How can schools keep operating in times of Corona? With initiatives such as OnSchool, a virtual learning environment provided by Liip especially for this crisis. We interviewed two schools about their experience with school closure and OnSchool.
Suddenly digital: A solution for schools in just three days
On Friday March 13th, the Federal Council announced that all schools in Switzerland would be closed from Monday onwards. We discussed this at Liip too, many of us are parents. We thought about how we could help in this situation. The solution was quickly found: As a long-standing provider of the learning platform Moodle we were experienced in setting up virtual classrooms and believed that we as a company have a responsibility for ourselves as a society. We just needed to adapt and enhance our existing infrastructure.
Over the weekend, a dozen of Liipers threw themselves at the challenge: content specialists, designers, system administrators, programmers and many more. As the one responsible for learning systems at Liip, I was there from the very beginning. On Monday afternoon we were live with our OnSchool offer. After only one phone call, our hosting providers Infomaniak in Geneva and Oriented.net in Basel were on board too. Not to forget the schools: Within one week we had about 200 registrations for OnSchool (now there are around 230).
The situation in the schools
The vast majority of schools were completely surprised by the Federal Council's decision and were totally unprepared for digital teaching. Most teachers had no overview of possible tools, there were no guidelines from the canton and IT is rarely the core competence of teachers.
They all needed digital solutions for digital teaching immediately. The parents were waiting for information, students for assignments. Well-known Swiss platforms such as Schabi or Learningview, which were already being used in schools, were completely overloaded at that time. First experiences were made with freely available video solutions such as Jitsi, where the barrier often was the incompatibility of various browsers, tablets or smartphones. The weekend and the week after the Federal Council’s decision was an extremely hectic time for teachers and parents.
Use case in Zurich: The 5th and 6th grade of the Kornhaus schoolAmong the first and most active users of OnSchool were the 5th and 6th grades of the Kornhaus school in Zurich. To get an idea of how our OnSchool initiative helped, I interviewed Laura Alagia and Roxane Päsler, both class teachers.
On Friday March 13th, when the school closure was communicated, they were in a similar situation to thousands of teachers in Switzerland: They were looking for online solutions. They had heard about OnSchool from an acquaintance. Their experience after initial tests with OnSchool was "complicated". The Moodle platform (Moodle is essentially what OnSchool is) can do a lot - sometimes too much for first-time users. Laura and Roxane turned back to Schabi and Learningview, but those were still struggling with the overload of the weekend. So Laura and Roxane set about acquiring the necessary know-how for Moodle. After some initial difficulties, they quickly got the hang of it - and even had fun doing it. Their virtual classroom was ready for use early the following week.
Apart from a few minor problems, communication, online teaching and learning with the 34 students in both classes worked very well. Zurich schools have the advantage that all 5th and 6th grades pupils are already equipped with tablets on which the Chrome Browser is pre-installed. The function of the video classroom on OnSchool works best with Chrome, where, unlike with other browsers, you can also share your own screen. With the exception of the video room, OnSchool otherwise works perfectly well in all modern browsers.
Use case in the canton of Fribourg: Tafers Orientation SchoolBoth in terms of content creation and on the Community Forum, the Tafers Orientation School (this is the name of the upper school in the canton of Fribourg) has been the most active of all OnSchool schools from the very beginning. For our conversation, Christina Binz - teacher and administrator from the start - created a virtual session in the "teachers' room" of her OnSchool instance. Several people from the teaching staff and the headmaster took part in our conversation.
It quickly became clear why the Tafers Orientation School worked so quickly and so successfully with their OnSchool platform: Through the great individual commitment of two teachers, the technical know-how of a partner of a teacher and the intensive exchange with Liip on the Community Forum. All this makes OnSchool for the Tafers Orientation School the perfect solution for distance learning during these times. The team in Tafers use the video room in OnSchool also for all the staff meetings of the school.
What additionally motivated the team in Tafers was the great commitment of the Liip developer team, who took care of everything from the beginning - including weekend shifts.
The canton of Fribourg (as well as other cantons) is negotiating with Microsoft since a while for a nationwide solution to digitize schools; even though their tools were ready, the agreements were not yet in place.
For the school in Tafers, the immediately available Swiss Open Source solution from Liip was a great relief during the crisis.
Outlook: Continued strong cooperation
Although we are all longing for normalization, we are looking forward to a continued intensive and exciting cooperation with the schools, also during and after the holidays. It is great that we can contribute to the current situation with OnSchool and support schools in making homeschooling and distance learning work.
We would like to thank all the committed teachers for the great cooperation and our partners Oriented, Infomaniak for the infrastructure and Big Blue Button and Moodle HQ for their outstanding platforms.