Kids build websites - new blood for the Joomla project
From 14 to 19 April 2020 the German-speaking Joomla community started the project "Kids bauen Webseiten” (Kids build websites).
During the period of school and contact closure due to Corona, children and teenagers between the ages of 10 and 16 were given the opportunity to learn how to use a Content Management System (CMS) online, free of charge in order to be able to share and design their own content on the Internet independently of large corporations. Joomla, for sure, was the CMS used.
About 40 participants started the week and at the end, there was a great selection of new websites on the net.
From idea to implementation in 2 weeks
Integrate the work with Joomla into the education systems has long been a wish within the Open Source project around the CMS Joomla. However, since the entire project is based exclusively on volunteer helpers, there has been no time to develop a suitable concept and the necessary resources.
From a conversation between Elisa Foltyn (acting vice president Open Source Matters) and Holger Kremers, (currently working on marketing concepts for Joomla in the German-speaking countries (D-A-CH) ), the idea for an online course in the time of the Corona conditional school closures was born, based on a classroom training which Elisa has held for an academy in Germany.
Holger took over the project management and acquired sponsors for the technical requirements as well as coaches, who were to support the participants as mentors during the course.
Host Europe provided two server systems as a partner of the project. One served as a host for the project website and the training installations, the second was to be used as a chat and video chat server.
David Jardin, team lead of the Joomla Security Strike Team (JSST), was technically responsible for the servers. Only open-source systems, Mattermost for chat applications and Jitsi for video chat, were used.
Within 2 weeks the idea "Kids build websites" became an ongoing project with a website for registration, necessary infrastructure and ongoing marketing. Difficult in terms of marketing was, on one hand, the school holidays of the pupils, so that they could hardly be reached through the schools, and on the other hand, the high requirements that projects and helpers have to fulfil in order to be supported by the schools. However, the number of registrations with about 50 participants was so high relatively quickly that further marketing activities were discontinued due to the number of coaches available.
The students should be assigned to one coach each, with a maximum of 5 students per coach as a limit.
It was planned to give an introduction to the topics of the day in the morning via video chat, and then to have the coaches answer initial questions. Afterwards, the participants were supposed to work independently and exchange information in group video chats.
In the afternoon between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., the coaches should be back again to clarify questions and problems. As a reference book, the German-language site www.joomla4kids.com created by Elisa was available, which provides Joomla learning content specifically for children and young people.
On the evening before the first day of training, the students had the opportunity to log in to their accounts and check their own configuration of the computer, camera and microphone. At the same time, this test should also check the already tested video chat configuration. It turned out that the selected server was not sufficiently connected to the network so that with an increasing number of participants the connections became problematic. Due to the public holiday on this day, a short-term change overnight was not possible, which is why the start on the next day was expected to be difficult.
Start with obstacles
Of the 50 participants registered, just under 40 started with the team into an eventful week. As feared, a reasonable communication via video chat over the chosen server was not possible as planned. For this reason, the team switched to a commercial product at short notice. Again, some participants had problems with the clients and their wireless LAN bandwidth. Nevertheless and thanks to the flexible reaction of coaches and parents the project could start and the participants were assigned their own installations.
But already here it became clear that there were big differences in the receptiveness of the participants, not only due to their age span. After the first day, the team thought about alternatives in the daily feedback session.
A consequence of the first day was the division into groups with two coaches and correspondingly more students instead of small groups with only one coach.
Furthermore, the mentors were on duty almost the whole day to answer all questions, sometimes in individual sessions. The solution of free work, which had been thought up beforehand, only worked with a few participants and only to a limited extent.
New server, new luck
Thanks to the fast support of Host Europe and the commitment of David, another server with sufficient bandwidth could be set up overnight and used the next day. The problems of the participants with the limited bandwidth in their own Wireless LAN led to the team's decision to hold the morning training sessions in a live stream on YouTube instead of video chat. This also had the advantage that the training content could be viewed by the participants even after the training.
Working in smaller groups, however, worked very well in the video chat and was an efficient way to help individual participants directly and personally. Except for a few parents, who only realized late that they were standing in front of their offspring's active webcam (which was quickly switched off by the coaches ;-) ) with very little clothing, the video chats for teenagers of this age were very concentrated and target-oriented.
Thus the second day ended much more successfully than the first, even though some of the participants decided to break off the course because they could not follow quickly enough.
