What could Glow become? #EDUScotICT

Introduction
I was very impressed by the following post http://markc.visibli.com/share/GwIYOZ entitled “Edmodo – Could this be the new Glow?”.  I was impressed by this post not so much because of the product featured but the general commentary about its usefulness and ease of use.

What Glow needs to become
I have written a number of posts in this blog recently concerning how Glow might develop into a system which addresses the weaknesses of the current platform and exploits its strengths.  It seems to me that the above post does a great job of highlighting in a very rational manner some of the barriers present in Glow to wider and easier adoption.  Edmodo certain ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to ease of use and I definitely support the need for Glow to adopt a similar approach in the future.  I am not shy about referring to Glow in a future context as I do believe that does have a future which builds on what has already been achieved in this context.

Edmodo – signing up for an account
I do have an Edmodo account which I was able to set up simply by going to the website and completing the registration process.  But here-in lies one of my concerns.  All new users need to go through a self-registration process and there appears to be no need for corroboration of the users identity and profile information.  In order for any future system to be adopted for use in Scotlands schools, I strongly feel that user accounts should be created using a tried and trusted mechanism.  For Scottish school users, this system already exists so it must be possible for this system to be deployed alongside any new platform components so that we can know that only people trusted by the education system (schools, local authorities and the government) can have an account.

The account should be auto provisioned so that each user should be able to access their account by entering their known UID and PWD.

Facebook-like ease of use
This point is very well made in the post.  I feel that services like facebook have set a pseudo standard in terms of ease of use and user interface etc.  I commend any future Glow development to adopt the general goal of achieving the same ( or better ) level in terms of ease of use etc as is already available through tools like facebook.  Another requiremet here is a need to support access from a range of devices – so there is a fundemental need in my view to have developed in parallel apps which provide native access on mobile devices.

The need for a contractual relationship
I do not believe that it can be acceptable for Scottish Education users intellectual property to be trusted to any system where there are no guarantees regarding availability and feature development.  The value of establishing a national platform to support teaching and learning should be a national priority.  The continued development of Glow should not be allowed to occur in an ad hoc and undisciplined manner.  Whichever products are used to build the platform it should be ‘a given’ that the service provider(s) is/are under an obligation to provide, develop, integrate and maintain solution to provide a coherent, easy to use, predictable and dependable experience for all of its users.

Another important consideration here is who will own the contractual relation ship.  I consider this to be a major factor which needs to be addressed – to suggest that we can get the quality of service needed from some “free offering” is a very high risk strategy in my view.  I should be unacceptable to consider any strategy for Glow Futures which puts the service on any platform where there is no contractual relationship which helps to ensure that Scotlands learners and educations receive the quality service they deserve.

The Scottish Government needs to step up and take the leadership role acknowledge its responsibility for ensuring that the next version of Glow builds on the current service.  It is vital that the Government continues to invest in order to realize real transformation in the use of ICT in Scottish Education – lets demonstrate that we have the bottle to “finish what we have started”!

Scottish Unique ID for all citizens #EDUScotICT

Introduction
Imagine if every Scottish Citizen had a unique and trusted digital identity (Scottish Unique Identifier – SUID) that could be used as a key to accessing all government services and potential a myriad of other services.  Ideally this account which once setup is accessed through the use of a Unique Identifier (UID) and Password (PWD) and will be a life-long facility.  This could lead to a position where each user will have access to all the digital content they need via the credentials that are associated with this account.
This system will be trusted by a wired landscape of service providers including the likes of facebook, Google, Twitter etc.  Each time a user access a service for the first time through their SUID an account will be provisioned for them automatically and they will not be asked to provide any data about themselves unless it is a specific additional requirement of the service in question.
In a later phase, SUID will be come effectively a Digital passport for access to services around the world.

SUID scope
The SUID will be the means of access to the whole range of public sector online services.  This will include service provided by National and Local Government.  It will permit access to services in all expect of the public sector including Education, Health and Local and national Government.  The account will be provisioned at birth or entry to this country (by legal means).  Procedures for account provision should be embedded into the birth registration system and users will be provided with access to their account as soon as they need it to access services.
All of a user’s medical records would be tagged to their account and as soon as the user starts school they would be using their account to access services for education.  All local government services would also be accessible using the SUID.
When children are very young a solution would be put in place for their parents to access their account.

Digital Passport
The SUID could be considered to be the digital equivalent of a traditional passport which is internationally recognized and accepted as confirmation of a users real identity.  As such, a user could enjoy access to a wide range of internet bases services without the need to register separately for every service encountered.  This could of course be distinct from a public internet based Open ID service which can used with out any real need to confirm the users real identity.
There will also be occasions where a user will be required to provide additional authorization data, equivalent to the need for an entry visa when visiting certain countries.  In these cases the service provider would be responsible for gathering any additional data which is supplemental to the data available through the SUID.

