This week I attended the Scottish Learning Festival, and went to the TeachMeet to hear a little more about what is going on in Scottish education. In between the usual teach-mmet presentations and nano-presentations was a 30 minute slot to get into groups and discuss some pre-prepared topics of interest. I joined a session about Glow, the Scottish National Intranet. The session was titled Do we need a national intranet in the classroom? Future directions and lessons from the past.
I felt a bit of an interloper, as clearly the ‘we’ in the title referred to Scottish educators, and I’m not Scottish and not even sure if I’m an educator anymore. But I took part in the discussion and listened intently to the range of opinions in the group.
Glow is, as far as I know, the only National Education intranet in the world. Scottish policy on Learning Platforms (or intranets, or MLEs or VLEs, or whatever else term you want to use), diverged from the English one quite dramatically. In England BECTa (the technology agency tasked with guiding ICT policy in English Schools), having taken the guidance from the government that all schools should put a learning platform into place, put together a list of preferred suppliers and let English schools choose from these.
The Scots decided on a centralised service, something made easier no doubt by the relative size of Scotland to England (32 local authorities rather than 433), but influenced too by a genuine desire to get the very best for Scottish schools and to develop useful online tools which schools could use. The English model of procurement created a gold rush to sell VLEs to schools, in much the same way as BECTa had created an earlier gold rush around Interactive whiteboard installations, but even with an original list of 10 providers, many schools were confused what to buy, what they were getting, and in some cases why they even needed to buy a learning platform at all.
The challenge which Glow had, and still has, is offering a suitably flexible platform to satisfy such a massive user base. It’s a truism, but teachers are at all different levels of using technology in their teaching from cutting edge experts to those who are unwilling or unable to try anything new. Keeping this wide spectrum happy is no doubt difficult.
And online tools are evolving very quickly. Nobody 5 years ago would have predicted how massive twitter would be as a professional development tool, blogs written by teachers for teachers were still rare (they’re not now) and nobody would have a clue what Pinterest was or how to use it.*
Any national learning platform risks being outflanked by the sheer weight and originality of the commercial web companies, who are constantly vying to create new offerings and have massive resources to invest. But of course these companies are not charities, they are looking to make money and their interests will probably not align with the educational aims of teachers and schools. From a compliance perspective, Glow is a massive win, as Scottish schools get a ready-made platform which they know is secure and safe for children and teachers to use.
The conclusion of this blog is, unfortunately, not really a conclusion at all. I still don’t know whether *a* national intranet is a good idea or not (and I don’t admittedly have sufficient real experience of Glow to comment in detail). Those of us south of the border will await developments in Scotland with keen interest.
Image is creative commons, Available on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/36137232@N00/4800243553/ used by kind permission of DaveMichuda.
* re Pinterest the same is of course true today 🙂