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Am I Missing The Obvious?

August 17, 2009

School starts in a couple of days and having had a bit of an extended break, I thought it about time I broke out MarsEdit and posted something…

swine flu panic poster.jpgOf course, I’m saying that school starts in a couple of days, but I can’t rule out the imminent demise of Western Society caused by the onset of swine flu, er… Mexican flu, er… the H1N1 virus. One story that has really got me thinking that we are not really looking at the best use of our existing resources is the Times Education Scotland report: Lessons on TV if flu virus hits. Read the article and you’ll find that the Scottish Government is:

…in talks with broadcasters to provide “lessons on air” if schools have to close for lengthy periods to stop the spread of swine flu…

Why? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought we were spending umpty squazillion pounds to introduce the world’s first nationwide digital network in the shape of Glow? Indeed, the last I’d heard, all 32 of Scotland’s Local Authorities had either signed or were doing so imminently (I think it’s Falkirk and Fife who will be the last to sign up — I don’t think it’s a competition!)… so…

On the one hand, I applaud the prescience of the Scottish Government in thinking about the possible impact of a major outbreak of the H1N1 virus… but part of me is wondering why they are looking to use existing broadcasters to carry out lessons when I thought that was one of the major factors in deciding to implement Glow. Having had the real life experience of an ill pupil logging in to join the rest of the class in their lesson, I have to say that there is no real reason we shouldn’t be looking at this as an option for all pupils in the event of a ‘school closing’ epidemic. Indeed, I can’t really think of any good reason for considering using traditional broadcasters for the following reasons:

GLOW Traditional Broadcasters
Pupils can get lessons from their own teachers! A handful of ‘super-teachers’ would deliver unpersonalised lecture style programmes.
Pupils can get involved — ask questions, chat, share their work, create, interact… Traditional media doesn’t listen, or respond or interact in any meaningful way.
GlowLearn would allow pupils to submit work electronically for assessment/feedback… even better, it would allow pupils to receive work at a suitable level for their abilities. It’s called mass media for a reason. They target the largest ‘mass’ of the population (in this case pupils)… they cannot possibly hope to produce programmes to suit every pupil at the drop of a hat.
Glow is here, it is paid for, it works, it does everything and more we would wish of an emergency system for learning… Let’s be realistic, short of showing lots of repeats, the programmes they would need to show do not yet exist… and making TV programmes takes time… probably about as long as the outbreak would last…

So why is anyone seriously talking to traditional media when the solution is already in place. For me, the most depressing thing about the whole Times Ed article is this: Glow was not mentioned once. That is not good enough… What do you think?

21 Comments leave one →
  1. Alan Hamilton permalink
    August 17, 2009 9:16 pm

    I thought the exact same thing when I read the article. The only worry that I have is that many staff in my school have not yet had the time to get to grips with glow. If half the school was off next week glow would not be the answer. When our HT referred to possible swine flu plans today (concerning changes to how staff report if absent) I thought about bringing the advantage of glow up. I didn’t as I want staff to take up glow for it’s original merits, not as a quick fix to this current possible pandemic.

  2. mimanifesto permalink
    August 17, 2009 9:16 pm

    I think the reality is rather different, perhaps unfortunately Neil. The 32 sign up is just a wee bit of spin. Glasgow, Edinburgh and Highland have yet to use GLOW in any meaningful way. That’s a huge swathe of the country. Add to this the small proportion of secondary school teachers who are actually using, or are confident to use GLOW and you actually have very little of the country covered. It would be nice to think that GLOW could be the answer to such a situation but in actual fact, in the event of a mass shut-down, it will be fairly insignificant.
    There’s a lot more work to be done if GLOW is ever to realise it’s full potential. Until the investment (past and present) is actually nationally managed effectively for a tangible return, this realisation of potential is some way of yet.

    I’m not being negative here, just realistic. I think national planners have realised the true (current) situation with GLOW at present which is perhaps why TV may well be the medium of choice should the mass shut-down occur.


  3. August 17, 2009 9:23 pm

    I take both your points, but in a twisted way, I think something like this would help to drive adoption… (This is purely hypothetical! I am not looking for a mass outbreak of some horrible disease as a means of expanding ICT use in schools…) I know that I tend to learn how to do things when I have to… the little ‘html’ I have learned is out of necessity rather than a pre-emptive bid to learn (eg: I found out how to do html tables when writing this post! Yay!)…

    What is a bit worrying is the complete lack of a mention of Glow in the article… if nothing else, I think it deserved a mention as a part of a solution.

    (Incidentally, I see that the teachers would still have to go into school in the event of an outbreak… Aye, ‘mon then!)

  4. Gordon Brown permalink
    August 17, 2009 9:24 pm

    Hi Neil,

    I understand your frustration, but recognise Jaye’s realism.

    We’re learning (or at least I am) that there’s a huge gap between making something available and seeing it being used as the norm. How do we close that gap? (That’s a genuine question, by the way.)



