In 2001 the district town Unna was challenged to equip its approximately 10,000 students and 620 teachers at 21 schools with a modern IT infrastructure as part of the funding of the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia’s "facilities for learning with new media" (Vaupel & Hoffmann 2001). The target was to harmonize the cacophony of different hardware and software systems with the motto "everything in the cloud" (Kornatz & Ruthmann 2014). The case study is Unit.schule.21: The education cloud | Schools of district town Unna http://www.unit21.de/medientag-unit21/.
In February 2015 the project celebrated its 10th anniversary. Instead of investing in rapidly outdated hardware and isolated applications, Unna applies a combination of IT infrastructure consisting of software and hardware, i.e. a school campus via Cloud technology (http://portal.unit21.de/).
The completion of the entire project is supported by a municipal holding company. The municipal service is responsible for the school network, the provision of notebook trolleys, printers and projectors. The financial resources of 3 million euros for five years were provided by the city of Unna. The project involves many areas of society, but the initiation and leadership takes place on the municipal level. The project connects the private sector to parents, pupils and teachers as local multipliers, but the schools decide how to manage the new technology on their own.
The project "Unit21" provides a sustainable infrastructure for school boards, which allows teachers’ and pupils’ modern teaching without technical barriers and problems. “Unit21” is an education cloud which integrates the service models SaaS (Software as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service) and IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) (Franzen-Paustenbach et al. 2012).
In “Unit21”, all types of schools in the city have been linked by a private service through a lightwave conductor and provided with a wireless infrastructure. This service provides the data center, software and data storage in the cloud by a centralized management in an education cloud. The mobile use of laptops and tablets makes fixed PC labs obsolete and a flexible internet access from class 1 through grammar school is guaranteed. The server is located at the respective training providers, local authorities, the schools or the business enterprise. It is possible to integrate your own device with an APP solution that identifies the user, saves the data on the device and transfers the data through a SSL encrypted tunnel (Schwarz 2014 & Fig. 1).
The “Unit21” education cloud makes mobile learning, blended learning, web-based training, content sharing, learning communities, virtual classroom, webinars, chat and forums possible. Teaching and learning are changing, and learning in the education cloud has changed as well. Specific teaching materials and tasks are processed digitally. Furthermore, spontaneous or defined workgroups can be connected through the portal after school and doing homework together regardless of the opening times of schools becomes possible. The Data can simply be implemented into the school server.
Fears that the literacy of minors could decrease were clearly refuted. On the contrary: These competencies are systematically higher in the notebook classes compared to ordinary classes. Group work and interdisciplinary instruction have become self-evident. The requirements for teachers are changing: The ability to continually conduct web research requires the selection and testing of reputable and relevant sources (Kornatz & Ruthmann 2014).
Have books become obsolete? Exactly the opposite is the case: In terms of Goethe, Golding or Grass the pupils now have access to secondary sources, images and movies. Additionally, the teacher’s role needs to be changed into that of a facilitator for learning. Besides the change that comes along with the new technology, this change of role is challenging for teachers. But together with the new infrastructure a space has opened which can be replenished every day – it is the schools themselves that decide on how to fill this space (Kornatz & Ruthmann 2014).
Successful after school: The transition rates to the labour market are above average. The pupils handle modern technology capably and prove this with the nationally recognized “Computer Driving License North Rhine-Westphalia” (Fischer & Peters 2014).
They certify that they have mastered the profession of media literacy that is demanded by the labour market nowadays. The computer is an obvious means of communication and work. The pupils have also proven to use the web safely and confidently and to handle social networks for research and presentation. Although technology cannot replace all systematic vocational guidance with internships and potential analysis, it clearly supports independent and autonomous learning.
The students’ notebook usage changed leisure behavior as well. An evaluation at the Werner-von-Siemens comprehensive school showed that pupils discover playing football, reading or the joy of their own creative design at home again. In the classrooms hand writing, sports and music without computer technology also play an important role. In notebook classes there is no social division between an “information elite” and marginalized groups that can be observed (Kornatz & Ruthmann 2014).
Technical data about the project: All 21 schools are equipped with notebook trolleys, whiteboards and a high-performance Wi-Fi network with 100Mbit uplink. 425 notebooks are provided by the city of Unna and 17 to 51 notebooks are available per school. 1200 private notebook and an increasing number of tablets were purchased.
The investment of Unna results in multiplier effects through parents. Parents financed notebooks, which are leased from the holding company for a monthly charge of 29.50 Euro, which also includes the maintenance of those notebooks with technical problems. A compensation for financially weak families is carried out by a social fund. The IT infrastructure improvements include 350 wireless access points and 25 physical servers. The monthly usage includes 24,000 and 30,000 logins in the “Unit21” network. There are approximately 1,500 logins per month and up to 400 a day with up to 15,000 hours of usage per school (Kornatz & Ruthmann 2014).
The work with educational portals and the complete infrastructure solution is used in the meantime not only in the schools of Unna, but also schools in Cologne, Bremen, Munich and at a Benedictine boarding school in Switzerland (Kornatz & Ruthmann 2014). The Project “Unit21” won the 2015 eLearning award in the category “education” (Siepmann Media 2015).
In particular, the shift away from international vendors such as Microsoft or Apple creates the possibility of keeping the data of all schools’ stakeholders it in their own hands. This case study provides a solution in accordance with the German constitution to protect pupils and teachers.
Fischer G., Peters H. (2014), Staatlicher EDV-Führerschein NRW – Konzeption, Rechtsgrundlagen, Qualitätsmerkmale – Zertifizierung von EDV-Grundlagen und Medienkompetenzen in Schulen des Landes NRW, Rheinisch-Westfl. Berufskolleg Essen, http://www.rwb-essen.de/fileadmin/bildungsangebot/sedv_Dokument21.pdf (17.09.15)
Franzen-Paustenbach D., Helmes G., Koch S., Niehues P. (2012), Studie Bildungscloud für Berufskollegs in der Innovationsregion Rheinisches Revier, CloudCycle, http://www.cloudcycle.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/CloudCycle_Studie-Bildungscloud_01.pdf (17.09.15)
Kornatz U., Ruthmann H. (2014), Zehn Jahre Unit21 – Mobiles Lernen in einem Campus für alle Schulen, Blickpunkt Schule NRW, https://www.horschler.eu/fileadmin/user_upload/news/14833.pdf (17.09.15)
Schwarz J. (2015), Mobiles und sicheres Lernen in der Bildungscloud 3.0, Jahrbuch eLearning & Wissensmanagement, asconsulting gmbh, http://www.unit21.de/fileadmin/templates/unit21/Presse_PDF/mit_UNIT21_Gewinner_eLearning_AWARD_2015.pdf (17.09.15)
Siepmann Media (2015), Bildungscloud UNIT21 wird mobil Schulen der Kreisstadt Unna bauen auf Tablets, eLearning Journal, http://www.elearning-journal.de/index.php?id=1661 (17.09.15)
Vaupel W., Hoffmann, B. (2001), Ausstattung für das Lernen mit neuen Medien, e-nitiative.nrw, http://www.medienberatung.schulministerium.nrw.de/Medienberatung-NRW/Publikationen/ausstattung_leitfaden.pdf (16.09.15)