What’s the point of GLOW? Why don’t people USE it?

In January this year we had what was hailed as ‘unprecedented’ weather conditions including lots and lots of snow.  James Clay down in darkest Gloucestershire wrote this blog post about how he thought we should have made more use of Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) and other parts of ‘tInterweb to keep lessons going. In the post he linked to David Sugden who told how his wife let everyone know that her course and ideas for work to be done during the ‘Big Freeze’ was available online but no-one came. No-one logged on and started keeping up with their course because, as he put it;

There is no culture amongst the learners…to visit online learning activities at times like these.

Granted in his wife’s case her students were probably burdened with the extra children in their care that resulted (they were nursery workers/managers) but the point is valid. Later on, a teacher from the Scottish Borders was being hailed as a modern educator for putting up work on GLOW from her holiday in Portugal where she was trapped because of Old Smoky in Iceland.

I wonder if ALL her students actually logged on and completed the work? 😎

Meanwhile another teacher’s blog post here also shows how technology has changed in just a few short years and made it easier to pass information to students and parents as well as staff in the event of bad weather for example. For many schools (unless you’re in Moray where they still block twitter and other ways of telling parents what’s going on…) using the Internet and especially messages to mobile phones or emails means they can notify parents and students quickly and efficiently and in good time of things that will affect their day or their son/daughter.  I’m talking about things other than the school being closed here as we obviously have such things such as GROUPCALL for emergency stuff.

I often set my students homework or tasks to be completed online as I’m a great believer in Alan November’s maxim ‘Don’t hand it in, publish it‘ and the results are often simply incredible. One S3 last week created a fantastic video about the Roger McGough poem ‘A Brown paper carrier bag’ which I’ll be using in future years as an opening to the unit. The effort and PRIDE he took, whilst obviously made easier by the time saving devices available in software and hardware compared to my generation, must have been considerable. Much better than a scribbled the night before on a scrap piece of paper riddled with spelling mistakes piece of work.

Which brings me to GLOW.

I’ve spent an hour on Thursday and Friday last week creating new accounts for staff and changing/issuing passwords  (a) because Education HQ still hasn’t authorised our IT Technician to be an ASM and thus allow him to create and issue passwords etc and (b) people keep forgetting their passwords because they are simply NOT using GLOW in any shape or form. There are several reasons claimed for this when I tackle them. These range from ‘too much effort to produce stuff for 45 minutes‘. ‘GLOW’s interface is far to unwieldy and takes multiple clicks to get even the simplest tasks done‘ and ‘I am not allowed into all these groups that claim to have lots of resources and it take ages to get access. In some cases they  never reply

Many teachers feel strongly that Web 2 tools are better, faster and more effective. For example Google Docs is about to be rolled out across all their schools by Norfolk County Council and they’re not the only ones. I’ve another who spent ages creating movies of how to answer exam questions but it is so fiddly to get them onto GLOW which the kids don’t visit that it was faster and easier to upload to the school website and create a page with all the videos on. One click and they get to the department page, one click and they start watching the movie.

Other problems include the lack of hardware which means the vast majority of our kids can’t access IN SCHOOL. Problems with authentication and the recent service unreliability at weekends also causes access problems at home for students and staff.  How do you tell schools to put everything on GLOW including daily bulletins etc and then expect kids to access them if the thing falls down again or there are not enough PCs to let each students get access at least once a day for about 15 minutes to read all the information they’ve been told to? Perhaps the Aberdeenshire model of allowing personal laptops into schools and access to the wireless network via a VPN would work?

There is STILL not wide enough use or interest in GLOW by parents and others. Indeed there are NO parents on our GLOW.

Given that GLOW is itself in the news recently (TESS article) being told by Education Directors that it ‘must improve’ how do we sort all these things? Potential is high but without Local Authority support and hardware access problems we are hitting the wall to many times to enable interest and maintain it with staff, students and parents. In my own authority they have scrapped the two GLOW support teachers. Then they realised they needed them and scraped up the budget for another year by which time the original two had gone back to school or moved to LTS. Now after advertising twice they STILL have no volunteers as the job only runs for another few months and people aren’t interested.

My problem is compounded by the fact that I’m the GLOW Mentor, ASM and SCA because I wanted to make it a success but feel like throwing in the towel until things are sorted. Far too much work and admin for too little return if  there are only a few teachers using it. After all I can do anything GLOW can better and faster using my own domain and classroom website once it was unblocked (again). The problem is that such a system is perhaps not as secure and safe as GLOW markets itself to be. Or is it?


UPDATE: Alan Hamilton, acclaimed National Treasure and all round good guy as well as something to do with GLOW has a post about this very topic here


  1. We’ve only just started using Glow – I’m a mentor but really only discovering potential by playing around with it. I’ve started using it with two classes, once I know how best to use it and what the teething problems for us will be then I can best advise others.

  2. Dave, thanks for this post. You are right to ask these questions and challenge what we are all doing.

    I am going to try and reply some of your points to get the conversation started.

