Cloud software is now fairly mainstream in Germany. An increasing number of firms and authorities use Web-based solutions, which involve no local administration effort. Not only does this save time and money, it also helps keep data secure. A privately funded high school in Schwetzingen spotted this trend and has now been using cloud-based software for some time. It also recently adopted digischule, a grade administration tool developed by the Digital School Steinbeis Consulting Center.
Many areas of school administration are laid down under regional state law or at least made available by the state. In Baden-Wurttemberg, for example, schools are provided school administration software which not only allows them to process key information on the school and parents, but also shares necessary statistical information with the state government. It can also be used to print report cards. However, the individual grades behind the semester results (from tests and exams, etc.) are left up to the school to deal with, or often even individual teachers. Administration methods are thus heterogeneous, ranging from classic clientbased software to Excel spreadsheets and even pen and paper – even within the same school. This brings a number of drawbacks:
Jorg Bader, principal of the private high school in Schwetzingen, is no longer worried about such problems: “We’ve been using the digischule system from Steinbeis on a test basis since late 2014 and it will enter full operation in the next semester.” For Bader, the benefits are obvious: “Finally, all of the grades are captured in a uniform system and are understandable. For example, if we can’t get ahold of a specific teacher during a parent-teacher conference, we can still access all of the student’s latest grades in the central system.”
This is not the only advantage offered by digischule. Because the grades are stored centrally, the software also generates uniform statistics. Bader continues: “Of course this significantly improves the way we come across to parents and guardians because the performance of the students is presented in a uniform manner – it’s all based on the same data and the same evaluations or graphs, at every meeting.”
Thanks to modern cloud technology, having “centralized records” means that the teachers no longer have to store data on a computer in the classroom – an approach that leads to problems. As Ralf Hanke from the Digital School Steinbeis Consulting Center explains, “Our digischule software is available as an Internet-based application and can also be used as an app on mobile devices. So basically teachers can carry out their admin from anywhere – while actually at the school or in the afternoon at home in the garden, it doesn’t matter anymore.”
An issue that often comes up with cloud software is whether the data is secure. Volker Matejka, director of the Digital School Steinbeis Consulting Center emphasizes that, “We know that data security is a concern for customers – the software does after all record sensitive data. But we can assure users that our software is run by strictly certified providers, with access controls, security specialists, plans for worst-case scenarios, etc. It was also developed according to the very latest security standards, drawing on many years of experience. If anything, we believe that using this kind of solution is the only way to really ensure data is kept safe, and in fact that corresponds with the views of the BSI (German Federal Office for Information Technology Security)!” The point is that it is not possible to safeguard security if, as has been normal until now, different teachers use their own software on their own PC or mobile device, with their own security settings and virus protection.
Despite the complexity of such issues, when digischule was developed, close attention was paid to making the software easy to use. School principal Jorg Bader: “Not all teachers are IT experts and they don’t have to be. So it’s all the more important that the learning curve for using the software isn’t all too steep and that it’s intuitive, even for less experienced users – digischule is exemplary in this respect.”
Of course the digischule software is not restricted to purely administrative tasks with grades. A number of other useful features are included in the software such as an address list for all teachers, contact information for students and their legal guardians, a simple scheduling tool, seating plans, and lots more. Further functions are also planned. “We can be extremely flexible as far as requirements are concerned, and we prefer to work directly with customers, so if a school has certain expectations regarding software, we’re happy for them to ask us about them,” says Steinbeis expert Ralf Hanke. Jorg Bader also values the collaborative approach: “Collaboration was always excellent – whether we were discussing the usage sequence or eradicating problems in the early testing phases. Having such reliable partners is extremely important to us!” Ralf Hanke and Volker Matejka are convinced that digischule is a major step in making their vision a reality: “Using IT at schools should just be a means to achieving the actual end: pedagogical and didactical work with students. Software is good if people hardly really notice it and it’s not complicated to use. And that’s exactly what we’ve achieved with digischule!”
Although schools can buy the software for their teaching staff, individual teachers are also free to register and, if required, connect with coworkers at their school. The digischule software can be used independently by individuals or in teams, or tested for use at a school. As Bader summarizes: “We recommend that other schools use such modern software solutions. Of course it means abandoning a couple of old habits, but what you gain in return is a high degree of transparency, security, and simplicity – and you significantly improve collaboration between teachers, which ultimately benefits everyone involved.”