  5. andywallis permalink
    August 17, 2009 9:30 pm

    Hi Neil

    What if the child does not have access to the net at home? With Scotland having some of the most socially deprived areas in Europe, I’m sure that there are many pupils who are not online. Just a thought 😉


    • August 17, 2009 9:38 pm

      Hi Andy…

      Oh, I know… nothing is perfect… but by the same token, I suspect those without internet access would also not have access to the digital channels that they are talking about using… Actually… as you are no doubt well aware, they may not have t’internet, but they’ve probably got Sky Sports! 😉

      There is no one solution… I just don’t think centralised programming is the answer when we could be doing so much more… At the very least, Glow/online solutions should have been more prominent in their deliberations… (mmm… wonder if it is a reporting thing?)

  6. August 17, 2009 9:34 pm

    Gordon Brown :
    How do we close that gap? (That’s a genuine question, by the way.)

    Hi Gordon,
    I know that you are all right… but I do like to think ahead. As to closing the gap, I think we need to stop accepting a lack of necessary skills to use technology in the teachers as a reason to avoid adopting new practices. If people have to access (for example) Glow in order to do registration, or read their email, or to get Local Authority news/vacancies/etc, then they would soon learn how to use it. Once you have people using the ‘basics’, you can build on that knowledge by…

    Well I’m sure you get the point! I do think there may need to be some gentle compunction if we are to get people using any initiative. What was the Henry Ford quotation? Something along the lines of: “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse”… instead, he gave them something different that made their lives better…

  7. August 17, 2009 9:44 pm

    Interesting discussion guys and a timely post Neil. I tend to agree with you Neil that an event like this (heaven forbid that it should happen) would be the ideal test of the whole concept of a national intranet. Let’s face it, what could the traditional media deliver anway in terms of curriculum. Interesting that in times of crisis people revert to talking about the good old transmission model of education. Isn’t Curriculum for Excellence supposed to be about the development of the four capacities in equal measure? How on earth do you deliver that through a television screen?

  8. Alan Hamilton permalink
    August 17, 2009 9:54 pm

    Neil, your point about reporting, remember the article is from the TESS;-). I agree with your arguement, just think the timing may be too soon. I will still be doing all I can to further push glow in my school this session.

  9. August 17, 2009 10:05 pm

    As someone who works for one of the authorities mentioned, I share these concerns over the time being taken between “signing up” and “rolling out” of Glow. We’re not going to be in a position to use it for a while yet. Those of us fortunate to have access only got our accounts by knowing who to approach.

    Infrastructure is still being put in place to allow our schools to access Glow in the future but nobody is rushing high speed networks into the communities themselves. Home access to Glow will be a joke in areas where the only way to get online is via a dial-up connection – a significant percentage of my school’s catchment falls into this category and it’s not like there’s the luxury of a 3G network to fall back on.

    “Watch with Mother” is the only game in town until we get our collective acts together.

  10. August 17, 2009 10:16 pm

    Mmmmm… I’m beginning to think that I am spoiled rotten in exotic Perth. We have good broadband and plenty of computers to choose from. I keep forgetting that this is not a widespread situation…

    I suppose my post would be more relevant in a few years… 😉

    • Jaye Richards permalink
      August 18, 2009 1:16 pm

      Even in exotic Perth, how many folk in your school are actually using GLOW to a level at which it could be used for Swine Flu relief learning Neil ? Even in the ‘early adopter’ authorities, particularly secondaries, it’s still only a handful in each. This is a real issue. GLOW will take hold, in some way, but probably not in it’s present format, and certainly not in the near enough future to be of much use in the current pandemic situation….IMO, anyway.

  11. August 17, 2009 11:09 pm

    We had an interesting experience recently when Lynne started a P7 class on Google Apps, which they were using as part of the Guitar Hero transition project last session, and which included an email account. The day after she’d trained the class, the school was closed due to failure of the water supply. On their return the following day, one of the girls had complained to the teacher – much to teacher’s surprise! – about her disappointment at not having received an email from the teacher with advice on what she should be doing while school was closed.

    What this shows us, I think, is that although the whole idea of remote learning may still be quite a big deal to some staff, it may not be such a big thing for many of their students.

    But what tools could/should be used? I think the answer here has to be ones which are already reasonably familiar to the classes involved, or are completely intuitive to staff and students alike. Support and training won’t be easy to provide in these circumstances.

    For me, that rules out wholesale adoption of Glow Learn by people who aren’t already trained; the learning curve is simply too steep. The most effective tool could well be the simplest lowest-common-denominator of email, combined perhaps with whatever other tools the class is used to using or find intuitive to use.

    A Glow Group could easily become a temporary virtual classroom for existing users, with Glow Meet having particular potential. I’m now thinking we need to train students in using it! For inexperienced people, though, it might be that simple tools like wikis, and maybe YouTube for virtual lessons would prove easier to adopt. WE can take advantage of the lack of website blocking in the homes!

  12. August 18, 2009 6:22 am

    David Gilmour :
    …it might be that simple tools like wikis, and maybe YouTube for virtual lessons would prove easier to adopt. WE can take advantage of the lack of website blocking in the homes!

    I love the irony of this!

