Mr. Froberg, how many users are you responsible for in total at the schools in Bremerhaven?
As a local education authority, we provide the IT services and IT infrastructure for almost 20,000 users all told. 18,000 of these are pupils and 1,700 are teaching staff and other employees in our 40 schools.
What digital solutions do you have in your portfolio for the schools right now?
As far as solutions for schools are concerned, Bremerhaven works in close cooperation with the education authority in Bremen and the State Institute for School (LIS). Your UCS and UCS@school solutions have already been in use in the city of Bremen for some time now. When we started thinking about introducing a learning management system in Bremerhaven four years ago, it was only natural to take a look at itslearning – the solution that Bremen had selected the year before. It quickly convinced us, and, like Bremen, we decided on a centralized, interschool concept. That’s why we operate UCS in the BIT computer center and maintain a digital identity with a username and password for each and every user in its directory service. Following the setting up of this directory service, we created a personal work e-mail address for all teaching staff and other employees at the schools. itslearning was also made available for all schools. It was initially employed at all the vocational training schools, for senior classes in the grammar schools, and at some high schools. Since its introduction, we have noticed that use of the solution by both staff and students has increased steadily. In addition, many of the staff in the elementary schools are also using itslearning for organizational purposes. The introduction of the itslearning Sofa Tutor tool, which allows teaching staff to create their own digital learning content, brought with it new impulses.
Are those the only digital solutions that you have in Bremerhaven?
No, we have even more in our portfolio. For example, our elementary schools use the state media authority’s Internet ABC, Zahlenzorro, Antolin, Onilo, and Anton. These are all learning platforms which provide digital learning content for pupils and that the pupils can work with both in school and at home. Many teachers have also been using Worksheet Crafter for a long time already. This tool allows them to create their own digital learning content and send it to the children and young people’s iPads, which we have available in the schools as school devices.
Does that mean that you operate a get-your-own-device concept with the school tablets in Bremerhaven?
In Bremerhaven, we are faced with the situation that many of our students come from low-income households, where it is by no means a given that there is a tablet or laptop at home that the children may use. For this reason, we have acquired 1,000 iPads for use in the schools in recent years. This number is also set to increase further thanks to the DigitalPakt Schule education funding program. If schools are forced to remain closed for longer, these school devices will be lent to students and pupils who would otherwise not have access to digital learning opportunities. We still need to clarify the insurance aspects of that plan though. As the number of available devices is unlikely to be sufficient, we are also contacting device suppliers offering leasing contracts with very low installment payments and interest-free credit so as to be able to procure devices for low-income households too.
The school closures were decided upon and implemented very quickly. How have they affected you as a local education authority?
It quickly became clear that sending learning material as an e-mail attachment was not an effective solution, as the students’ e-mail inboxes were soon full due to the large file sizes or indeed the attachments themselves were too large to be accepted by the e-mail service providers used by the pupils or their parents in the first place. Many teachers, in the elementary schools especially, also sent worksheets by mail, but that is associated with considerable time and effort, plus the work materials don’t last long.
The large number of password activations is an indicator to us that the number of accesses to itslearning has increased in leaps and bounds. So much so in fact that the servers were not always able to cope in the first few days. However, the responsible parties at itslearning reacted at lightning speed and made additional server capacity available, with the result that by the second week, despite the ever-increasing number of accesses, everything was running smoothly.