Mr. Fahrin, how many schools with how many students and teachers do you supervise?
In the city of Beckum we have a total of nine schools, six primary schools and three secondary schools. In addition, together with our neighboring town Ennigerloh, we also manage an intermunicipal comprehensive school. That means: around 4,500 pupils and around 650 teachers, although currently, we only manage the teachers with UCS@school.
Which digital offers are you already using and how do you provide them?
Everything is currently in a central location in Cologne, in NetCologne’s data center. The UCS server not only manages the accounts but also provides Nextcloud storage and the Rocket.Chat chat system. Open-Xchange is used as groupware and is used more or less intensively at all schools. However, the cloud storage is not yet available in all schools.
How has the offer changed due to the Corona crisis?
As an emergency solution for audio and video conferences, we have provided Microsoft Teams via the Office 365 Connector. This complies with data protection regulations and the licenses for the school area can be used free of charge. Whether we will use the tool permanently, however, has not been decided yet. Our offer in the UCS@school environment will not change much. The basic structure is in place, and apart from MS Teams, we haven’t installed any further apps.
When the Corona crisis started, we practically did an all-included turn and created an account for everyone, explained reasonably how the system works, i.e. the emails, the chat system and also the cloud. If normal school operations do not continue after the Easter holidays, we will also provide the cloud storage for the students. This was only planned until the end of the year.
Have you upgraded the infrastructure yourself and retrofitted hardware, for example?
The complete infrastructure, such as the WLAN network, is already available inside the school buildings. We do not (yet) provide end devices for pupils. If school operations are not resumed after the Easter holidays, we definitely need more storage space for Nextcloud on the UCS@school server in Cologne.
What has changed in terms of usage since the schools closed? Has the traffic increased?
In any case, there have been definitely more requests. In the past, there were only a few teachers who used our offer, but now significantly more users want to use services such as the cloud. If the background weren’t so bitter, one could almost say that the crash is good for the schools’ digitization process, because people are finally addressing the issue.
Did you have special challenges to deal with?
Not really, from our point of view, everything went smoothly. My colleague and I, as well as a student assistant, oversee the project together, and we were able to buy everything we needed in the context of the Corona crisis. Our management has been backing us all the time. In fact, everything is even a little easier now for our small team than in normal times.
You said that students will probably join after Easter break – what other offers are planned then?
We have been thinking about a learning management system and have already looked at a few solutions. But in my opinion, we can also offer everything we need via Nextcloud. Our priority should be to provide a communication channel for everyone and expand the cloud storage.
How do you inform the pupils, teachers and parents about the offers?
Fortunately, most of the teachers’ email addresses are already available, and we also address the secretariats and the schools’ management. We will then probably also inform the students in this way or possibly also via the individual class teachers. We have already prepared a small form with the respective access data and a small manual explaining the various functions. Since the secretariats are usually still manned, we assume that communication will probably be fairly smooth. We will probably send the information to the teachers by email and to the students by post.
Do you have any tips for your colleagues?
Beckum is well positioned. Last summer we finished the project to equip all schools with WiFi. However, if you have to start from scratch, you are actually facing a major problem. Simply putting a server in the school – that’s not enough. I think it would make most sense now to actually hire external manpower, even if that may cost a lot of money. Everything else will probably end in chaos if you ask me.
In fact, some schools have only just begun to set wires. This really makes me wonder what they have done in the past 20 years …
Mr. Fahrin, thank you for the interview!