Introducing DD: an agile, auditable and interoperable public-code tool for the Democratic Digitalisation of Education.
As part of the Plan for the Democratic Digitalisation of Education, Xnet and a group of families offered a press conference at Barcelona City Council presenting the first version of the DD digital educational infrastructure, a pioneering comprehensive workspace that aggregates free and auditable software tools in a single suite offering data sovereignty and protecting the digital rights of the educational community.
Based on the Plan for the Democratic Digitalisation of Education drawn up by Xnet in 2019, before the pandemic, it has received support from the Directorate for Democratic Innovation and the Commission for Digital Innovation of Barcelona City Council and the Barcelona Education Consortium. This has enabled a pilot project carried out by Xnet, three schools and the development companies IsardVDI and 3iPunt, with the collaboration of aFFac and AirVPN.
· DD is an agile, auditable and interoperable public-code alternative to proprietary products from large tech corporations such as Google and Microsoft
· Barcelona City Council is now extending its backing so that the pilot, which includes training, support and 24/7 personalised technical help, can be extended to more educational centres in the city
Since 2010, a certain multinational tech company has positioned itself as the main provider of digital infrastructure for state education. Its foray into education began first with email technology, and then gradually spread to the use of servers and cloud archiving, office tools, virtual learning environments, calendars, contacts, forms, video-conferencing and, finally, hardware.
In March 2019, a group of families raised the alarm and approached Xnet to find a solution to this situation as it understood that this deployment represented, firstly, in the context of an unprecedented and accelerated digitalisation of a significant part of the educational life of students, teachers and families, a loss of data sovereignty to private servers and technologies belonging to a large technological corporation. And, secondly, it represented a technological monoculture, creating captive customers from childhood, which goes directly against a critical digital education and, ultimately, against freedom of choice and thought.
The crucial importance of digital infrastructure
While schools did not seem to have alternatives available that met their needs, we realised that the digital infrastructure of schools were not just an important issue, but key to the current phase of our digital reality. Then the pandemic came along and proved us right: digital infrastructure was fast becoming a basic service for the functioning of everyday school life and, at the same time, the battleground for data sovereignty and the digital rights of minors. A pen and paper does not record, code or store data in large company archives. Email, video conferencing, online forms and office docs, do.
In light of this situation, many actors in the educational community felt a sense of inevitability and defeat in the face of the dominance of large tech corporations, believing them to be practically unbeatable and omnipotent. It was clear to us, however, that we had to defend the sovereignty of our children’s, teachers’ and families’ data, and that they should be held on servers controlled by us and managed with auditable, open tools. At the same time, we wanted to show that we prefer a free and democratic Internet to the version of the Internet offered by the big tech corporations. It is the duty of schools (and public administrations) to lead by example in its implementation while avoiding increasing the already heavy workload, but rather, lightening it as far as possible.
DD, a sovereign, democratic alternative for digital education infrastructure
Now, after three years of work and one year of intense development, we can now present DD, the comprehensive digital infrastructure prototype based on Xnet’s Plan for Democratic Digitalisation.
It has been made possible thanks to the companies that won the tender (IsardVDI and 3iPunt), the support and funding of the Directorate of Democratic Innovation, the Digital Innovation Commission, the Social Economy Commission of Barcelona City Council and the Barcelona Education Consortium, as well as the collaboration of aFFaC (the Associated Pupils’ Families Federations of Catalonia) and AirVPN. Thanks to their support, Xnet, the families and the schools have been able to produce this prototype infrastructure.
The DD is a tool that can guarantee technological autonomy, and sovereign, democratic technological plurality with the following features:
• Integration and usability: Free software tools are used, i.e. auditable, pre-existing, consolidated solutions such as Moodle, Nextcloud, WordPress, Big Blue Button, Etherpad, Framasoft, Keycloak…
• It integrates office tools, cloud space, email, video conferences, a virtual learning environment, etc. in one unified management system with a single login (SSO). with a single user manager that allows the structure of students, teachers and groups to be replicated in other environments. It also allows you to customise menu items, colours and images.
• The behaviour of the tools is simplified. So the learning curve for those coming from the most used commercial suites is reduced.
