After the controversy, the Scottish Government opts for Microsoft's Office 365 for Glow2
scottish/microsoft flagThe Scottish Government is entering a new partnership with RM and Microsoft to use Office 365 for the next stage of its national education network, Glow. Microsoft is making the technology available free of charge until December 2014 along with a full-time employee to support and promote the service.

Making the announcement (see "Glow’s Next Phase"), education secretary Michael Russell said he was committed to “the need for the long-term future of Glow to be user-led, and potentially user delivered”. However, the decision is sure to spark more controversy as the previous Glow consultation sparked a popular wish for a "Glew"/Google Docs solution.

The new Glow set-up is committed to using Office 365 for 15 months which takes it to the first term of a new academic year. Even if the “user-led” development prefers an alternative, it would be very unlikely to have a switchover to a new system at this point in the school year. The danger for Education Scotland is that some schools may prefer to opt for Glew and Google Docs, rather than wait for developers to come up with a Glow2 based on a new generation of Microsoft technology (see "Computing teacher bids to provide Glow's successor" in TESS) which may then be changed again in two years if "user-led" development prefers an alternative.

Michael Russell MSPMichael RussellMichael Russell said that the deal was the first of its kind that Microsoft had undertaken with a national education network. He underlined the desire for change by also announcing the end of the ICT in Education programme board and the creation of a new ICT Education Excellence group led by computer scientist Professor Muffy Calder, the Scottish Government’s chief scientific adviser. Whether this placates concern about Glow developments (see "Glow plight - pride of Scotland or 'zombie' network?") remains to be seen.

Michael Russell's new Glow announcement, made on Scotland's Engage for Education website, reveals that Microsoft has made commitments beyond just providing technology: "Microsoft have also agreed to go further and deliver a package over and above the integrated application suite to deliver on the five key principles for Glow (see below). For example, the improvements to the functionality and ease of use of the Glow application suite will be aided by a full-time dedicated staff member funded by Microsoft to help support and promote the service."

He also pledges that Glow will integrate "the ICT choices made by local authorities for their own education communities within our co-ordinated national effort". And he has charged the new ICT Education Excellence group with a challenging brief: "The excellence group will have the immediate task of scoping the long-term user-centred future of Glow. Their challenge will be to imagine a future for the service that provides a seamless user experience and connectivity on the one hand and an open pluralist range of tools and applications on the other."

This new outfit is, curiously, also tasked with further exploring the "Glew" developments even though they already appear to have been rejected: "The group will draw on the contributions made to date and further explore community generated contributions like Glew." This is difficult to fathom, and the response from Scottish technology blogger Stuart Roebuck is scathing: "In other words, let's put all the vocal people in a room, feed them tea and biscuits and hope they don’t notice that the Scottish Government has signed its life away to yet another Microsoft contract that will be so costly to cancel that it can’t be done. Meanwhile let’s just leave the teachers to fend for themselves."

Over 11 years Glow has received a massive investment of energy, commitment and cash, and its architects have been successful in formulating a national vision and winning over local authorities and their teachers to support it. However, there has always been background dissatisfaction with the technology itself, rather than the vision. The kindest criticism was that the system is "clunky" at a time when even free services are easy to access and use. In fact the common expectation is that paid-for services should never be clunky.

Jaye Richards-HillJaye Richards-HillWinning over critical friends in Scottish education will be no easy task for Education Scotland, RM and Microsoft, as a quick browse on the Twitter hashtags #Glow2 and #Glow demonstrates. Jaye Richards-Hill, author of "Glow plight - pride of Scotland or 'zombie' network?", gave this response: "While I realise that education secretary Michael Russell had limited options, I'm disappointed that a product which is clearly at odds with his own Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy has now taken centre stage.

"The minister risks losing credibility by choosing to use a product which is clearly not what the vast majority of users wanted, and appearing to be ignoring the results of his own consultations. Local authorities in Scotland now have a clear choice – Glow and Microsoft, or Glew and Google. I know which option I'd go for."

More information

Glow’s Next Phase 
Glew
 
Glow's Next Phase—a response from  Stuart Roebuck
The Pamster – former Education Scotland emerging technologies development officer Pam Currie gives her take on events   
Charlie Love Blog Post – #Glew - an open platform for learning with Single Sign-On  
Jim Buchan (former Glow technical manager and now vertical architect at Cisco) reflects on Glow, Glow Futures and #Glew      
EduScotICT Wiki    
Glow2: Intranet or Ecosystem? – Theo Kuchel, researcher and IT education expert, on the need, or not, for another Glow 
Freedom of Information requests  
See also "Jaye puts a Glow into learning" and "The Innovators – 5 Jaye Richards" 

Michael Russell's five key principles for Glow:

  • Change the culture of use of ICT;
  • ?Improve confidence in the use of ICT for learners, teachers, school leaders and parents;
  • ?Promote new behaviours for teaching?;
  • Deepen parental engagement?;
  • Strengthen position on hardware and associated infrastructure.