“The technology is often there but there’s no access to the services,” explains Learning and Teaching Scotland’s (LTS) Andrew Brown.
He argues that while schools throughout the country have had webcams and other IT equipment for years, many couldn’t actually use it until 2007. “Although the computer in the classroom might have the equipment, they didn’t have the service that they could use with it to connect with someone else. Or if they did, it wasn’t the same services as the other person had in another school in another part of the country,” comments Brown.
Glow is the world’s first national intranet for education and was developed exclusively for Scotland’s educational system by LTS. Its suite of online tools allows teachers, pupils and parents, to work together.
The initiative was launched in 2007 and by using the national directory, Glow users can find others with similar interests or expertise and to discuss ideas, projects and even teaching plans.
A teacher himself, Brown decided that he would take up the challenge of helping steer its development at a national level with LTS.
While there is a lot of emphasis put on government funding for ICT in schools, he says that people can get the “best for free online now” and if the Scottish Government is paying for something, it should be justified.
“It’s not all about the technology, it’s about the teaching,” he adds. “Invariably, good teachers realise when they can make use of different opportunities for the benefit of their students. It’s all about the relationship between the educator and the learner. It’s not just about teaching a content pack. For a lot of people, that’s maybe a concept that’s quite hard to get over.”
One example of how Glow has been used in practice, Brown highlights, is where a teacher set his pupils an assignment and said he would be online that evening to answer any questions that they had. “When he logged on at 7pm there were loads of questions already but there were also answers because some of the students had already answered each other’s questions.”
He acknowledges that while Glow has many benefits, improvements could still be made: “The main benefit has been releasing opportunity for pupil learning and staff development. For a lot of schools in Scotland there was a patchwork of ICT. Some had access to some programmes and others didn’t have access to any. This was seen as almost a leveller.
“I thought there were great things happening in other classrooms that didn’t really seem to be part of Glow but we’ve changed that over time because now there are aspects of Glow that the world can see. It’s not just someone with a username and password.”
Some improvements have already been made to the system. When Glow first launched, it was a static page and users were directed to lots of different sites but now when a person logs on they can determine what buttons to use and what sections to visit.
However, Brown would like to make more use of open standards so that systems “could talk to each other” and, instead of being limited to using programmes from just one manufacturer, products from several sources could be used together.
“It would make things easier for us in the future, whether it is for using computers in the classroom or for using mobile devices. They need to be able to talk to each other and be able to display things properly and use all these different screens. The only way you can do that is through open standards,” he remarks.
According to Brown, one of the most successful parts of the programme has been web conferencing. In practice, teachers in remote, rural settings have used this to let children talk about different life experiences. “You couldn’t do that in a better way to try and get children to understand life experiences and a different environment. The web conference has been quite a good tool. A lot of people seem to have sized this as a good opportunity for them.”
Glow in numbers