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October 17, 2010

Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation… 
Alasdair Gray

I was fortunate to have been invited to take part in a meeting organised by Jackie Brock who is Deputy Director, Curriculum Division for the Scottish Government. We were being invited to:

…form part of the initial exploration work contributing to the potential development of a Scottish Government Technologies for Learning Strategy.

Delegates arrive at the Boathouse The meeting was facilitated by The International Futures Forum, and when we assembled at their base, the Boathouse in Aberdour, I think it would be fair to say that the participants were a very diverse group, drawn as they were from the Scottish Government, HMIe, LTS, ADES, Local Authorities, and also some knowledgeable experts such as Ewan McIntosh and Pat Kane. They even managed to squeeze some teachers in which is why I was there!

There are already some places you can get further information about the day and what was said: Fearghal Kelly’s blog and David Gilmour’s photos being just two.

The stated aim of the day was:

…not to reach definitive conclusions, but to identify significant tensions, risks and opportunities to be taken into account, in designing a new strategy, and ideally developing a set of criteria or principles for how to make sound decisions in what is a rapidly shifting environment.

Show Me The Money

We had three distinct sessions during the day, all of which I found worthwhile in different ways, though ultimately, I also found them a bit lacking. I will, however, quite happily admit that this has as much to do with my own hopes for the day as anything else.

DSCF1072After an introduction from Jackie Brock, we set to our first task/discussion. This involved us considering what we would support financially. We had 7 ‘bags of money’ and were invited to allocate these to the areas we believed would have the greatest impact on improving Learning & Teaching. Once we had made our selections, these were collated and displayed for all to see.

Glow Platform:
15 ‘bags’
Teacher Training / CPD:
35 ‘bags’
Research & Development:
10 ‘bags’
Handheld Devices:
15 ‘bags’
41 ‘bags’
Open Marketplace:
14 ‘bags’
Digital Literacy:
17 ‘bags’
Personal Budgets:
21 ‘bags’
21 ‘bags’

The two aspects that met with common agreement were teacher training/CPD and broadband. I don’t suppose it was a surprise that CPD was seen as essential to developing a technology strategy for Scotland, but I was surprised and encouraged in equal measure that the top choice was Broadband. By this, we were considering the physical infrastucture and acknowledging that, for ICT to have real impact… be that through Glow or the internet… it is essential that schools have a fast and big connection. There’s no point having fantastic resources online if we don’t have the capacity to access them.


The second phase of the morning was given over to discussing Glow. This had been set as our preparation before arriving:

It would be helpful if participants could come to the session prepared initially to review experience of the recent past. In particular the case of the development and early experience with Glow. What have we learned from that experience – positive, negative and interesting – that might usefully inform strategy for the future?

ediff - GLOW I’ve been involved in too many discussions where this would have turned into a Glow-bashing session, so it was great to hear some really knowledgeable people discussing in a frank and open session just what was and wasn’t working with Glow. I’m sure you have your own pet-hates about it (the UI being mine!), but it is well worth remembering what Glow has achieved: It has been adopted by all 32 Local Authorities (how they are rolling it out – or not – is an LA matter, not a Glow one!), it is a secure environment, it does allow access to materials through the shibboleth agreement.

For me, one of Glow’s biggest shortcomings is that it doesn’t do everything… but in that respect, I am reminded of Joe Nutt’s latest post about the corrosive effect of hype. Glow could never have lived up to people’s expectations of it… but it has done a pretty good job of achieving what it was originally designed to do… there is a difference! I recall a conversation I had with John Connell who, along with Robert Skey, was responsible for writing the initial spec for the Scottish Schools’ Digital Network (SSDN), which in turn became Glow. John referred to Stephen Heppell’s quote about asking horse-and-carriage people what the transport of the future should be.

