12 maio 2020

UNIP – Uniting the physical and virtual world for a new education

All of a sudden, the model of education needs to change in times of pandemic. Grupo UNIP Objetivo found itself in a situation, without any prior preparation, where it had to migrate half a million students, of the most varied age groups, from face-to-face education to virtual classrooms. The technological partnership with Microsoft and the work of integration carried out by ITCore made it possible, with the use of Office 365 and Teams, to recreate on-line a study environment similar to a physical classroom, with resources that proved to be extremely efficient. So much so, that henceforth measures that would be emergency ones will start to be adopted normally in the daily routines of the students of the UNIP Objetivo Group.

The Institution

The UNIP Objetivo Group is the third largest educational group in Brazil, operating from childhood education to the Phd level and boasting around 750,000 students in different units: 28 UNIP campuses, 10 of its own school units, 48 associated faculties, 1,200 distance education poles in Brazil and an additional pole in Japan.

The challenge

From face-to-face DNA to a remote classroom without any previous preparation

The great challenge for UNIP Objetivo at the time of a pandemic was to migrate very rapidly to an on-line model all the pedagogic activities of a group which, despite having a strong presence in Distance Education, has a DNA built on face-to-face classes. In less than a month, without any prior preparation, all the business units, catering for a wide variety of age groups, needed to adopt on-line education.

Marcello Vannini, director of technology of UNIP-Objetivo, outlined the problem: “we are talking about moving a little more than half a million students to a new pedagogic environment, which should be implemented in a short space of time so as not to impact the business. And in this respect the technological partnership with Microsoft was fundamental.”

Vannini needed a tool able to provide:

– Capacity for a rapid integration with the group’s varied environments

– Easy assimilation by all the students

– Possibilities for integrating collaboration systems

Unlike Distance Education, in this case it would be fundamental to have interaction with the teachers and the virtual participation of the students during the classes. That is to say, the construction of remote classrooms, operating as close as possible to a class given on traditional lines.

The solution

Half a million students in transition

The implementation of Office 365 was the response to this challenge in terms of offering applications of daily use, of general knowledge. This platform, therefore, was implemented for the whole educational network to then create virtual classrooms for all the system of primary and secondary education with the Microsoft Teams.

Marcello Vannini outlines the solution as follows:

“We divided the project into two stages: first, we delivered the credentials of Office 365 to all our students. Afterwards, we sought a partner with technical expertise to integrate the principal tool – in our view, Teams – which would allow collaboration with our legacy environments. Then we went to the market and brought in ITCore to head this project, beginning with the most sensitive business unit in the group, which is Colégio Objetivo.”

Colégio Objetivo, which has its origin in a preparatory course for medicine created in São Paulo in 1965, is today one of the leading schools in Brazil, with its own and affiliated units throughout the country. With Teams integrated to their academic management system, it was possible for ITCore to provide virtual classrooms for whole school system, extended later to the whole group.

Integrated to Office 365, Teams connect teachers and students, providing a very different experience from the videoclasses or videoconference.

This is because Teams is a hub that joins a series of Microsoft solutions, allowing teachers and students, for example, to have access to a calendar of classes, a library of files and e-mails of the class.

With Teams, a whole ecosystem is formed, capable of really creating a virtual classroom in which the teacher has the student’s agenda, accompanies his or her activities, creates study groups or utilizes separate digital content, helping to produce for both teacher and student a similar experience to that of the classroom – but without physical contact.


Uniting two worlds

“The main benefit for us was to realize that it is possible to provide face-to-face education with a tool of technological collaboration,” says Vannini.

And adds that “it is very complicated to transport to the virtual world a whole routine, the whole experience that the student has at school. Which is not only receiving subject materials. Students exchange ideas and play around with their colleagues; they bump into the teacher in the corridors… And, to a certain degree, Teams managed to link all this for us.”

Vannini relates the experience of teachers that notice as well a greater participation, a greater involvement of the majority of students in the virtual classrooms than in the physical classrooms, at times becoming more comfortable in relation to the teacher, through the possibility – which can be important for the more timid – of clarifying doubts by means of on-line tools, such as the chat, which does not expose them to any ridicule from their colleagues.

“I think we are going through a process of accommodation contemplating the best of the two worlds – face-to-face and virtual – in which there will no longer be such a clear dividing line of the type: “look here, you are a face-to-face student”, “you are an on-line or distance education student.” I believe that the tendency is to reach a consensus in the sense that to study, now, will be a mix with certain moments of face-to-face teaching and others 100% on-line.”

