Barcelona schools put their hands up for open source

In 2018, a group of families in Barcelona raised concerns over the collection of their children’s data by companies like Google that provide the educational software that schools were using in the classroom. As one of the mothers, Cecilia Baio, expressed it, the families did not want “our children to see that their right to privacy is under threat and be the forerunners of the business that Google is in, collecting our data to create products that influence our behavior.”
Seeking to protect their children’s data, their initial efforts initially fell on deaf ears. They were told that their children would be unable to participate in school if they didn’t use these tools, and the educators didn’t have another set of tools that they could use. Looking for alternatives, the families approached Xnet, a digital activist group in Barcelona that creates advanced solutions in fields related to digital rights and democracy.

Working with the families, the City Council, and the Barcelona Education Consortium to find a solution, Xnet curated the ‘Democratic Digitisation’ suite, which is based on open-source software including Nextcloud, Open Office and BigBlueButton. Although they mirror the functionality of their commercial counterparts, these open-source tools are auditable and open so that, according to Simona Levi, the founder of Xnet, there is “direct user control over the content and stored data.”

Being based on open-source software, they are also free to use, and each application is supported by a devoted developer community who continually work on making the platform better. Many of these developers are also users of the software and are adapting it to their own specific needs. Belonging to a global community of educators means that everyone mutually profits from the innovations of others in the community.

“We aggregated these tools because we believe in their longevity and future stability. They provide similar feature sets, but with all the added benefits that come with using publicly accessible software, including clearer transparency into data collection and its management.”

said Levi
The developers of the new educational software suite were aware that making the transition from the existing platforms needed to be as seamless as possible. Initial trials with three Barcelona schools have gone well in part because the developers were able to simplify the design and make the experience similar to what the children were used to.

This customizability is one of the key advantages of the new suite according to the schools. As Levi notes, “it is designed to adapt to the needs of each school and become as complex as the center requires.” This speeds up the transitioning process, because it allows educators to adapt the tool to the way they want to teach, which means more time teaching and delivering effective online classes.

Barcelona City Council has reaffirmed its support for the program based on the successful pilot. They will be expanding the program to other schools and municipal facilities with training programs such as libraries and community centers. The program is receiving interest from across Spain and the intention is to extend it to other schools in the Catalonia region.

“We’re proud to have BigBlueButton included in the Democratic Digitisation suite, and we support the movement to provide access to a high-quality online education in a way that protects student’s privacy.”

says Fred Dixon, Product Manager for BigBlueButton.

To learn more about the Xnet Project and their fight for digital transparency, visit: https://xnet-x.net/en/

Looking to Try BigBlueButton?

BigBlueButton is the world’s only open source virtual classroom. Originally created in a Canadian university, it has been designed into Moodle Cloud, Canvas, Sakai, D2L, Jenzabar, and Schoology and is available in 55 languages, making it the preferred virtual classroom application in over 75% of global LMS platforms.