Here’s a confession. I quite like Glow. There. I’ve said it. It’s blisteringly counterintuitive, fairly unreliable and trying to convince my colleagues for the past three years that e-learning is, perhaps, something they might want to try on such a system has been a challenge. So what do I like? I like the functionality – blogs, wikis, web-links, documents, discussions, and so on, are all in the same place. I like that it makes the pupils work a little; it’s real life to have to remember a password! And I like the connection to a nation of possibility. It was wonderful to have a web chat with Catherine Forde, after we had read “Fat Boy Swim” for example.
In fact, I am so happy with a system that can make our Higher Glow group look like this, and which allows for reading reviews that the whole school can access, that I am reluctant to change it. We’ve worked really hard as a school to improve the online literacy of our pupils, and have put plentiful energy into populating our Glow groups and blogs for S1 and S2. I firmly believe that e-learning improves the experience and literacy of the pupil. It keeps them organised, they can locate all the wee sheets they were given by their teachers, they can ask questions (some in the small hours), they can collaborate on essays, blog and, in the best cases, it improves the self efficacy of pupils, it sharpens their literacy and places them firmly at the heart of their learning.
However, change we must. New Glow (Glow 2? Glow as well? Glow again, but this time it’s better? Glow: The Return?) is on some horizon and we may very well buy into it. But there is another way. Recently my S4 English class (never ones to mince their words) told me that they simply found Glow too hard. They couldn’t find their way around it. After some incredulity from me, I began to think.
One of the most powerful tools for reflection for me is to remember what it was like when I did something for the first few times. Sure enough, Glow was tough to get around – and I consider myself pretty ICT literate. What must it be like for these kids? We assume that all students are great at getting around the internet. I’m not sure that’s true – they can get around Facebook and Twitter, can play the games they are interested in, but e-learning must be taught to them and must be user friendly. Running close to exams, I decided I would alter my practices, just for them. How’s that for meeting the needs of the child?
As luck would have it, this change coincided with Martyn Call (maths teacher, extraordinaire, Pedagoo-er, old buddy and collaborator) telling me of his experiments with Edmodo – an American based e-learning site. It seemed to him to be a vastly more intuitive platform which, although lacking in some of the functionality of Glow, was secure, allowed documents to be uploaded, allowed for e-portfolios and discussion between students and teachers. After seeing the kit for myself at the inaugural Beer Meet Borders, I decided to give it a go.
Edomdo looks like Facebook – similar colouring, fonts, and layout. That’s appealing to a class of kids who carry out a large amount of their social life on that platform and the class took to it immediately. Comforted by the familiarity, they immediately started playing – changing profile pictures, posting, looking at resources. All good. They loved that when they posted, others got email alerts. I like that idea too – it might help with homework completion. It was fun.
However, there are more complex reasons for preferring Edmodo. Glow was set up from a teacher’s (or more accurately a regional) point of view. Therefore the hierarchies of Glow favour the school, the subject, the year group. Edmodo sees learning as a student sees it. The student is top in the hierarchy. When they log on, they are the first page they see – not the page of a school, or a subject. The subjects are all listed down the left hand side. The resources are all listed down the right hand side. The pupil’s discussions, tasks, alerts, quizzes are all in the centre. Edmodo recognises what Glow failed to do. The pupil, not the teacher is at the heart of education. And surely, that’s a powerful illustration of how we should all see schools?
I don’t know whether we’ll use Edmodo as a whole school resource. I’ve begun to experiment with Twitter with my senior class and, perhaps, one size won’t ever be able to fit all. One thing is for sure. I am watching closely as Glow trundles forward and, if it doesn’t put the child right at the heart of e-learning and is straightforward to use, I hope we’ll have the courage to do what is right for our pupils.