Moving forward with IT
Posted July 9, 2009on:
The recent OFSTED report , talking about ICT initiatives in England and Wales makes the following point…
despite the heavy investment in ICT there was no evidence of the “systematic evaluation of the impact on learning”
Read the report summary, courtesy of Merlin John online here…
I’ve often written about my own feelings on the lack of quantitative research on ICT. I think that with such vast sums of money spent on ICT (including GLOW at some £37.5 millions on development and running costs rising every year) its so important to evaluate this on a cost-benefit basis, and in particular, on its possible impact upon attainment. It was one of the reasons behind my own research last year and the continuation of that research this year.
Whilst there are understandable tensions between school improvement (qualitative and mainly self evaluated) and school achievement (quantitative and attainment driven) and we go too far in one direction at our peril, the fact remains that investment must be justified by measurable gains of some sort. I’m no fan of the current examination system which the SQA itself admits is no longer fit for purpose, but when we get it right, assessment can be used to measure the efficacy of embedding ICT into learning and teaching; that it’s added value to student attainment.
And that’s why, particularly in these very challenging times, financially, we need to pause and evaluate the current state of play with our own national ICT initiative. These’s no denying that GLOW has been a groundbreaking force for good in Scottish education and has changed the way increasing numbers of us do things, but after using it regularly in class and out since October 2007, I know it has it’s faults which need to be addressed, and that’s why any talk of a version 2 needs to be put on hold until a proper evaluation has taken place. We simply cannot, as a nation, afford to invest more millions on a system which has yet, despite the positive spin from LTS, to be used effectively in vast swathes of the country. It’s unfortunately, not yet a national intranet perhaps as much due to political as well as financial constraints, with the two largest cities in the country making little if no progress towards regular wholesale classroom use. Particularly at a time when LA’s all over Scotland are operating in a difficult financial climate which has resulted in teachers being declared surplus in many schools across the country. Further large scale investment without a realistic evaluation and analysis is simply not, in my view, politically expedient.
The big issues, distilled from experience and discussions, as I see them are….
2 – GLOW is initially time consuming, particularly the VLE. This effectively precludes wide scale use as hard pressed staff just don’t have the time to upload resources one by one as well as completing an extensive tagging process. This has been debated extensively on twitter
3 – It’s slow and clunky by design. Uploading resources one at a time, and navigation issues are frustrating. Working through ‘My GLOW groups’ can be a fiendish exercise ! Design is not user-friendly or intuitive compared to using a Wiki or Blog.
To my mind, the cumulative result of this is that GLOW has become a vehicle for primary school projects and a means of facilitating on-line communities of practice populated by teachers and local/national educational organisation colleagues. Some of these GLOW groups are temporary and transient in nature, others have more longevity. Whilst this is certainly a good thing, and a progression of the journey to more widespread use of technology, it is nevertheless stalled at the point of more widespread use in the secondary sector with the very real danger of not meeting the expectations of primary pupils moving across to their secondary schools, and this is, I feel, a tremendous opportunity lost.
I have to admit to feeling disappointment that LTS, as the managing body overseeing GLOW have chosen not to engage in the debate, in any meaningful way, about these issues, but perhaps this is symptomatic of the headlong rush to the supposed holy grail of the ‘full 32’ at the expense of sound project management and full consideration of the pertinent issues, described above. The culture of secrecy surrounding the evolution of GLOW (commercial considerations notwithstanding) is something that disturbs me, particularly in this age of disruptive technologies and flattened hierarchies, where such open and honest engagement would certainly better inform decisions regarding the future directions, although perhaps this is symptomatic again, of the top-down hegemony in our society’s political and social structures and almost, in a way, iatrogenic in nature (with our national bodies cast in the role of physician).