They could only envisage a better, faster horse and carriage. It was up to someone else to come up with the concept of the car before people began to see the other possibilities for transport. In short, people don’t know what they don’t know, so those who have some forward thinking ideas, who perhaps have learned about what is possible, have a responsibility to help those who might be enthusiastic about ICT in education but who do not necessarily know what the possibilities are.

I think it is fair to say that, without someone like John at the helm to push Glow through, it may well have been waylaid by those who could not see beyond what they already knew. I really do hope that the #ediff meeting got the message across to the Scottish Government that, whatever we do with Glow in the future, it has to be open, flexible, completely web-based and non-proprietary – though not necessarily open-source for that has inherent dangers for a large scale project. Just as we are searching for a learning strategy for Scotland, we must appreciate that the landscape our young people will ultimately enter is in a state of perpetual flux and development. Our education system must reflect that if it is to be relevant and worthwhile.

This tied in neatly with Pat Kane of The Play Ethic Fame’s presentation to the group. He is a Fellow of the IFF and had been invited along to participate and also to deliver a think-piece. He took as a theme the importance of play, and also challenged us to consider what it means to grow up today, and especially to consider the importance of having a healthy balance. For me, the key thought was a timely reminder that the Scottish tradition of generalism is a good basis for the future. Pat has promised to post his links soon, so I’ll update once he does.

After a break for lunch, we sat down to tackle our final session.

Principles For Action

We were invited to rearrange ourselves into four groups each tasked with considering how to formulate a strategy for the future for four target groups: students, teachers, Glow and Government. Specifically, we were encouraged to get beyond the obvious as soon as possible with a view to thinking beyond what we already do. John and Stephen would have recognised this as our attempt to think of a ‘car’ rather than a better ‘horse and cart’!

I ended up in the teacher group, though not everyone in the group was a teacher. The discussion was fascinating, and wide ranging. We circled around two main issues: technology FOR learning, and technology IN learning. We covered many topics close to my heart such as entitlement and access to ICT and how to ensure this… and were keen that the solution is ultimately not about the hardware as much as it is about the access. For me, once the technology is ubiquitous then it becomes as natural to use as a pen and piece of paper.

ediff- Teacher Group [Warning: This paragraph is my also based on my own reflections and beliefs – not all of it was voiced at the time!] I also tried to make the case that as we move forward we need to look closely at the curriculum itself. Technology allows us to approach learning in a truly radical way. The ways we can manipulate knowledge in the digital age gives us possibilities that we couldn’t even dream about until now. If I take language learning as an example, my first question would be whether we actually need to learn a language when a mobile phone can translate for us. Would we not be better teaching people how to access and utilise technology to find the knowledge we require? Of course, I am the first to accept that this is not really a viable example, but for me it hints at the truth of where we are. By teaching how to use the technology in conjunction with the rules of grammar and vocabulary, we can surely only enhance and deepen knowledge and even better, give learners the power to learn what they need to know and how to find the knowledge they need. If we fail to do this then I fear we are not giving our learners the skills and knowledge they will need to thrive in an ever changing world. Inevitably, there is a genuine concern that over-reliance on technology leads to a diminishing of knowledge… but I would argue that what it really is is a diminishing of ‘remembering’ in favour of something better. I have Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy in mind when I say this. If we are to be truly innovative, then we need to move beyond the bottom rungs of that particular ladder!

All too soon, our time was at an end. We had a plenary session where we shared our group findings with everyone else and you can see photos of the various groups thoughts on David Gilmour’s flickr stream.