Advantages of this approach

  • Internet services providers would be able to use an existing, validated identity to authenticate users or its service.
  • Each user would need to maintain only 1 UID and PWD combination – but
  • The base UID an PWD could be supplemented by and service provider in some way where data security was considered of sufficiently high priority – this might apply when the user is access personal medical data or financial and banking services.
  • Generally easier for end users who will have increased access to resources without the need to register with all services they encounter.
  • Once a user account has been provisioned it can be accessed in any part of Scotland.

Disadvantages of this approach

  • All eggs in one basket – if authentication system fails for any reason user will be denied access to all services.
  • Government needs to understand the mission-critical nature of such a service and maintain it for low latency and high availability 24/7.
  • Third party providers may not trust the service
  • There would be a need to set up and maintain a federation of content or service providers who support the system.

 

Universal search a core Glow service #EDUScotICT

Discovery of learning assets through search was an original requirement of Glow.  This should continue to be a requirement and furthermore, it is essential that we learn from the experience of Glow 1 to provide search in the most efficient and useful way.  I certainly do not want to dwell on the past but I will start this post by describing the original Glow search service which was not perfect

The Context
John Connell has often told the story of how when interviewing teachers, council officers and Directors of Education early in the SSDN project  (pre – Glow ) were asked what they wanted from Glow (looking forward ) – a common response was “Stuff………”.  It would be good if John could offer a deeper insight into this matter as there is underlying message!
There is no doubt that stuff was made available in and throughout the Glow Platform – but were teachers able to find the content which had been  uploaded – if they were not directed to it.  Sadly the original search facility in Glow as not capable of returning useful results to every search conducted – this was the case for a number of reasons.

Original Setup of Search in Glow
Glow is made up of a number of services each we have their own repositories.  The portal (MS SharePoint ) and the Virtual Learning Environment (Glow Learn – based on RM Kaleidos) to name only two examples.  There was a search capability on the portal page which could search only the portal repository and there was a much more “powerful” search tool in the Glow Learn which could search both the Glow Learn repository and some external sources (the search of third party or external repositories is sometimes referred to as Federated Search).

Search Scope
There were two search ‘engines’ available through the Glow Portal and Glow Learn as follows

  • Glow Portal Search – scope could return results referencing content which was stored in the portal (MS Sharepoint) repository.
  • Glow Learn Search – which could return results based on content stored in the Glow Learn repository and in addition links to some external repositories including the Learning and Teaching Scotland website and SCRAN.  The later was initially achieved using SRW/SRU (see here for some further information on this search standard http://techessence.info/node/48)

So there were two different places in the Glow environment where a user could access search which would return two independent results to the same query – this was not helpful.

Meta Tagging

In Glow learn it was possible to tag assets in a more granular manner.  Taxonomies were written so that teachers could tag learning assets according to the curriculum area to which the resource had relevance.  This opened up the possibility that a teacher looking for “Stuff………..” which was relevant to a particular learning outcome in the 5-14 curriculum (for example) would be able to search against a specific learning outcome and receive back a list of results which were relevant etc.  The matter of teachers having to Meta Tag resources that they were publishing did raise some concerns at the time and it was agreed that a minimum requirement would be that on upload, a meaningful title needed to be added to the asset.

Have things progressed?
Thinks have indeed progressed.  Later in the Glow project it was possible for the contractor to implement Open Search using the MS Search Server 2008.  This was applied to the Portal Search engine made possible a number of new and improved features as follows:

  • Users were able to have results returned based on their account permissions to access content.
  • Users could limit search results to include particular content types from the following list this Site, Documents, Spreadsheet, Videos, Acrobat, Images etc ( this list was configurable)
  • It was possible to use Open Search to include results from other Open Search enabled repositories.  (Currently, this includes ‘Published Glow Groups’, The Daily What News and the Learning and teaching Scotland WebSite)
  • The list of open search possibilities amounted to about many other sources such as bbc.co.uk, Flickr, YouTube, bing, Google safe search etc…….  but these have not been included to date.
  • Search could include results from Glow Blogs and Glow Wikis but this has to date not been implemented.  Ideally Glow blogs and Wikis should include a search API which supports identity if this is not currently available.

At this point it was still not possible to conduct search across both Glow Learn and Portal search engines.

So what are the requirements for Glow Future in this regard?
Whatever the future platform is for Glow I believe that the following needs to be openly discussed and a fully detailed set of requirements published.   Glow feature requirement should not necessarily be limited to the features which are currently generally available on internet based services.

I offer the following definition which is referred to below

A Core Glow Service is defined as a service which is accessible directly through the Glow Authentication ( or Single Sign On ) service.

