null Six months of pandemic - 6,500 years of remote meetings in the Funet Miitti service

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Six months of pandemic - 6,500 years of remote meetings in the Funet Miitti service

If I had been asked to make a work-related wish when I started as the Development Manager at CSC’s Educational Technology Services in early 2020, I would have urged more intensive use of educational technology in higher education institutions and research organizations. The wish came true with a vengeance. There has been a historic increase in the demand for Funet’s remote meeting and video services this year. Educational technology is now extensively used to provide safe education during an exceptional period.

The combined daily duration of the meetings arranged using the Funet Miitti (Zoom) service is now more than 100 times higher than before the coronavirus pandemic. In January and February, their combined daily duration was about 60 days whereas in April, the time spent at these meetings each day already totaled almost 14 years. The number of users is still growing: in September, the figure was 50% higher than during the peak period in spring. The graph below shows the combined daily duration of Funet Miitti meetings between March 1 and August 31. Distance education was introduced in mid-March, which means that the situation at the start of March gives an indication of how extensively the service was used before the pandemic. Judging from the first weeks of the 2020 fall semester, higher education institutions are now using educational technology even more extensively than during the spring months.

in September, the figure was 50% higher than during the peak period in spring.

Chart: Daily duration of meetings in years in the Funet Miitti service

CSC has responded to higher demand by boosting capacity. Despite a large number of users, the Funet Miitti service will not run out of capacity any time soon. At the start of the year, the Funet Miitti (Zoom) service had shared capacity for 8,000 members of the NORDUnet’s Nordic higher education and research community using the service simultaneously but the capacity was raised to 263,600 simultaneous users in spring. Vigorous capacity development has continued during the fall. Only a small number of short interruptions have been experienced this fall and not all users have been affected. Moreover, they have not been caused by capacity issues but by problems facing the services that control the traffic. As a whole, the service has worked in a reliable manner.

The services are now used more extensively than in the past and higher education institutions are also working vigorously to make them better. The number of support requests received by CSC has more than tripled and the requests have also become more complex. Integration of services and the introduction of new functionalities pose challenges for those dealing with educational technology matters at CSC and in higher education institutions. In fact, now is a good time to use existing networks to find and share workable solutions. Cooperation has not remained an empty word. The switch to distance education in spring showed that there is significant potential for cooperation between higher education institutions, especially when a large group of people uses the same technologies.

Whereas in the past, distance education and remote conferencing were just an interesting addition to the toolkit for most, they have now become an essential part of their work.

Developing technologies and increasing capacity are not without problems but these two approaches are more straightforward than introducing new working methods. Whereas in the past, distance education and remote conferencing were just an interesting addition to the toolkit of most education institutions and conference organizers, they have now become an essential part of their work. Learning and meeting via a remote link is something that does not come naturally to us. In fact, teachers, conference organizers and support persons are in a new situation but, while creating challenges, these tools are also opening up new opportunities. There are functionalities helping students and participants to become more active.

Chart: Total number of meetings in the Funet Miitti service

At meetings held via a remote link, attention should be paid to interaction. A lecture in the form of a teacher’s monologue should not be moved online because the attention span of the students would not be more than 15 minutes. At the same time, conference organizers should consider how all participants and not just those who set the tone for each meeting could be made more active. Communication tools, such as Funet Miitti, provide a chance to use activating working methods, such as voting, surveys measuring competence, small groups and tools for writing and editing material together. Usability of the tools is now more or less right and participants also enjoy meetings in which they can influence the course of the proceedings.

The six months of the pandemic have shown that education and working via remote link is a viable option. Consequently, this summer and fall, the higher education and research community has turned its attention to the future so that, following their successful introduction, the new methods can be incorporated into daily routines and developed further. Never before has there been such a huge demand for competent use of educational technology.

Recommendations for using Funet Miitti

  • Use the Funet Miitti webinar feature at large events. The webinar uses server capacity much more sparingly and only allocates a video bandwidth to presenters. Normally, a bandwidth is allocated to each presenter, irrespective of whether the video is turned on or off.
  • Prevent uninvited persons from taking part in the meeting. You can set a passcode for the meeting, set up a waiting room and request participants to sign in.
  • We have compiled comprehensive instructions for secure and smooth use of the Zoom service. (in Finnish).

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Topi Litmanen

The author works at CSC as Development Manager for Educational Technology Services.