There is a fundamental debate taking place in Scotland at the moment with regard to the next implementation of Glow, Scotland’s National Intranet. Whilst to those outside Scotland it may seem a parochial affair, the significance of this discussion extends way beyond Scotland's boundaries. This is a microcosm of how online resources resources networks for learning might or might not evolve. A glimpse of how to make things work, and what will fail and how good intentions may be derailed. Unlike many other countries which are encumbered with either dis-jointed, or legacy ICT provision, Scotland has had a National strategy for ICT for many years, and in September 2011, Scottish Education Minister, Michael Russell left the door ajar for Glow to evolve from a closed Intranet into a learning ecosystem developed around the evolving free and open Internet tools, facilitated by broadband accessibility and referencing to BYOD, (Bring Your Own Device). A clean slate, with the vested interests of technology companies not a prime consideration.
Although I am not directly involved in Scottish education, the discussions struck a couple of chords; firstly I grew up and was educated in Scotland and I still see it as my home, but more importantly Scotland is in a unique position to be a leader in thought and practice in this field. Therefore I make no apologies for contributing my personal opinion. I take note that Jaye Hill states we have to be careful avoiding a “he said - she said“ dialogue and I will bear that in mind for the rest of this post.
So how is it all coming along?
Over the past weekend a growing number of tweets suggested all was not as it should be, and this was extrapolated in various blog posts, including the following by Douglas Chappelle and Pam Currie.The crux of the matter is Google have pulled out of, and decided not to participate directly with the forthcoming implementation of Glow - (Glow2)
I think the telling lines are these:
“A commercial tendering process....is inconsistent with our philosophy and is not in the best interest of Scottish schools...”
and explaining that philosophy.....
“ is to provide our apps at no cost at all to qualifying schools...”
The problem appears to be the procurement process that does not sit well alongside free and open; and whose beneficiaries are most likely to be commercial IT providers rather than learners, (and free gives an unfair advantage o:) Now a better driver for building GLOW2 might have been mutually beneficial partnerships.
Source http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6225749 11th May 2012
Whilst Douglas’s and Pam’s posts hint at a subculture of technopolitical inchworms who want to bring Glow back within the wall of the restrictive cultures, (that many of us have endured within institutional and educational ICT); other commentators ask some pertinent questions about trust and how Google uses data it collects. Jim Henderson raises concerns over how Google accesses user data from across its product range and also asks questions about the ownership of one's data on Google. However, such T&Cs are widespread across most cloud based service therefore I think it is important to make a realistic appraisal of such terms and conditions, as pointed out by Brian Kelly. (JISC /UKOLN). Such details should be discussed openly in forums, by stakeholders, rather than be left to the procurement process, whose ‘procurers’ who may not necessarily be experts in either teaching or learning, or cloud based technology.
Indeed Google, Facebook, Pinterest and Dropbox have all been subject to wide discussion recently.
Of course, Google are not the only tech company who can be accused of not playing straight, Microsoft re-launches Browser Wars, whilst Apple’s DRM and content strategies and Pearson’s inroads into state education systems have also been heavily criticised recently.
So what might have been/be lost if Google is not involved;
Firstly, the Google ecosystem comprises of an organically evolving toolset: covering amongst other things: search, translation, communications, YouTube, Geodata, content & document production and sharing. Google + offers Hangouts on Air which brings together conferencing and broadcast- possibly a game changer. Over past 12 months all these tools, services and apps have been combining into a whole and at the moment there is nothing that comes close. Even if one is critical of Google, currently, it is the best model we currently have of a learning ecosystem.
To see even a few of these affordancesin an Intranet or VLE would allow its developers to shout: world beater’
Meanwhile; Google has done a nifty sidestep by offering to work nearer ground level with Local Authorities. Some believe this would result in fragmentation, I suspect some LAs might engage - others be wary? The next few months could be very interesting. Take your partners for an Orcadian Strip the Willow!
I think it is important to recognise that since the inception of Glow, digital technologies have reconfigured the possibilities for learning, online spaces are very different. There is no going back.
The learning landscape is now increasingly cloud based, international and moving to open. You can do most things online and collaboratively and this includes activities previously requiring specialist kit such as audio recording and video editing. There is melding of educational platforms and courses that are truly international - whether that be Khan, TED-ED, or the MOOC courses being developed by top US Universities. There are also the smaller communities ranging from HE’s JISC to special interest groups such as The Big History Project.
Concurrently - other users are adding value to educational search and content through Curation which is probably one of the most significant recent practices to evolve on the web, and Wikipedia is central to knowledge building and sharing. The Mozzilla foundation and DML are promoting the idea of Badges, as explained by Doug Belshaw.
Of course there are likely to be cultures, interests and mindsets that will do all they can to halt or slow down the pace of technologies, and perhaps we are witnessing an example of this in this instance.
Understandably, and rightly some spaces within Glow must protect the privacy of the users, eg. parent/teacher/student dialogues and identities in appropriate contexts, but that Intranet should be a subset of Glow2 and not its driver. Spaces where learners can share and exhibit work must be open to all, so that learners and teachers work can be seen world wide. The first ports of call for content should include harnessing open educational resources (OER) and Commons licensed resources wherever possible.
I would agree wholeheartedly with those in the discussions who have publicly stated that any Government funding should be directed at improving infrastructure and accessibility, for example fast broadband - adequate wifi. support and PD as necessary, not squandering money on subscription based content, with useless terms that negate digital opportunities for learning.
Glow can only work if it is an adaptable digital educational ecosystem for learning that facilitates and empowers the use, sharing communication and collaboration digital resources by all learners, teachers and parents. So this is far too important an area to be left to the devices of professional procurers. Otherwise you will end up with an expensive white elephant whose only beneficiaries will be the providers that have been procured. As Douglas says time to: re-open the wiki. And for that reason I stress we need to be talking about partnerships, (including commercial) and collaboration to create ecosystems not Intranets whose affordances have been superseded by social networks and communities of practice and globalisation.
Glow is a product of Scotland; if Glow2 is successful, Scotland can deservedly reap the credit, but only if it opens it up to the world - which will recognise and acknowledge its contribution to learning in a digital age. However if it ends up with a local shop policy this would be a huge injustice for all the folks in Scotland who have been, and are directly involved with this, the teachers and the learners. The world awaits.