I offer for the following suggestions for further consideration:

  • Glow should feature a dedicated search service which is accessible form the main portal but my also be presented to the user in other parts of the system (Glow Learn, Glow Collaboration tools etc…..) perhaps  this should be a standard tool bar type feature which is always available after login.
  • Search should be universal to the Glow Platform – this means that the underlying search engine should have visibility of and teh capability to search any and all repositories which are connected to Core Glow Services.  This should be considered as a base level requirement.
  • When searching for content on core repositories, users should have the capability to filter search results based on the asset ownership – so the user can see only assets they own, or assets owned but some other user where they have appropriate read permissions.
  • Search should only return to the user results which link to assets to which the current user has ( a minimum of) read access based on their credentials etc. so the target service must take the user identity as a search parameter.  This must apply to the results from core repositories and should also apply to result from federated search where user identity is relevant (this should include Google Apps if deployed, for example )
  • Federated search should also continue to be both possible and supported – this may require the continuation of either or both of SRU/SRW and Open Search.
  • Where possible Federated search results should be filtered based on the users credentials.
  • Having conducted a successful search a user should be able to refine the search – to for example find more resource published by and owned by the same author.

 

Does the “knowledge explosion” affect Glow Users? #EDUScotICT

As I walked the dog this morning I took time to reflect on a book that I am reading at the moment.  The book which is called “Teaching as a subversive activity” by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner contains the following quote which is used to illustrate the concept of the “change revolution” – it is a long quote but worth reading completely.

Imagine a clock face with sixty minutes on it. Let the clock stand for the time men have had access to writing systems. Our clock would thus represent something like three thousand years, and each minute on our clock fifty years. On this scale, there were no significant media changes until about nine minutes ago. At that time, the printing press came into use in Western culture. About three minutes ago, the telegraph, photograph, and locomotive arrived. Two minutes ago: the telephone, rotary press, motion pictures, automobile, aeroplane and radio. One minute ago, the talking picture. Television has appeared in the last ten seconds, the computer in the last five, and communications satellites in the last second. The laser beam – perhaps the most potent medium of communication of all – appeared only a fraction of a second ago.
It would be possible to place almost any aspect of life on our clock face and get roughly the same measurements.
For example, in medicine, you would have almost no significant changes until about one minute ago. In fact, until one minute ago, as Jerome Frank has said, almost the whole history of medicine is the history of the placebo effect. About a minute ago, antibiotics arrived. About ten seconds ago, open-heart surgery. In fact, within the past ten seconds there probably have been more changes in medicine than is represented by all the rest of the time on our clock.
This is what some people call the knowledge explosion. It is happening in every field of knowledge susceptible to scientific inquiry.

This is illustrated graphically below

The main point!
People are all individual and will be at a different stage in their experience of the knowledge of and use of ICT.  I feel it is unrealistic to assume that all users have the capacity to move at the same rate of change as the knowledge explosion is progressing.  This is why CPD, in the context of the use of ICT in the classroom, is a fundamental requirement for (I believe) the majority of teachers in particular.  Any suggestion that we can simply drop technology on the education system and it will have an automatic and positive effect is a fantasy.  For this reason it is essential that we continue to help teachers and other professionals to adopt and make best use of technology for the sake of a better experience of learning for today’s ( and tomorrow’s ) pupils.

I certainly acknowledge that there are some people who have a propensity to understand and adopt new technology but I feel these do not necessarily represent the majority position.

It seems to be that the human body has been subject to natural evolution  which has taken place over many thousands and millions of years and this is the natural pace of change.  How can be we realistically expect the human mind to adapt in every case to the “knowledge explosion” – we need to recognize the value of staged and gradual introduction of technology.

Glow is a current focus for this movement in Scotland and as such has a core role to play – any careless destabilization of this platform will set back the progress of adoption of ICT in Scotland’s classrooms.

And Finally!!!!!

Think how much has changed even in the time since Postman and Weingartner wrote the above referenced book – some 40 years ago! – the internet was in its infancy, the web didn’t exist, all the incredible development in the past 40 years have probably added a thousand-fold to the sum of human knowledge since even then.

Making video discoverable – a core need in Glow Futures #EDUScotICT

I recall my own primary education – when the “treat of the week” was to participate in a music lesson broadcast by BBC Radio 4.  Imagine the situation where children throughout the UK were all, at the same time, listening to those broadcasts and singing along in time.  This use of radio broadcast technology was always a high point in the week for us as children – and it was the only time during the school week when we were allowed to turn the radio on.  As I recall there was no more than a loud speaker in our classroom (as was the case with all classes) and the radio receiver was located in the head teachers office – with a network of cables connecting every classroom.  Simple but effective!

Times have changed in the “X” years since my primary education and today’s pupils would probably not be inspired so much with that single media analog technology as a means of singing lesson delivery!  Today, learners have come to expect both multi-media and interactivity as basic ingredients of their technology experiences.  So many of today’s children have a games console in their home and an ever-increasing proportion have a smart phone in their pocket, both of which have the capability to entertain and engage in education using multi-media resources.