Endings & Beginnings

To all intents and purposes, that was the end of the day and probably the end of my involvement in formulating Government strategy. I had a fantastic time and took great delight in meeting people who challenged my thoughts and gave me much to think about in turn. When I see the final sheet produced, our ‘Big Questions Strategy Must Address’, I realised that we had covered an awful lot of ground… but here’s the rub. I think there is still much to do. This meeting was very much about an ‘initial exploration’ of the issues that will inform any future strategy. We didn’t cover a lot of the issues that I believe need to be considered… not because I didn’t have the desire to air them, simply because we did not have the time. One of the issues that was mentioned several times by a variety of different people was the issue of a ‘baseline’ entitlement to access and what that actually means. As things stand in Scotland, we cannot agree what resources should be made available from school to school, or Local Authority to Local Authority… What chance then do we have of formulating a National Policy? Or maybe I’m missing the point… maybe it will only be through having a National Statement that we can finally move beyond fighting to justify using tools like wikispaces or youtube, and finally start using them to learn. For me, that one small shift could make a profound difference to the learning experience for every learner and educator in Scotland.


One final thought from the day. I started the twitter tag #ediff before setting off. During the course of the day, numerous people involved were adding their thoughts to the day… in other words we had a good going back channel for enhancing and deepening our contribution. It also allowed those not in the room to follow and contribute by proxy. Our host, Jackie Brock had seen this going on, but wasn’t sure what she was seeing so Ollie Bray took five minutes during a break to demonstrate and explain it to her. At the end of the day, Jackie was delivering her closing remarks and I think it was fair to say that she was overwhelmed by the knowledge that the back channel had been so active throughout the event. She also shrewdly realised how this could be happening in any classroom and wondered “How frightening that must feel for the teachers”… yet she also made it clear that she had realised the value of a PLN for learning and sharing. If nothing else, I think that exposure to something many of us now take for granted may just have demonstrated the importance of formulating a policy that encompasses the best of what we can do, and that is receptive to the changes we do not know will follow.


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16 Comments leave one →
  1. October 17, 2010 7:52 am

    Wow. What a thorough and well thought through post of the day. You’ve put me to shame!

    • Mr W permalink
      October 17, 2010 8:56 am

      Not at all! It’s just my way of trying to record what we did. Handy for CPD folio. 😉

  2. October 17, 2010 9:03 am

    Great post about what seems to have been a very interesting day, Neil. I would like to have been there, especially since some of it was taken up with a detailed discussion of Glow and its implications, negative and positive. Unfortunately I wasn’t invited – I wonder why not?

    You capture some of the early thinking, and something of the open and transparent mindset that we pushed hard in terms of the process of developing the specification for Glow with the community across Scottish Education – it was a mindset that sat rather uncomfortably with many in the Scottish Executive at the time, but we were lucky in having a few good people there at the centre of things who let us get on with it.

    So, sounds like it was a good day, Neil – you manage to fill in some of the detail of what I saw via the backchannel as the day progressed. Thank you for that.

    Still, would have been nice to have been invited…… 🙂

  3. October 17, 2010 9:17 am

    Thoughtful and informative post for those of us who were unable to make it on the day Neil. I share many if your views, particularly those on access and broadband. For me however, the issue is on how we spend the existing money in education. This is the crux of the matter as there is only so much to go around. On GLOW, this is fundamental. Far too much money is being spent on promulgating a platform which is not being used by a big majority of teachers and learners across the country ( my step children at school in East Ren have never even seen or heard of it). This money could be better spent surely in more effective ways by schools or government instead of propping up a scheme which is withering on the vine, despite the latest window dressing efforts. John Connells quote you mentioned is rather facile in my view- if this was indeed the case, then nothing would ever get off the ground. The issues around Glow over the first early adoptee phase in my view were all about poor project management and lack of realistic vision. Cost also played a major part- not enough money made available for meaningful CPD ( as the workshop attendees apparently pointed out is a pre- requisite for successful adoption of any IT project… and my own research also highlighted this important point).
    I do hope this is the start of government taking advice and listening to those who are actually working at the chalkface putting into day on day practice education developments and initiatives.
    Thankyou for summing up the days discussions so well.

  4. October 17, 2010 9:20 am

    My apologies- sStephen Heppells quote, told to you by JC.

  5. October 17, 2010 9:49 am

    @John: I was very surprised not to see you at the event. When I saw the initial brief, I just assumed that you would have been there… especially given the wealth of experience you’ve picked up since leaving LTS. Maybe next time?

