Over the past decade, the Web has evolved from a publishing tool to a collaboration and curation platform, and educational institutions have struggled to keep up with exponential change, including growing access to learning materials, programs, and platforms outside school walls.
In Scotland, two initiatives begun around 2004 — Glow Scotland and EduBuzz — illustrate different approaches to providing such collaboration and curation functions to learners, educators, and parents. Both platforms are actively used by thousands of constituents, and are approaching a second generation of development.
Glow Scotland — originally called the Scottish Schools Digital Network (SSDN) — is a national education Intranet consisting of broadband infrastructure, a content delivery network, and registry, repository, and collaboration services. Funding is from the Scottish government, and the service is managed by Education Scotland — formerly Learning Teaching Scotland (LTS) — the national ministry of education.
Planning began in 2003, and LTS contracted with Research Machines (RM) in 2005 to integrate SharePoint Server 2003 with over 50 other components. When Glow was launched in 2007 after 2 years of development and testing, it was considered one of the largest implementations of SharePoint for education in the world.
Glow is governed by a Board of Directors, and overseen by a management team with representatives from government, Learning and Teaching Scotland, and RM. Implementation “is carried through at local and regional levels.”
According to Education Scotland, Glow was “the first and only national intranet dedicated to education” and “the transformational power of Glow has attracted attention from across the globe.” The Scottish government invested “$80 million to serve as many as 750,000 learners and 53,000 teachers working in 3,000 schools across the country.”
Glow won a Global Six award from the George Lucas Foundation in 2008 and was the subject of a European Schoolnet case study in 2010. The Glow production team collected over 100 examples of best practices in an online showcase.
Nevertheless, members of the original project team suggested “it is likely to be the second version of SSDN before teachers and others really start to see its full potential,” and “the next version … needs to be much more flexible, dynamic and open to new tools as they become available. The online world has changed and this creates new opportunities for learning.” Early research on usage of Glow was inconclusive.
As the RM contract approached its conclusion, the government negotiated a two-year extension (to 2012) and invited recommendations for improvements for the second version, to be called Glow Futures. However, the procurement process was halted in September 2011 by Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education & Lifelong Learning. In his video announcement of the change in direction, Russell said:
Glow has to evolve and begin to more closely resemble the real world of the web…
And that means at it’s heart it’s got to consist of a variety of different things – the free tools and the open source services that already exist on the web. If we invest in those things, that ‘glue’ that bind all the good parts of Glow together.
And if we further invest in access – that is, the interconnect which we’ve got to make better and faster, then what the next generation of Glow would do would be to allow schools to harness the power of technology for learning; to keep pace with rapidly evolving developments; but to actually speak the language that young people speak online, and allow them to access it in the same way.
The government subsequently sought public feedback on how information and communication technologies (ICT) should be leveraged in education. Alternatives being proposed for consideration included Google Apps for Education, Microsoft’s Live@Edu, and WordPress/BuddyPress. The government also developed and released a unified national Digital Strategy (PDF) which recommended additional investment in national broadband infrastructure.
In 2005, as Glow was in development, educators Ewan McIntosh and David Gilmour — teachers in the East Lothian region east of Edinburgh — started an online community called Exc-el. Relaunched as Edubuzz in 2006, the service grew quickly, from 20,000 to 160,000 page views per month within six months.
Built on WordPress software, and self-hosted by the East Lothian government, the platform was intended to create networks of learners, to be continuously adapted based on feedback from educators and students, and to be highly personalizable, so that students could create their own blogs and “have control of every detail on the page to make their site feel like theirs, not some centralised silo-ed academic project.”
McIntosh developed a series of posts to provide context for the service, including Scotland’s legacy of innovation and learning, key distinctions between public and private online collaboration, and strategies for integrating social media into learning. The Edubuzz team also provided self-publishing guidelines for teachers and students.
Much of Edubuzz’s success was due to the culture of the organization.
Social media, and whether or not it’s adopted in any organisation, is almost entirely down to the culture of the organisation.
East Lothian Council does have a culture of openness in its Education Department senior management. The Head of Education, for example, has had a blog for a couple of years, progressively moving away from “here’s what I did today” to asking some really hard questions about his job, they way he and his colleagues operate and where education should go next.
According to McIntosh, Edubuzz now regularly serves 3.5–4.5 million pages a month to over 250,000 visitors, in a school district that is made up of only 15,000 students and 1,500 staff.
In 2010, the Scottish Government began developing a Technologies for Learning Strategy. Two months ago (October 2011), the government’s Learning Directorate convened a brainstorming seminar to discuss ICT in Scottish education. Participants included EduBuzz’s McIntosh and Gilmour.
McIntosh was asked: “If you don’t think Glow in its current form is what Glow should be, what would you do differently?” He replied:
I don’t now know the whole recipe I’d have, but the one we mixed up in East Lothian five years ago has worked better and better over that time, with continued growth.
What are the elements I see in eduBuzz that have not been designed into Glow?
- Make it work as a place where people choose to go.
- Make it a place that’s easy to get into
- Make it open, presenting the path of least resistance to engage
- Make your management open
- Provide a social-network-like ‘wall’ of latest activity
- Remember the two audiences you have: teachers and students
I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking recently about the essential elements and functions of a learning social network. Glow has been an interesting first few steps in the development of a national intranet for education but what does the future look like? If we open our minds to the true possibilities of the web and mobile technologies what might the next step be?…
In Education, we need to use the best of social networking to provide a rich, collaborative, embedded online experience for all learners, teachers and parents; empowering them with tools to track activity, progress, assessment, content and share thoughts and ideas.
Beyond the platform, however, participant Neil Winton noted,
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.
Scotland’s second generation of support for online learning collaborations is being shaped right now, and we’ll be watching closely.
In 2005 Scottish Government released a national Curriculum for Excellence for learners from age 3 to 18. The curriculum focused on “attributes, knowledge and skills [learners] will need to flourish in life, learning and work.”
Beyond 8 traditional content areas, the national curriculum focused on “four key capacities – to be successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.”
The curriculum was implemented in schools starting in 2010. Subsequently, education was integrated into a set of government-wide strategic objectives, including one strand, Smarter Scotland, focused on education.
More about ICT platforms in Europe
This case study was funded by the British Columbia Educational Resources Acquisition Consortium.