Photo: pa / Felix Kästle
During 2020, around 500,000 users in the German state of Baden-Württemberg switched to BigBlueButton as their classroom software and conference tool. That number represents one-third of all the teachers and pupils in the state.
Andreas Grupp, teacher at the Elektronikschule in Tettnang and technical advisor for information technology, was the decision-maker behind the adoption process. He explained that the BigBlueButton classroom software connected teachers and pupils while complying with strict data protection laws and regulations in Europe.
On March 22, 2020, Germany went into lockdown as a protective measure against the COVID-19 pandemic. As in many other European countries, daily life largely came to a halt, including in-classroom education. On that same day, despite a shortage of resources, Andreas Grupp set out to find a solution that would allow his school to both connect teachers and students online and respect the data protection laws.
Three years earlier, Grupp was working on an idea for in-service training through video conferencing. He based this concept on BigBlueButton. At the time, few schools felt that there was a pressing need for such a programme, so the idea of using BigBlueButton did not progress further. Grupp remembered his earlier project, saw its potential, adapted it, and showed the result to his supervisor, who was closely linked to the Ministry of Education in Baden-Württemberg.
The supervisor asked how much it would cost to expand the concept immediately to 2,000 schools. Grupp offered to research a smaller-scale application of 100 to 200 schools. After three weeks, Grupp and two partners had set up and configured a pool of BigBlueButton servers. The onboarding of the first schools followed quickly.
These schools almost immediately expressed their satisfaction with the implementation, and the minister of education gave the green light to significantly increase overall capacity.
By the beginning of the 2020 summer holidays, servers were online at multiple schools. At that time, the news about COVID-19 sounded promising; would the servers still be needed? Grupp decided to keep them in place, which turned out to be a critical point of access: by September, the second wave of COVID-19 had arrived in Germany. Another upscaling of the online classroom project followed.
In Baden-Württemberg, there are now 350 significant setups running about 4,500 installations of BigBlueButton. Up to 10,000 lessons can run in parallel. Over one year, Grupp recorded approximately 500,000 different users—one-third of all the students in the state.
By mid-2021, hope took root that traditional in-person education would be able to resume once the summer holidays ended in mid-September. Nevertheless, the BigBlueButton servers saw intensive and regular use. On average, 100,000 units per day access the platform. An average of 300,000 teachers and students use BigBlueButton for more than 800,000 courses.
Teachers use the software extensively for their in-service training and educational meetings. Three years have passed since the original project stalled—today, nobody doubts the usefulness of software such as BigBlueButton. An additional advantage of the changeover is that every school has its own Moodle system.
The critical reason why Grupp chose BigBlueButton was because its open-source software enables him to comply with European regulations for the protection of personal data. It is true that users were more familiar with platforms such as Facebook and Microsoft Teams. However, these options were not suitable for such a project: they cannot clearly indicate where submitted personal data will go next. For optimal digital security, BigBlueButton and Moodle were the clear choices.
The teachers in Baden-Württemberg are particularly positive about BigBlueButton. They find it practical to preload their presentations in Moodle, and they report that the documents automatically move to BigBlueButton at the start of the lesson. In this way, they can immediately begin instruction.
They are also enthusiastic about the Shared Notes function and the simplicity with which they can launch a poll for children to answer. That the software is open source and consequently license-free is a significant advantage. Most users agree that it was an excellent decision to begin using BigBlueButton for online teaching.
Grupp reports his satisfaction with the implementation. He is looking forward to deploying the recently released version 2.3 of BigBlueButton, and he wants to discover what the possibilities of the platform will be. Ultimately, he hopes to see every German teacher and student in the region gain access to this practical platform from their laptops, PCs, Macs, and other devices.