05/2020 GDPR-compliant e-learning with BigBlueButton, Moodle and Nextcloud - data protection begins with the little ones
In the academic corona crisis, teaching has suddenly shifted from school to digital space. The domestic classroom poses new challenges for everyone involved. We think: Schools have to rely significantly more on data protection-compliant, decentralized and open-source solutions in homeschooling! Because, while restaurants and cafés are opening again in Germany, school operations remain anything but normal. The use of digital open source solutions is required here. We introduce BigBlueButton and our favorite combination.
BigBlueButton (BBB for short) is a web conferencing system for e-learning.
The platform enables the common use of multiple video and audio formats, a whiteboard, a chat, jointly editable notes and a screen sharing function in real time. Additionally, lessons and lectures can be recorded.
Tools tailor-made for teachers
Teachers can share their audio data, slides, chats, videos and desktops with the students. Integrated surveys also make it easy to involve students in the classroom. When using the whiteboard tool, the information entered is made available to the students in real time. Teachers have the option to zoom into presentation slides, to highlight them and to draw and write in them. This results in a visual improvement in the classroom.
BBB for group work
The fact that a BBB activity can be opened for a work group also enables group work without moderation. The room initiator can give all participants moderation rights so that they can use all functions in BBB. Every participant in an online group work is free to use their own webcam. This makes it possible, for example, that requests to speak can be signaled using hand signals. Furthermore, participants can chat with each other and exchange information.
The simple API makes it easier to integrate your own products and scores with a long list of available integration options with third-party applications such as Canvas, Drupal, RedMine, Wordpress and much more. BBB can be integrated into Moodle LMS, so that participants who did not take part in a live session can view it later.
It also enables students to access materials for the webinar and other activities such as submissions of tasks, discussions in forums, creation of a joint results protocol in wikis etc.
The video and web conference system is encrypted with SSL due to strict data protection regulations. The server location is in Germany, however BigBlueButton can also be operated on its own servers. The data transmission is additionally secured by SRTP, which is suitable for the encrypted transmission of communication over the Internet. Another positive feature: The recording of the lessons requires the data protection consent of all those involved before the recording begins.
More information about BigBlueButton is also available at https://www.aixzellent.com/en/premium_e-learning
Our favorite combination: BBB, Moodle & Nextcloud
BBB and Moodle can be integrated in Nextcloud, so that the functions can be used, which are suitable for schools and teamwork. A secure data exchange, a course management system, simple operation and the use of the other collaboration tools in Nextcloud such as OnlyOffice, Chat, a calendar etc. make this combination particularly attractive. In addition, BBB and Moodle can only be hosted in Germany through the integration in Nextcloud, so that a GDPR-compliant operation is possible.
More Information about the Nextcloud is also available at https://www.aixzellent.com/en/premium_privateclouds
The (partial) closure of schools and other educational institutions leads to great uncertainty. It is clear that with the right e-learning tools, protect not only the smallest of our society, but teachers and students can be relieved and lessons at home can be made as attractive as possible. If schools and other educational institutions are now not ready to choose secure solutions in favor of data protection, in the long term, this will be at the expense of privacy and data protection.
04/2020 Home office tools: Not everything that glitters is gold...
(Open source) alternatives to commercial messaging and video conferencing tools
The current life situation is limited due to Covid-19. But possibilities of communication in home office are unlimited: Phones, private landline phones, chat programs, email, video conferencing and much more. The increase in home office jobs is pushing the use of collaboration solutions and video conferencing tools and giving them a boom that has never been experienced before. The increasing popularity is now fatal for many providers.
A look at well-known providers underlines the rush for messenger and video conference tools: Slack reports an increase in connected users from 10.5 to 12.5 million within a few days. Microsoft Teams has now passed the 44 million daily user mark. Google is also benefiting from the boom in virtual meetings: The use of Google's "Google Hangouts Meet" solution is 25 times higher than in January. Zoom was also able to benefit from the current situation. The video conference tool is most notably valued for its user-friendliness, its price structure and its simple deployment. But Zoom has now attracted a lot of criticism, especially when it comes to security: insufficient encryption of calls, security gaps, data exchange with Facebook or leaked emails and photos of users.
Fortunately, there are many exciting alternatives that are also available as an open source solution. We have selected three safe and user-friendly messenger and video conference tools for you:
Mattermost, riot and Zulip
The web-based messaging solutions Mattermost, Riot and Zulip score with cross-platform availability. You have your own desktop clients as well as clients for mobile operating systems. Direct messages, group messages, archives and data transmission are available in all three applications. Riot also offers video and internet calls. These functions have so far only been available to a limited extent with Mattermost and Zulip. Riot can also score with end-to-end encryption; the other two services have transport encryption.