    Re the teacher from Stirling who set work from Portugal during the Ash cloud period, her whole class logged in and completed the work as that formed their in class learning for the days where there teacher was stuck. The supply teacher used the learning materials produced by the class teacher stuck abroad to allow continuity of learning, but more importantly to add relevance to the pupils learning as all the tasks focused around the news of the day.

    The new Daily What News service for schools is another reason to get users onto Glow (http://www.dailywhat.org.uk/). The fact that this is an outward facing website is great as everyone can take something from it to use with classes, but for me the real added value this has over other news websites is the discussions that pupils can have with other students from across Scotland via their Glow login. There is also an area for teachers to add resources linked to specific stories for others to share. This, for me, is where the potential for Glow must be realised. Google docs is a great web service, but it does not allow for sharing across Scotland in the way that a document store in a national Glow group does, linked to a national database of users. I agree with you that just because the potential for sharing is there that does not mean that we are all doing it – we are not – but it is up to people like you and me to show others what is possible if we all took the time to share.

    I am glad that Glow is being discussed as a result of front page TESS articles and on blogs such as this one. The most recent TESS article gave us in the national team an opportunity to talk to people about what we have been doing to improve Glow: the National Noticeboard has changed to make it easier for people to find the things they want to use; there are now over 150 cookbooks showing how others are using Glow; new services such as Purple Mash and the Creativity Portal have been introduced, for example. The search within Glow has vastly improved making it easier to find what you are looking for, and the ‘add to favourites’ option means you can store these groups in the one place. The addition of forums, blogs and (coming soon) wikis all show what is possible.

    The point of other web 2.0 tools being available, and in some cases, better than Glow, will always be true. That is why the Glow Futures team are actively seeking our thoughts in the online questionnaire that is open at the moment (http://glowfutur.es/). For me, the true benefit, or added value, of Glow is the ability for us all to share at a national level. We have some way to go yet, but I believe we are getting there.

    I look forward to reading the thoughts of others, and thanks again for this post.


  3. Really interesting post David and one with which I agree.
    I use IT loads in class but rarely use Glow – in fact the only use I have for Glow is saving bits of Forward Plan onto it rather than using a staff shared folder (I do this because I have to, not because it is easier!)
    I don’t use Glow because I don’t see what it adds to my children’s learning – I use wallwisher, wordle, blogging, aviary, etc all of which my class enjoy and motivates them (to differing amounts).
    Maybe what Glow needs is a ‘killer app’ which teachers will see is brilliant and only available through Glow.
    I am also concerned that teachers are being nudged towards Glow when there is a whole world of exciting educational ideas available on t’interweb beyond Glow because they’re not in Scotland.
    At the moment I feel that a teacher who has an hour to look look at teacher resources/ideas etc would be better served developing their PLN via Twitter, google reader or Delicious than looking at Glow. I find it annoying that at meetings teachers are being urged to ‘look on Glow’ when ‘look up Tom Barrett’s web page or Dianne Spencer’s school site etc’ would serve them just as well if not better.
    I know that some people who use Glow lots (and work for LTS or Glow) are keen for classroom teachers to put their input into Glow to help it develop. My issue there would be that I am employed to be responsible for the children in my classes and ensure they get the most inspiring and relevant education we can create for them, and with CfE moving into schools I’m not short of tasks to do.
    Could Glow be great? I really don’t know, but I feel that no piece of software thrives through announcing it’s greatness and counting contrived logins, it thrives because it’s easy to use and it fulfils a need (whether we are aware of the need or not).

  4. David, I too share many of your concerns with the use of glow. Personally I think many of the issues I have faced as glow mentor although blamed on Glow’s lack of “usability” are not Glow only issues. The investment in intial time commitment to any of the learning environments that may be considered is in my opinion the cause of many of the issues that I have faced.

  5. I too am a GLOW mentor and I’ve been trying to get the staff in my school to use GLOW. The comments that I have received from everybody are:
    1. It’s too difficult to get onto
    2. I’ve forgotten my password again
    3. It’s empty
    4. I couldn’t find anything
    5. I got lost
    6. I couldn’t find what I was looking for
    7. I don’t see the point

    I’m finding it very difficult to remain positive in the face of these negative reactions. Teachers have enough to do with CfE without having to spend valuable time playing around with GLOW.

    I agree with the comments above. There needs to be some ‘life changing’ app that will have teachers shouting out to use GLOW. At the moment I find that I can access wonderful resources and make fantastic connections with teachers around the world using Twitter and Facebook and through my own blog.

    My authority also block twitter, facebook, google image and youtube. These sites, although they have their own built in dangers, provide a lot of the communication tools that GLOW is suppose to have. The big difference for me is that they are easy to access and when you go there you can find other people….unlike the ghost town called GLOW.

    • I have agreed that GLOW is a secure site with as you say disclosed adults. Does this mean we have to get all our parents disclosed before letting them on too? For me a large part of the problem is that we don’t teach the kids how to stay safe properly. A quick one off lesson by a Guidance teacher and perhaps a lesson by the Police is never going to be enough.

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