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Lockdown: An edtech perspective

It's now two months since the UK's Covid-19 'lockdown' began and although the end is nowhere in sight and we're not expecting schools to fully open any time soon, we thought it would be interesting to look back at how these circumstances have affected epraise and what actions we've taken to respond.

Staff profile picture Ben DunfordMay 28th  - 5 minute read

Working from home

On Monday, 16th March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that all businesses that were able to work from home should do. Thankfully for us, all of our systems, both internal and external are cloud-based so we can technically work anywhere with an internet connection. This meant that in theory working from home would not be a huge problem for us. Of course, we soon realised there were both pros and cons to what would become the new norm. We checked our working from home policy, had a final briefing, and by 10pm that night all our staff had an office computer and everything else they needed to work from home the next day.

Working from home definitely has its benefits: I have a toddler and a 4 month old who I am getting to spend lots of extra time with even though I am working the same (if not more) hours during the day, access to a well-stocked fridge and plenty of home made cake! When chatting to the team they mentioned that a big positive to reflect on from this time are definitely the hours gained from not travelling to the office each day. However, lockdown also has its drawbacks - we find that meetings and conversations take slightly longer via video chat and we miss the connection of the team all being together in one space. I suspect that despite the chat on social media, working from home will still be the exception rather than the norm.

Team epraise doing quiz night
A Thursday night 'pub' quiz with Team Epraise and their families during lockdown

On Wednesday, 18th March, the government announced that schools were going to be closed the following week for all students except for those of key-workers and vulnerable children. With just two days to prepare, schools were forced to close to the vast majority of their students and move to online teaching. The challenge this posed to schools was massive and it's incredible to see how well schools have responded. We offered to help however we could and prepared for what we knew was going to be a step into the unknown for everybody.

The transition to home-learning

Epraise is many things to many schools - for some it's a rewards system, for others it's a parental communication platform and for many it's a complete learning platform. Whatever epraise is to schools, it has always been a flexible classroom tool that supports home-learning and communication and on Monday, 23rd March, we saw usage of our platform transform dramatically.

Fortunately, we'd spent the previous week preparing for what we suspected would take place during the first week of home-learning. We adjusted our code and tripled the number of database servers, knowing that epraise was likely to be many school's primary way of setting work and communicating with students and parents for the foreseeable future. Though there were a few daunting moments that morning as more and more students logged in to check their work we somehow kept the system fully responsive. It's fair to say that although we were prepared, it was a particularly challenging couple of days for the whole edtech industry.

We found that from day 1, the whole usage of epraise changed. In the first week, we saw a huge shift in the way epraise was being used. According to the data, schools focused on two things: how to set work and to communicate, with everything else such as points taking a back seat. The first week of lockdown saw 4x more homework set and 7x more file downloads than usual (and these files were bigger, using 17x the bandwidth). Most impressively, the platform saw 26x more messages sent via the platform.

Figure 1. Messages - Before and during lockdown

Figure 2. File download bandwidth - Before and during lockdown

Since March, things have continued to change. As teachers have gotten more used to this new way of working, they've started awarding points again and logging negative behaviour, with demerits now being almost up to normal levels.

Figure 3. Points - April & May

Figure 4. Demerits - April & May

The challenges

Our infrastructure costs have basically doubled overnight; we've required new servers, additional bandwidth and higher service fees for things such as notifications. Thankfully, we've always been very careful to 'plan for a rainy day' as a business and so these costs can be weathered for now without any impact on our customers. It's just really great to see the platform being used so much.

The biggest challenge has been the additional workload that Covid-19 has brought us; partly because we've seen an increase in the amount of schools contacting us for guidance, but mostly because we've chosen to rapidly release a host of improvements and new features to help support schools. Our development team, according to the statistics, has been releasing updates around twice as fast as normal. The team have been working late nights, weekends and bank holidays in order to achieve this impressive feat and we've had some really wonderful feedback from schools:

"A massive thank you to you and your team for everything you are doing to support our remote learning protocol. Epraise has been invaluable and your team have been incredibly supportive."

"Loving some of the features you are bringing out. You are absolutely smashing it 😊"

"Epraise and the new functions that have been added have been brilliant and definitely made this time easier. But the support we have received from you guys has been fantastic and so valuable to us. I have been so impressed with your quick responses and patience."

We do this because we know our platform is having a positive impact in our schools and it's clear that the improvements and new features we've been releasing are helping. Between lockdown and May 25th, we've released 65 updates and improvements.

The future

As I write this, the future is rather hazy at best. The Prime Minister has asked schools to re-open in some form in June, but realistically it's unlikely that any schools will be back to full capacity this side of the summer holidays.

The UK government are currently saying that class sizes should be no more than 15 to facilitate social distancing, but as the average class size in the UK is 27.1 for primary schools and 21.7 for secondary schools, schools will still not be able to fully return to a normal timetable in September. If this rule continues to be in place - there simply aren't enough classrooms or teachers. It is likely therefore that although more students will be in school, some may still be asked to work from home for at least some of the week unless something significant changes.

We'll continue to do what we can to support schools in these uncertain times in whatever way we can. If there is something we can do to help support your school, please do get in touch.

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