  13. Caroline Breyley permalink
    August 18, 2009 7:16 am

    Yesterday we were forwarded the advice to LAs from Scottish Government – I haven’t yet read the TESS article and was quite cheered by the reference to Glow.

    “Although we have now moved from the “containment” to the “treatment” phase of the pandemic I would still encourage you and your schools to think about and consider how best a reasonable measure of learning could be sustained if schools were to be closed for an extended period, on whatever grounds, for instance via GLOW, the internet etc. Our common goal will be to maintain continuity of learning for children and young people. Those undertaking SQA courses face particular issues, especially in relation to assessment or where there is a vocational or practical dimension in courses. You will doubtless continue to work in partnership with SQA on a needs basis and will build on existing good practice within and across authorities, where resources and expertise are shared. Also, where pupils have been absent due to illness while their school has remained open, a significant degree of support will be required to phase them back in to coursework and enable them to ‘catch up’.”

    I agree that many students will expect us to have some e solutions. Perhaps one of our tasks is to make sure they are aware of possible ways they could get internet access if its not available at home.

  14. August 18, 2009 10:03 am

    Neil, like Gordon I agree with you in that a digital network should offer the potential and the opportunity to benefit from the new affordances of online and distributed learning, but like Jaye I suspect neither the infrastructure nor the wherewithal is yet in place. I think for this one, (H1N1) we have already missed the boat. However there will certainly be other situations that would benefit from distributed learning. I posted on this a couple of years ago and indeed such a strategy was the put into practice during the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong six years ago

    If you are right, and I believe you are, about the advantages of online and distributed learning, then there needs to be debate, and practical exploration of the best way of using these new networks to create innovative, creative and stable learning spaces. This should be happening now before the next potential crisis comes along, as it inevitably will.

    Six years down the line many inside and outside education see the networks as a digital model of a traditional education system, and I suspect, as soon as the crises ends, we will be exactly where we are now, students will be hauled back into the same old routine, the digital network dispensing virtual homework etc. Whilst digital networks are seen as a bolt on and safety net rather than an integrated part of the learning experience, their full potential is unlikely to be realised.

    “Educational TV lessons”? They might as well watch paint dry. To say that this is, clutching at straws, would be giving the idea too much credit, and as for using the “post” with diminishing services and an impending strike, probably not. David Gilmour’s last comment suggests a much more realistic and achievable approach. Now to end on a positive and optimistic note, GLOW is in place to be used and the comments on this post show the thinking in Scotland is well ahead of the game and committed to the future, all that is needed is to integrate the two.

  15. August 18, 2009 5:09 pm

    Theo Kuechel :

    “Educational TV lessons”? They might as well watch paint dry…

    Theo, you’ve hit the nail on the head as usual. What I hated about the tone of the article was the assumption that TV lessons might be worth doing in this age when so much more is possible…

    I completely agree with all Jaye’s points, but am still idealistic enough to think that we should at least be setting our sights on the best possible service for our pupils…

  16. andywallis permalink
    August 18, 2009 9:52 pm

    Was chatting about this with someone today, and they made the point about who would be expected to pay for connecting to GLOW at home? They believed that this would be an issue for some parents.


  17. August 18, 2009 10:00 pm

    Hi Andy,
    I saddened to hear that as an argument… but being practical, is that not supposed to be what Gordon Brown is talking about when he says that he wants every home in the country connected to the internet? I am sure there is money available to make it happen, though the actual link eludes me at the moment… Anyone?

  18. August 19, 2009 3:44 pm

    A bit late to the debate, but as someone who works for what might be lumped together as “traditional” media it’s worth noting a few things from my perspective:

    1. Traditional media is a meaningless phrase. 4iP is not traditional media but traditional ad sales on TV pay for it. Our products and projects are beginning to appear, bringing public service value through the web.

    2. The TV costs. A set now costs the same as a computer. The TV Licence the same as a fast broadband connection. The TV costs the same as the internet.

    3. TV still has more influence over younger people’s actions than the net, although they spend more minutes per day on the net:
    TV is not a bad way of hitting the largest number of people at specific times but also on video on demand.

    4. Much of the biggest hits on television with Channel 4 are in relation to health, with TV making the initial kick for users to jump onto, say, the Embarrassing Bodies website. Our health websites, after the initial peak in traffic, actually maintain this, to the tune of 30m unique visitors in around 6mths. Mass media can lead the masses online for more personalised experiences.

    5. Channel 4 hasn’t made (much) educational TV in three years. The £6m per year budget that used to make TV programmes no-one watched is now entirely spent online, with great success. Traditional media can often do learning online in a different way to traditional education institutions, with better results in some areas.

    Just my tuppence worth and, of course, not necessarily the views of my employer.

  19. August 19, 2009 3:49 pm

    Some of the impact our health stuff has had for teens:

    and that research on impact and influence of TV on teens:

    And I should add that I don’t, in any way, think that broadcasters through the telly alone are in any position to ‘teach’ en masse our school populations. As part of a more complex recipe, perhaps, but a recipe that would make really boring headlines in the papers 🙂

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