Thursday was meant to be a rest day, but for those participants who still wanted to continue working at your side on this day, an emergency coach was available for questions throughout the day.
Day 3 started very relaxedly with the training as a Youtube live-video-stream, many of the students could already show good results and some of them started to think about the installation of extensions for specific solutions of their problems. Again, the coaches were able to show solutions, help to compare the details in order to find the best solution for these problems and was able to show the introduction into the planning of a web project.
So on the fourth day already some pages were created, which easily fulfilled all requirements for active web projects and were ready to go live.
Show me your Sites - Closure and surprises.
Sunday was planned as the closing day, on which all sites were to be presented and also awarded prizes. For this purpose, the jury had already made a selection the evening before and evaluated independently with a point system.
In a live stream, all sides of the participants were presented, at the end, there were prices from a year of free web hosting from Host Europe over a mini PC (donated by Dimitry Engbert, zeronine media) to Joomla books by David Jardin and Elisa Foltyn available for the winners.
At the request of the coaches, the participants had also included personal feedback about the course on their pages, which was consistently positive with some suggestions for the future.
What was good - what is to be considered?
For other projects planning online training, the following points could be helpful and relevant.
A frequently mentioned point of criticism was the high age range of 10 to 16 years. The differences in the learning curve that occurred during the course were attributed by the participants to the age differences. However, closer observation showed that age was often not the limiting factor. While 11-year-olds already created articles and menu items, 15-year-olds failed with a simple login to the administration area.
In the future, projects of this kind will have to find solutions for early selection or other forms of minimizing this problem.
The flexible deployment of all coaches over a week for almost 10 hours a day to answer questions from the participants and to actively demand these questions was one of the cornerstones for the success of the project. Part-time coaching as planned is certainly not an option. This has to be considered when planning further projects.
Hardware and software
Plesk was used for the creation of the participants' installations due to the easy setup of a large number of Joomla installations on the web server. SSL secured sub-domains could be set up quickly and easily and linked to a fresh Joomal installation in one go. This procedure has proven itself.
Mattermost as a chat solution was sufficient and target-oriented. The import of the registered users into the system will be able to efficiently manage larger numbers of participants in the future. The use of a pure chat system in addition to the video chat was extremely helpful.
The use of selfhosted open source software also increased the acceptance by the parents of the participants, no accounts had to be opened with third parties and all data was handeled under european data protection law.
The conceived solution with the video chat system Jitsi was not well usable despite sufficiently powerful server hardware and line capacities. For the future, tests with video chat systems more suitable for training purposes are already in testing, such as "BigBlueButton", which have better moderation skills and can therefore also reduce the participant's bandwidth.
After the participants had understood the basic mechanisms of the CMS Joomla, the learning curve was very steep. From the experience of working with the children and teenagers, many insights for the further development of Joomla were also gained. These insights could be important for the usability of the CMS in the future.
For reasons of data protection, the collection of contact data beyond the email address and age of the participant was waived during registration. During the course the idea to send a certificate to the participants was born, the necessary permission of the parents to send and collect the data proved to be very protracted.
Protection of minors
Participation in the training was only possible with active camera use. The reason for this was to exclude the possibility of third parties disguised as participants gaining access and thus contact to the participants, all of whom were minors. This has proven to be successful and apparently also gave the participants security.
Continuation of the projects
In the end, many of the participants had the desire to publish their projects. The team had given little thought to this during the planning stage.
The necessary preparations and concepts for a cost-effective continuation in systems with a German-language interface took some time and thus led to delays in the implementation of the web projects. Here, clear concepts for the participants have to be available in advance, which, due to the age and thus the financial possibilities of the participants, must not be limited to offers with costs.
All in all, the project can be regarded as very successful. The participants were successfully introduced to the use of software on the web and the advantages of open source software were explained.
The experience gained will provide the Joomla project with important guidelines for the creation of training content and concepts for use in education in the future.
Elisa Foltyn, David Jardin, Dirk Heuser, Jürgen Leidig, Marc Widmann, Tobias Zulauf and Viviana Menzel for the coaching, the fantastic effort and patience during this project;
Wolf-Dieter Fiege and the team of Host Europe for the unconditional support with hosting and great hardware;
Dimitrie Engbert, David Jardin, Elisa Foltyn and Host Europe for the prizes in kind.