Jitsi Meet, Kopano Video Meetings and Mikogo
Jitsi includes several open source projects that make it easy to conduct secure video conferencing. The open-source software Jitsi Meet enables video conferences with one or more participants. In addition to video or audio chat, Jitsi Meet also offers the functions of desktop sharing and screen sharing of certain windows to present content. In addition, an integrated chat function is available to share text-based content with other participants. In addition to the web interface, Jitsi Meet is also available as an app on Android and iOS.
The device-independent software Kopano Video Meetings was developed for use in companies and allows "peer to peer" encrypted communication. It can be rolled out within a private cloud. Features include video and audio calls, one-to-one calls, and group calls.
You can display your own selected screen content via Mikogo and thus make it accessible to other authenticated users. Remote control of the screen is a big plus for this provider. After the necessary rights have been assigned, the presenter can take control of another computer and vice versa. With the integrated whiteboard function the presenter can also mark out screen contents or add comments. Locking and unlocking participants, recording sessions, and a session planner are also useful features.
One last thing:
If you want full data sovereignty, you should set up your own server. If you lack the know-how or the time required to do this, many providers can host their own servers. We also take care of the setup, the individual configuration, the ongoing operation and the required power. We are always available for questions!
03/2020 Home office at the time of corona pandemic
Since the end of 2019, the lung disease COVID-19 triggered by new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has been spreading rapidly, has reached Europe in the meanwhile and has quickly developed into a global pandemic. "Flatten the Curve" is now the order of the day: the spread of infections has to be slowed down as much as possible to prevent the health care system from collapsing. Now, more and more companies are preparing for home office. This is not just a tool to slow the spread, but in worst case the only way to keep the business going. Groupware functions and cloud services are fundamental for a functioning home office.
Businesses can help keep the contagion curve flat. As a precautionary measure to prevent the virus from spreading, people are working exclusively in their home office for several weeks and reduce contact to other people to a minimum. Even the absence of work and the lack of direct contact between the workforces can slow down the spread of the corona pandemic.
The right equipment: Compared to a large monitor with keyboard, a laptop is not an equivalent work tool. Tips for setting up the workplace and aligning the desk and office chair can be found, for example, at https://media.t3n.de/redaktion/homeofficeguide/t3n_Homeoffice_Guide.pdf. There you will also find tips on digital offers for children and important hygiene advices for time at home.
The exchange of data should generally only be encrypted (TLS/SSL) and take place via a virtual private network (VPN), which is set up by the IT department. In order to be able to protect and exchange company-internal data securely, a VPN is necessary and must be provided with a safe operating concept, so that no hole is torn in company-internal IT security measures. In this way, employees can be provided with secure access to the company's internal network. If you want to exchange data quickly, easily and independently from end devices in another way, you will find an alternative with open source clouds. Since numerous public cloud storage services are not compatible with the GDPR, alternatives such as Nextcloud should be used:
The distance also changes the communication structures of the teams internally and externally. Messenger programs and the possibility of video conferencing are an important tool for collaboration in remote workplaces. There are also challenges here: The video connection may not work if employees live in an area that is not yet connected to fiber optics or the bandwidth for the private connection could not allow a bandwidth to be linked to professional requirements. For video conferencing, there should be a technical infrastructure with upload speeds of more than 10 Mbit/s if possible. Project management tools help planning projects and to-dos, given they are not already integrated as accompanying project structures anyway.
In general, the following applies to IT security issues: All tools used should be discussed and set up with the company's data protection officer. Scammers and other criminals are already trying to use the crisis. IT administrators who otherwise quickly take care of maintenance tasks personally in the office instead of explaining it to all employees must now find other ways of performing their tasks. For remote maintenance, we recommend solutions such as NoMachine or Teamviewer. With these tools employees can access someone else's computer and quickly provide help with IT questions and problems.
Another problem with home office: executives can no longer see their teams working and thus have doubts about their productivity – regardless of whether these doubts are justified or not. Only the results achieved should count in reality, however, there is a different situation at many companies. Regular reports can keep managers up to date and doubts can be proven wrong.
The previous investment in digitization is now paying off for companies. If documents and relevant information are available electronically and processes have been adequately, digitized, permanent work at home office is possible. The current crisis is driving the digitization of working life and integrating the internet into everyday work. If the home office is approached correctly, it can be more productive even for teams than in the office. However, the right hardware and software, a suitable workspace and way of working are essential. Challenges remain, but maybe this is the chance to try out home office with the entire team. In general, we all have to slow down the spread of the corona virus as much as possible and protect the weakest in society. Let us keep the Covid 19 disease rate as low as possible!
If you have any further questions, aixzellent team is available at any time by phone and email.