Friday, 1 December 2017

Rolling Out Google - Rolling In Hwb+

This week we finally got confirmation from the Welsh Government of the Google for Education implementation into Hwb, the end of the Learning Possibilities Hwb+ virtual learning platform and further investment in school broadband. Kirsty Williams, cabinet secretary for education, is quoted as saying:
"We want our teachers to have access to the best digital tools and resources and the best quality superfast broadband. We have listened to the feedback we’ve been receiving from schools and I’m very pleased that, as a result of their feedback, we will be rolling out Google for Education in 2018. This will give our teachers a much wider range of digital tools and resources and will lead to greater collaboration and communication within the classroom."
No date for the implementation was mentioned, only that teachers will "soon have more choice about the digital tools they use". As I outlined in my post at the end of October, it looks like G Suite for Education will probably be brought in April 2018, albeit without GMail. This caveat causing much comment among colleagues and slight concerns for the functionality of the G Suite platform within Hwb (see comments at end of the October post). I still can't imagine existing G Suite for Edu schools moving their data for Hwb to manage, for several reasons. However, for those schools who are currently using Hwb O365 with their pupils I predict there will be a big move towards the use of G Suite, especially when they see how easy it is to use Google Classroom. This brings me neatly onto Hwb+.

As some of you are aware, I've been blogging about Hwb+ for some time now. It's been pretty clear for at least the last two years that its days were numbered. Hwb / Hwb+ were launched with much fanfare in December 2012 with it being heralded as transforming the way schools "communicate with learners and their parents, through their own Hwb+ individual learning platforms." At the time, education minister, Leighton Andrews, spoke of a "world class system" and Hwb+ being described as a secure area which only schools and colleges(?) can access. However, the hype certainly didn't live up to the experience in schools. Eight digital leaders were employed by the Hwb team to support its roll out across Wales. I have a lot of time for these men and women and each deserve a medal the size of dinner plates because their their job was difficult to say the least. It was their role to deliver training to key members staff from each school in Wales, typically the ICT coordinator and head teacher. If my memory serves me well, this was carried out over about four days. I don't think it would be too unfair to say that the majority of ICT coordinators leaving the training never went near Hwb+ again. Not because of the training, but because of the tool itself. I attended the training and left with a 120 page book on how to use the platform. A book that I would have to refer to to carry out the simplest of tasks, e.g. insert a video, upload a photograph. I like to think of myself as fairly computer savvy, but I struggled. This certainly wasn't a platform that was intuitive. In my opinion the 'Hwb brand' was severely tarnished after the round of training and has taken some time to recover. Some could argue that the contracting of CDSM to redevelop the Hwb platform and with the introduction of new tools, might have rescued the project for the Welsh Government, if not breathed some life back into it. About 18 months ago the digital leaders contracts finished, removing what expertise there was in showing schools how to effectively manage and use Hwb+. Local and regional consortia seemed to refocus onto Just2Easy, Microsoft O365 and a variety of other new tools, with little input on Hwb+. Tools such as Hwb Classes were being introduced and then in June this year the announcement of Hwb+ workshops to "explore the current use of the Hwb+ learning platform" and wanting to "hear your views". All building to the announcement this week on the non-renewal of the Hwb+ contract when it runs out in August 2018. I don't think there'll be too many tears from schools in Wales at its demise. 

A final note on this saga - the cost. I've been scouring the web to find some reference to the cost to the Welsh Government of procuring this platform, but with no luck. However, looking at the figures available on this Welsh Government website, up until June of this year just over £8million has been paid out to Learning Possibilities. By next August I estimate this figure will be around the £9million. Maths was never my strong point, but that's what the spreadsheets seem to indicate. As far as I can tell that doesn't include the costs of the digital leaders who supported the project which would probably add another £1million to this figure. I'm sure some people will be looking closely at whether Hwb+ was value for money.