• Auditability: To know what happens to our data and content, auditing the code must be possible for anyone who knows how to read code. This feature is only allowed by free (or libre) software, as it makes the code accessible. DD code is public code. In the same way, it follows the principle of public money, public code, that is, publicly funded software must be made available to everyone.
• Sovereignty of the educational community The personal data, contents, communications and all digitalised information of the students, teachers, families, the entire educational community and the school, are kept on servers they decide and monitor.
• Interoperability Migrations and integrations between tools are made possible, so that schools can really decide the digital infrastructure they want to use and change it if they want to.
• It incorporates user manuals and templates It includes protocols and a template so that the educational community understands that data protection benefits them and can easily respect it.
The ongoing prototype still faces challenges, such as the automation of certain components and overcoming the beta phase of some of the functionalities offering interoperability between tools. However, the DD digital infrastructure meets the basic objectives of democratic digitalisation.
Let’s start replicating
Since Xnet first started this work in 2019, hundreds of schools, parent-teacher associations, teachers and families have contacted Xnet, alarmed and concerned about the digital rights of the educational community. The number of those interested in an alternative is growing exponentially every day. This week, at the Canòdrom, the Digital and Democratic Innovation Workshop of Barcelona, we are holding training sessions for DD in which more than 300 people and organisations from Barcelona, Catalonia and the rest of Spain have already signed up.
For the presentation sessions we have scheduled this week alone, we have been contacted by 35 secondary schools from all over Catalonia (14 from Barcelona), 25 primary schools (9 from Barcelona), as well as more than 30 organisations linked to education (aFFaC, obviously, which has supported us from the beginning, music schools, language schools and other specialised schools, foundations, pedagogical renovation movements, and educational technical services), a dozen organisations from fields outside education (such as ecology and culture), a dozen researchers, and many other profiles. From outside Catalonia, we are in talks with institutions and civil society organisations from the Basque Country, Spain, France, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands.
Barcelona City Council has pledged to support the development still required by the programme, to consolidate the prototype and expand it to other educational and training centres in the city of Barcelona.
From the technological determinism of large corporations to the cutting edge of digital democracy
The creation and momentum of DD and the interest it has generated is real proof that organised civil society can lead the fight against technological determinism and the sense of inevitability with concrete action. And this must take place in partnership with the institutions that have the means and the responsibility to do so. The use and direction to be taken by digital technology are defined by societies and individuals, and we cannot and do not want the design of our digital future to be forced upon us by large corporations with a single way of looking at the Internet and the digital world.
Large tech corporations are businesses and they direct technologies only towards their commercial interests. That is, of course, legitimate. But it must be in our hands to steer technologies to benefit our interests. People’s rights should be at the heart of digital policy design and not merely an afterthought of some product that can be turned ON or OFF.
Through our work we have shown that civil society has the locally-based talent and technological know-how needed to develop and implement technologies that lead the way in terms of functionality and, more importantly, democracy.
The digital take-back of Europe begins here :).
Articles from the press:
Pueyo Busquets, Jordi (9/02/2022). Barcelona crea un ‘software’ para las escuelas alternativo a Google y a Microsoft. El País. Disponible en:
Vicente, Sandra (9/02/ 20222). Barcelona sienta las bases para acabar con el monopolio de Google en las aulas. Público. Disponible en:
Ferrer, Tomeu (9/02/2022). Tres escoles de Barcelona demostren que es pot viure sense Google. Ara. Disponible en:
Romero, Pablo (22/05/ 2022). Barcelona busca la independencia de los gigantes digitales. Disponible en:
• El encuadernador y el exorcista, por Simona Levi
• Plan para la Privacidad de Datos y la Digitalización Democrática de la Educación
• No firméis la autorización para utilizar Google Suite en las escuelas
• Listo en abril el prototipo para digitalizar los centros educativos sin usar Google o similares
• El Plan de Digitalización Democrática de la Educación de Xnet tendrá su primer piloto en Barcelona
• Aprobada una prueba piloto inspirada en nuestro DD en el País Vasco
• 1st International Congress on Democratic Digital Education and Open Edtech