they try it out and see how well the children respond to it.

"We have only touched the surface as yet, and we are all still learning. It's about small steps and trying to take everybody along with you. That's important, because Glow is here to stay."

Scottish Learning Festival

Glowing to Excellence

Moyra Morrison and Fiona Paterson

September 23, 1pm

Making the Experiences and Outcomes Glow

Eddie Broadley and Andrew Brown September 23 and 24, 9.30am

Use of Glow as an authority-wide networking tool for science teachers Paul Rodger, Robbie Thomson, Lynsey Bright, Margaret Cassidy. September 23, 1pm


I'll show you mine

Glow is all about sharing - knowledge, resources, learning experiences, good practice - and is as much about culture change as new technology. "I've noticed a change online," says Andrew Brown, Glow development manager at Learning and Teaching Scotland.

"More people are sharing freely what they have and what they know. Local authorities are beginning to see the potential. Already, teachers have put their hands into their digital filing cabinets and said `Here's what I've got - use it.'"

One of these open-handed teachers is Paul Rodger, principal teacher of pupil support at Balfron High, Stirling. "I saw it as an extension of what we were already doing across the science department. When I saw Glow Learn, the virtual learning environment, I realised it would be ideal for sharing resources among teachers across an authority - and ultimately the country.

"I got in touch with Margaret Cassidy, Stirling's ICT development officer, and biology teaching colleagues who were keen on working together to make it happen."

Biology teachers at Balfron, Stirling and Dunblane high schools have been uploading courses and resources, Mr Rodger says, and good progress has been made. "Physics and chemistry teachers have begun to use our biology network as a model, so in time we should have a Glow science network."

The possibility that a few committed people might end up doing large chunks of work for less industrious colleagues is not a concern, says Mr Rodger. "It is more a matter of confidence. If people only see excellent lesson plans up there, they will be reluctant to upload their own.

"Teachers developing their own courses and matching them to the outcomes and experiences, need to be willing to upload them to Glow before they feel they're perfect. When that happens, we will all gain the benefits."

What the kids say

You can do a lot with Glow, says Jack Donnelly (Troon Primary, P6). "You can look up information about what's going on in the school. You can chat to your friends. You can design your own page, with pictures and weblinks and stuff."

"Also it's fun," says Rachel Lee. "You can go on at home, so you get more time on it. You can take pictures of yourself, put them on and write lots of things about them.

"In class, the teacher had us looking at pictures and chatting using metaphors and alliteration - which is things like `silly spider'. Using the computer gives you something to look at, and it means you're typing and not just writing, which makes you feel more grown-up."

Jack likes the security of Glow: "Pupils and teachers can see what you're doing, but not the bullies who've left school and are like gangsters. It's perfectly safe."

Asking pupils as well as teachers what they think of Glow is a good idea, Jack adds. "The answers you get will be different because we're young and ." He suddenly catches Mrs Morrison's eye. "And that's all I'm going to say."


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