    @Jaye: Thought-provoking point(s)… I’m going to disagree with you (slightly… if that’s OK) on one point. I’m becoming more and more aware that there is a difference between Glow as an entity and LA implementation of the same. Some (not all) of the problems I have associated with Glow have actually been LA issues.

    I think one positive thing has been highlighted by the meeting it is that there needs to be a National Strategy with sufficient backing to ensure that piecemeal delivery is no longer acceptable… however, I would be a lot happier if that had been made more explicit in the feedback collected… and, as ever, there will be a gap between what we achieved and what actually happens once the politicians get their hands on it!

  6. October 17, 2010 9:53 am

    @Jaye: PS… I think the point about CPD was well made. Nobody wants a re-run of the NOF/Masterclass debacle. I got the impression that everyone there appreciates the overwhelming importance of relevant and worthwhile CPD to ensure that staff in schools are up to delivering the best learning possible. That is one thing I would definitely measure the Strategy against when it is finalised.

  7. October 17, 2010 10:49 am

    Excellent stuff. Also surprised not to see John C on list.

    Was really gutted that having been invited I couldn’t attend. I would certainly agree that the big problem for GLOW is often the LA. Some have embraced it and used it to great effect, others have always thought of it as an ‘add-on’ to tick a box for HMIe etc. My own is still without any GLOW support (admin and teachers) and the S1 kids are STILL waiting on passwords a year later in many cases. I can’t get at them because ‘they’re being done by a girl at Education HQ who has now left’ Helloooo ?

    I last used GLOW in a class in June when I introduced the P7s to it – only around 10% had used it in primary schools. My S2 all got on, played the games and then dropped off. They liked the idea but found it too fiddly especially when they are used to swift User Interfaces and “two clicks to execute something” rather than the many clicks GLOW can take.

    I don’t know – would we be better with designated GLOW teachers/support staff in each LA trained, paid for and run by LTS? This would stop the piecemeal often useless implementation/running of GLOW in some areas.

    Internet access/website blocking is an argument that MUST be resolved. A NATIONAL policy on the lines of ‘managed’ rather than ‘lock everything down’ such as described in the OFSTED report last year would be great. Teach the kids to use it safely then TRUST them and their teachers to make best use of the stuff available. After all, they’re using the sites at home or in break on their mobiles so why do we still try to bolt stable doors when the horse has not only escaped but is galloping towards the cliff edge as it hasn’t been trained to turn away from the drop!

    CPD on-line or off is essential. Problem is schools often spend their budgets on the latest fad leaving NOTHING for teachers’ ‘proper’ CPD such as marking workshops etc. I have nothing to spend on my CPD for the third year running.

    I do hope that ScotGov take on board the many obvious points you all raised at the meeting; Jackie appears to have done so thanks to you, David and Ollie gently pushing her into the PLN world of twitter etc. Good stuff 8-).

    PS we STILL have a SmartBoard in the LA training room that has sat there since it was given to a Tech teacher years ago as part of the Masterclass programme. Not been used for at least 5 years! Wonder how many such items of IT etc are sitting around 8-(

  8. October 17, 2010 11:29 am

    The ‘Smartboard’ question was addressed in discussion. I think there is a growing recognition that they aren’t very good tech, especially not at the price. Similarly ‘Clicker’ systems. I’m going back to school to try out SMSPoll… for the price of one Smartboard, I could have 12 years worth of SMS polls in my classroom…

    The key to access is the recognition that we need a different strategy for dealing with connected learning. I hope that this day was a step in the right direction. Of course, I also get that Local Authorities are scared of ‘Daily Mail Parents’… and so it is easier to block and obstruct rather than encourage and allow. I don’t know what the answer to this is, but believe the answer has to come from Government. I no longer think this is a discussion that will bear much fruit at school or Local Authority level… it certainly hasn’t in the last 5 or so years.


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