Going digital in three days

Going digital in three days

"Upholding our school timetables required all hands on deck"

Cook, lab assistant, hair stylist, welder, game developer – just a handful of examples of the professions you can master at Noorderpoort. At this Regional Training Centre, located in Groningen, the most northern province, an impressive 14,000 students are working on their future – and ours.... and then corona came. 'Upholding our school timetables required all hands on deck,' says Ubel Zetstra of Noorderpoort.

The emergency decree from The Hague came as a shock, but not as a surprise. Ubel: 'The previous week we had already considered a 'closed door' scenario. Which subjects could we teach digitally? Welding, nursing or making furniture is impossible from your living room. But the theoretical subjects which are part of any education, should be continued. Just like exams, of course, where feasible in the current situation.'

Our school is big, but we opt for small-scale. We have dozens of smaller buildings. To align communication between them all we use Skype for Business. It connects 1500 employees and works perfectly. But what would happen if we add 14,000 students? That is quite an exciting question. I therefore informed VodafoneZiggo about our plans. Three days in advance."

Thursday 10 March was the supreme moment – the first school day on which 14,000 pupils would go online for the first time. Ubel: "A dip in capacity immediately resulted in connections acting up – and grumbling students. Was it not going to work after all? VodafoneZiggo, focusing on our launch, quickly deployed multiple servers to handle capacity and that immediately proved useful. Since then, the system and connections have been very stable."

In the days prior to going live, there were plenty of other things that had to be arranged, too. Ubel: "Everyone needed to be able to work digitally, especially our teachers! In three days’ time we taught 1200 teachers how to practise their profession via Skype and It's Learning. Not only technically, but also how you keep order in a digital classroom. By checking who enters your classroom from the lobby, turning off someone’s microphone, or, the opposite, by putting a student in the spotlight. And privacy is also important."

The launch was a huge success, Ubel noticed. Not just because all the technical things went smoothly. "Setting up a student desk was also a good move. Here, students can appeal should they experience any problems, like not being able to log on. "In addition we use surveys to collect as much information as possible", says Ubel. Easy-reference infographics show that Noorderpoort currently reaches 99% of its pupils online. Over 100,000 log-ins in two weeks, and 5,761 lessons. They score a 7.7 for the quality of the lessons.

When asked if he’s proud, Ubel takes a minute to think. "It may not come natural to us northerners, but yes, I’m definitely extremely proud. This is a job really well done, by all of us together."