Video is an increasingly accessible medium, which can enhance the transfer of knowledge and understanding in a very dynamic way.  It is the case that video traffic now represents a significant proportion of that which transits the internet today.  The following graph shows how internet traffic growth has been developing since 2010 and also shows how it is expected to grow over the next few years to 2015.  As it clear from the graph, video represents a very significant proportion of this picture.

The tool used to generate the above graph is publically accessible at teh following URL http://ciscovni.com/vni_forecast/index.htm

It has often been said that “a picture is worth a thousand words”.  There is no doubt in my own mind that video does add another dimension to the situation and provides a host of additional opportunities for the capture and distribution of knowledge.  Children today live in a media rich environment where video plays an ever-increasing part of their experience.  Television is a pervasive and constant source of entertainment and many “educational programs” but currently we see increased use of high definition video in the computer games industry.  3D TV is now also a reality and the rate of technological change seems to be on the increase.  The only significant changes I can recall in my school education was the introduction of the calculator and of course broadcast TV – relatively well in to my secondary school period.  But today’s pupils are being subjected to constantly changing ICT landscape in their own out of school experience – the school experience may well move at a slower rate of change for a variety of reasons of course.

It would seem to make good sense that education should be able to take full advantage of video to enhance and improve the learner experience both in the classroom and beyond.  Modern technology can make it possible to package video into small clips which can be linked lesson contexts to illustrate a wide range concepts and situations.

This brings me to the point of this post – making video discoverable – it has been possible to digitize video content for some time – but making video content discoverable through search is inherently more difficult.

Postman and Wengartner state in their book “Teaching is a subversive activity”

Being illiterate in the processes of any medium (language) leaves one at the mercy of those who control it.

Untill recently, is has been necessary for the publisher (owner) to add text tags which can then be indexed to make video content searchable.  But recent technology developments have made it possible for the publishing service to translate the (spoken) audio track into text/key words.  The text representation can then be used to give users access to particular sections of video dealing with identified key words and also the video can be indexed by existing search engines.  The end effect here is that video can be made much more “discoverable” than was previously possible.  Although this is “new” technology I believe that this should be a core requirement for Glow Futures.  Pupils and teachers need to have the capability to both publish and discover video content in order that maximum benefit can be derived from this medium.

Youtube.com which was conceived as a means to share video footage captured during a social event is now accessible to all internet users who have a device suitable of capturing video.  How many mobile phones now have a video camera as standard feature?  This technology is now so accessible that people are able to share their captured experiences with great ease.  There are also a host of resources which are now useful in the context of classroom lessons being delivered via the network and on demand.  Look at some of the KahnAcademy which uses youtube to publish hundreds of lessons which can be accessed by any pupil needing to hear another presentation of the lesson they did not understand so well.  This is only one example and I know there are many more which could be referenced in this context.

(I am aware of at least one example of a video publishing product in development which is leading edge examples of this technology being deployed – look to a future post for some details)

I would assert that we cannot ignore video as a mechanism to enhance the education experience for our children.  Video is no longer a one way experience – learners can use video as a source of knowedge and learning but they can also use it as a mechanism to share the product of their learning.

Thinking back to my own primary education I can recall the production of physical models and art work which was displayed on our classroom wall.  I was also motivated and inspired when I was able to have my work included in the class display whether it was a model, written piece or a painting.  Pupils today can and should have the opportunity to share their work with their peers and parents using the most appropriate technologies, and why not video?

I think that the Canvas project ( linked to the Glow authentication system) is a great example of a product which has real potential for enabling learners to share their art work using video and still images in an online virtual world. I believe we need to see more of this sort of approach in the future.

I believe that its arguably easier to publish video content using todays technology that it is to construct and publish a web site ( see last para ).  We need to ensure video content can be fully exploited not because it is the latest possibility but because of the added value thay the medium bring to the learners experience.

I see no good reason to prevent access to web and video publishing technologies to facilitate pupil sharing as well as consumption of good quality learning artifacts.  Video should be planned for and facilitated using the best of available tools.  Yes Youtube is one possibility but there are even better tools available to day which can make video even more accessible and powerful as a teaching and learning tool.

One difficulty with video has always been that the content of the video – motion picture and sound could not be easily indexed.  Have a look at the auto text captioning which is now available in Youtube where the audio track is coverted into on screen captions.  This is far from perfect at the moment but  I do believe that this technology will greatly improve over the next few years.

So let us hope for a consistent strategy across every Scottish classroom so that pupils and teachers can be equipped with the means to access the vast range of available video resources.  Let’s open up existing known repositories whether on the public internet or on education specific services.

For me,  access to video should be a core requirement of Glow Futures – bring it on!.