We interviewed Thomas Mayer, the system administrator at a Bavarian secondary school and a facilitator for Information technology at Bavarian secondary schools at the Institute for School Quality and Educational Research in Munich. Thomas shared his experience of using and implementing Nextcloud in the schools, the multiple Nextcloud benefits, and the important message to key decision-makers for collaboration solutions in schools.
The benefits for schools are immense! Students and colleagues benefit from a modern all-encompassing system that they can also use from home. Incidentally, using Nextcloud also teaches important digital, IT and everyday skills: students learn a lot of things using Nextcloud that will also be relevant in their studies and careers!
As a system administrator, he implemented a solution around Nextcloud which was documented on the schulnetzkonzept.de website. In addition to Nextcloud, this site describes the installation and configuration of Collabora, Samba, Freeradius, Debian as the base OS, Proxmox as a virtualization system, and much more.
Several hundred thousand students are already successfully using Nextcloud, including for example schools in Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony-Anhalt, Bern, and many more. Additional functionalities can be added via Nextcloud extensions or learning management systems such as Moodle or the HPI School Cloud, which are open source and thus GDPR compliant.
Why and when did you decide to use Nextcloud?
Nextcloud already existed at our school, when it was still called Owncloud. With the introduction of the system in 2014, we wanted to go new ways: away from classic Windows domains and permanently installed computers to the more natural use of files also via mobile and own devices of students and teachers in everyday school life.
In the meantime, Nextcloud – but also we at the school with regard to its use – has grown up. It’s no longer just about files and folders, but also about communication, organization, collaboration, and concepts of how to meaningfully design school with digital solutions. Nextcloud has become a valuable and important pillar at our school.
What are the benefits for schools since you started using Nextcloud?
Schools that rely on Nextcloud have a cost-effective system at hand, which paves the way to a digital school with numerous functions – and all in the spirit of data protection and open source! Unfortunately, the many advantages have not yet reached the decision-makers at the Ministry of Education. Here, people still believe that good solutions must necessarily come from Microsoft and Co. In order for the advantages of the Nextcloud infrastructure to become more visible for the schools, much more lobbying work would have to be done in this direction. Additionally, we need concepts that enable EVERY school to use a Nextcloud infrastructure.
What is your message to key decision-makers for collaboration solutions in schools?
A solution for all schools in Germany would be desirable. If you don’t want to reinvent the wheel when it comes to collaboration, and you want to be considerate of data privacy, you can’t get around Nextcloud as a solution! But it is not only up to those responsible in the ministries of education to make progress here: I hope that those responsible for Nextcloud will bring their products to the schools with the appropriate lobbying and good concepts!
The decision-makers at the ministries of education should look for the best possible solution without bias and not be afraid of open source in doing so: the use of open source software is the only demonstrable way to use high-quality code!
What motivated you to create the Schulnetzkonzept?
In my life, I have been able to benefit from numerous open source products and from great tutorials offered free of charge. With the school network concept, I would also like to contribute something to the open source idea and make my experiences available. Even though my site is aimed at IT-savvy people, the response is relatively large and always positive.
What kind of feedback do you get from the students and teachers?
The feedback is basically very positive. People are glad that we have a reliable communication and collaboration system on hand, especially in times of homeschooling.
What are your favorite features that you use and what are the features that you might still be missing ?
That’s not easy to answer. Many components are very valuable and useful for us. We mainly use the file area and Collabora. Of course, the apps for mobile devices also play an important role here!
It would be very helpful for all schools right now if the high-performance backend for video conferencing were more readily available to schools. This would also counteract the MS Teams snapshots of numerous ministries of education.