In the spring of last year, I attended a workshop which looked at a series of modifications termed v1.1 which was intended to be a sort of half way house to v2.0 addressing some of the identified design issues. Now this was confidential (due to commercial sensitivity, we were told) but as a year has passed and others have mentioned it, I guess it’s ok to talk about this now, particularly as so many of the proposed modifications were very sensible and would have improved the user experience by no small measure. To my mind, this, coupled with the type of evaluation I’ve proposed above could be an eminently more sensible way in which to proceed . I think we need to get the current model right, and working well across the whole country before proceeding to expensive new models and major redesign processes. With the way and speed web 2.0 technology is progressing, a v2.0 might be an expensive and outdated irrelevance by the time the design and procurement process has been completed.
* I think there is much value in the developmental pathway which has resulted in GLOW groups, but the whole membership process needs to be streamlined. Groups will continue to provide valuable working spaces and resource repositories. The ability to combine tools such as videoconferencing and discussion boards are valuable tools for both learning and teaching and staff development in a safe moderated environment, essential when interacting with students in and out of school.
* The explosion in staff networking, for some folk, their first experiences of on-line collaboration, is very welcome as it provides a taste of what’s possible in the web 2.0 world beyond the ‘walled garden’ of GLOW. This has indeed acted as a springboard into further and more sophisticated on-line communities for many colleagues. The national CPD team are to be commended for their fantastic work in recognising the potential and using GLOW in some very innovative ways.
*Future development of the GLOW platform needs to build on these successes by fine tuning rather than wholesale re-engineering along the lines of the proposed v1.1 modifications, which would address issues of multiple upload, calendar synchronisation, navigation and user-friendliness and more choice in design interface. A v2.0 would be prohibitively expensive, confusing, and maybe even unnecessary, certainly as the majority of Scotland’s teachers have yet to engage with GLOW in any meaningful sense.
* Spending significant sums of money on a v2.0 in the challenging economic climate in which we currently operate would only result in more resistance and opposition to the use of technology from those who may normally be open to the potential for change, particularly with colleagues being made surplus, and so many unemployed teachers across the country. In any case, with the pace of technological change quickening year by year, is a static learning platform which might very rapidly become obsolete best use of scarce public funds. Surely a way of using open source tools in a safe secure environment should be our ultimate goal (visit this link for discourse on this)
* LTS needs to take an advocacy role in bringing together LA’s in order to reach agreement on the QA/IPR sharing resources issues. I really believe that this will be the biggest single factor in encouraging much wider use of GLOW in the secondary sector (other than availability, of course, which will remain an issue for the foreseeable future for vast swathes of the country). I’ve written before on this point. Without this issue being resolved, I don’t see any future for the GLOW Learn VLE which requires a huge investment of time up-front in order to set up courses and complete the tagging process. The ability to share and access ready-made courses could be a huge selling point which would make the time investment much more worthwhile.
* It’s time for a national debate on the future of the GLOW project, along the lines of the recent subject summits, which engages with a comprehensive representation of Scottish teachers, not just those of us who have been involved with GLOW from the start, and the twitter/blog communities, but those who currently are not engaged in the debate
I’ve been working with GLOW for the best part of two academic years now. I think it truly has the potential to change Scottish education for the better. I know this, having extensively evaluated it’s impact on attainment quantitatively and latterly, on more qualitative achievement indicators (as the second phase of my GTCS research). Our classroom coding work may point us in the direction of being able to answer some of the questions posed by John Connell and others as to an explanation of just how the attainment gains are realised. We now have data for a whole student cohort for an entire standard grade course, taught with regular embedded use of GLOW and are currently analysing and discussing this information. Hopefully, the findings from this extended phase of the project will be available, at least in part, by September. However, the original research was all about embedding ICT into the secondary school curriculum. GLOW just happened to be the platform for the delivery of this IT element, it being expedient at the time due to my LA being an early adopter.
Whilst GLOW has been a good entry point for many in their use of technology, what I now have to consider is this… could these gains have been achieved using other web-based technology along the lines of those suggested by the Ed Techie blog ?
Suggestions on a virtual postcard, please….