Glow Refresh

Glow Refresh campaign

In 2009 we changed the architecture of Glow, the Scottish Schools Digital Network to include open standards based solutions for blogging, discussion forums, wikis and open search. We also improved the user experience with a new user interface called ‘Glow Light’. Part of refresh also looked at changing the web conferencing solution too.

When Glow was established, on the grounds of affordability the change fund was de-scoped. As a result, the technology quickly began to get out of date. In 2009 I got the opportunity to pitch to the Cabinet Secretary of Education and Lifelong Learning Michael Russell to introduce change into the platform. He agreed to fund some changes. Whilst this was a massive achievement, the bigger achievement in my opinion was changing the architecture previously based largely on proprietary standards, to adopt open standards. This was not without it’s technical challenges for the architects, or educational challenges for users.

Key to change is the user experience – Glow had been criticized for its user interface, which had been described by some as ‘clunky’. Glow Light introduced a user centric approach to the user experience, with users being able to direct what was important to them, rather than what was important to their local administrator. The analogy I often used to describe the difference was that of the approach to online presence adopted by Yahoo and Google. Yahoo’s homepage is a mass of links, each of which vying for your attention. Google, on the other hand is a seemingly simple affair, merely offering you a search box enticing you to go where you wish to go. I wished to see the same kind of transformational change to the Glow experience, which Glow Light gave us.

I produced a short video to pitch to RM Education plc and the wider Glow Management team how I saw Glow Light working. Check it out below:


When RM produced Glow Light, they weren’t far away from what I’d originally thought. What interested me most about the Glow Light development however, was how the community took to it. Each week the image changes (some weeks it changes every day) – the images are drawn from schools and local authorities, and is now entirely self sustaining. It must be quite nice to think as a pupil that if your picture makes it to be the background of Glow Light, hundreds of thousands of people see it. Whilst Glow Light improved the user experience in a small way, what changed Glow in a big way with the refresh was the introduction of open standards.

Glow Refresh - one of the early Glow Light background images
Glow Refresh - one of the early Glow Light background images

Open standards are vital to future development. Incorporating open standards based solutions into the architecture of Glow was a massive technical challenge, but offered greater functionality and usability to users. Glow Refresh saw the introduction of WordPress, phpBB and MindTouch – a radical departure for the supplier RM Education plc.

open source tools for Glow Refresh
Open Source tools incorporated into Glow Refresh

The Glow Refresh was very well received, and saw a marked rise in use of the digital network. This work paved the way for delivering the next generation of Glow, work presently underway by the Scottish Government in time for September 2012.

What did people said about it?

my t-pence: Scotland is SO far ahead of Canada and US. Your convo is about fine tuning when we’re still in the starting blocks! – SEE-EYE-OH

Can I just say #glowbetter has done a great job with Glow Light! Wow. – familysimpson

Check it out:

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