Over a year of video conferencing at schools with Jitsi
School video conferencing has become an important part of the classroom due to school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, schools frequently encountered challenges regarding privacy. The Chaos Computer Club Mannheim, the Hopp Foundation, and SAP teamed up to help when the pandemic started in March 2020.
Since more than a year, SAP has been supporting a video conferencing system based on Jitsi Meet, which has been used by up to 200 schools in the German Rhine-Neckar metropolitan region. When schools were shut down in January 2021, about 25,000 people from diverse backgrounds participated in about 2,000 conferences daily using the video platform. In spring 2021, the project was extended for another year until summer 2022. SAP continues to provide server capacity free of charge. This enables the Hopp Foundation, in cooperation with the Chaos Computer Club Mannheim, to offer schools a free service that allows them to maintain contact with their students in compliance with data protection laws. There is a simple mode of contract handling for school administrators, a technical support for teachers, and a lot of material like explanatory videos or rules for videoconferences for all participants. Also, the instance is adapted to the needs of classroom teaching.
Steffen Haschler, a teacher himself and a member of the Chaos Computer Club, reports: “We are very pleased that together we can offer a stable, secure platform customized for teaching. A year ago, when we needed additional hardware, Christian Klein responded immediately to my request and got the process rolling. Within a few weeks, a pilot project for a few Heidelberg schools turned into a large project with tens of thousands of users per day. Of course, this also involved countless night shifts under high time pressure and many, many stories about digital teaching.”
For example, many teachers did not know at the beginning how to manage a videoconference rigorously or how to integrate it profitably into the rest of the lesson, for instance with “flipped classroom” elements. These turn traditional teaching upside down and make it more time efficient. To give an example, videos can be sent in advance for explanation, and questions and in-depth aspects are discussed later in class. By shortening class time, students don’t have to spend too long at a time in front of screens. In addition, technical difficulties at the schools had to be overcome. Too low bandwidth, unusual firewall rules in schools, outdated systems such as WinXP and Win7 and associated problems with sound drivers, a WebRTC bug in Firefox, special virus scanners – all these technical details can quickly ruin videoconferencing.
A special phenomenon happened in January 2021: Strangers were increasingly “storming” digital classrooms. The project team didn’t hesitate long and developed a comprehensive permission system for instructors to prevent everyone from sharing their screen or chatting. Alongside the authorization system, the code base for screen sharing, which was launched just a few weeks ago in the main version of Jitsi Meet, has been moved to iOS as of summer 2020. Many other Jitsi instances use the project’s own app “Digital Classroom” because it does not require Google services and is also more data-efficient in other respects. The app is available free of charge in all major stores.
The system adaptations implemented for the project at schools in the Rhine-Neckar metropolitan region have not only made teaching based on video conferencing more user-friendly and secure. They have also advanced the free software Jitsi, from which countless people worldwide benefit.
How did you experience digital education with Jitsi Meet during the pandemic? Feel free to share your experiences with us in the comments. Also, don’t miss to follow our SAP University Alliances and SAP Young Thinkers tags here in the SAP Community to stay up to date on education.