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12 maio 2020

UNIP – Large economies of scale in the mass production of videoclasses, with perfect use experience for students in more than a thousand Distance Education poles in Brazil and even Japan

Videoclasses were always considered an important education tool for the UNIP Objetivo Group, which today has distance education as one of the central pillars of its business, with more than a thousand distance education poles throughout Brazil and even in Japan. Producing from six to eight thousand videoclasses per year, UNIP Objetivo enjoys a fruitful partnership with Microsoft and ITCore for the distribution, production and automatic subtitling of these videos, utilizing artificial intelligence resources and machine-learning mechanisms for the automatic translation of the subtitles into five languages. A series of Microsoft solutions, such as Azure Cognitive Services, Azure Media Services and Microsoft Video Indexer were combined to provide a perfect video experience for the student. And the institution gained economies of scale, significantly saving time and money.


The Institution

Grupo UNIP Objetivo is the third largest educational group in Brazil, operating from childhood to Phd education. It has around 750,000 students in different units: 28 UNIP campuses, 10 UNIP schools, 48 associated faculties, 1,200 distance education poles and an additional pole in Japan.


The Challenge

To popularize video as an educational object, serving more than a thousand distance education poles, including in Japan

The video educational object was always on the agenda as an important educational tool, historically used frequently by UNIP. The volume of videos produced – totaling approximately 60,000 video-classes – used to be hosted in its own environment, which besides requiring huge storage capacity involved inherent problems for the data center, such as the instability of internet links and power outages, in addition to requiring a team working 24×7 to monitor and ensure the availability of all this content material, essential for distance education.

And these video-classes needed to be delivered to different platforms, such as tablets, smartphones and computers of every type and, also, by means of the most varied browsers. The director of technology of Grupo UNIP Objetivo, Marcello Vannini, remembers that this whole process was obviously extremely arduous for the institution’s team, which above all was constantly faced with having to choose which type of student would be jeopardized on receiving the video. He explains:

“Thinking of Brazil, with different connection realities, I had to make a difficult choice: to penalize the students in the big urban centers, with access to more satisfactory internet bands, delivering them with a video of lower quality, but compatible with the type of access existing in the more remote regions; or penalize the student in the more distant centers creating high quality videos.”

Vannini also points to the question of accessibility:

“We record six to eight thousand new classes per year. How do you put this on a production scale, generating subtitles to meet the needs of students with hearing impairment? And in multiple languages, for the students that join the group on exchange programs, in our widely different business units?”


The solution

Cloud + Artificial Intelligence + Machine Learning = subtitling automation with translation into five languages, and deliveries at rates compatible with the device of each student

“What did we do? Our first step was to get all of this and throw it on the cloud, to Azure. The platform itself adjusts the delivery of the video at the best rate and format corresponding to the device of whoever was consuming this content,” says Vannini.

The cloud represented a big step also in terms of availability, maintaining the material in cache in points of presence (PoPs) distributed geographically so as to provide greater speed of access and consequently eliminating problems of delays arising from the distance between the issuing and reception of the content.

ITCore developed an app that automated the encoding and transcripting process of the videoclasses. The video is loaded through the App, and the production occurs without human intervention, providing agility and reducing operational problems.

The next step, with the development support of ITCore, was to automate the transcription of speech to sub-titles with the resources of speech-to-text of Azure’s artificial intelligence which, combined with machine learning, refine increasingly the accuracy of the transcription process of speech-to-text.

The use of an Azure Cognitive Services’ API also allowed the automatic translation into five languages: English, Spanish, French, German and Japanese, and, soon also into Mandarin. And with machine-learning resources incorporated with the work of IT Core, the translations are improving more and more.


The benefits

Economies of scale, with the saving of time and money

The whole process of collaboration with Microsoft has brought enormous benefits for the distribution and production of the video-classes of the UNIP Objetivo Group.

In particular, there was an enormous gain in time and resources with the automation of subtitles which, thanks to machine learning, became more accurate, reducing increasingly the revision efforts involved in the subtitling process

“The development of this platform was the work that ITCore did with us so that the platform learnt. Imagine the same teacher recording 10,15, 20, 100 classes during a year. If I had a platform that learns as that teacher speaks, what is the accent, what are the language vices that he has, my human work is reduced considerably in the revision of subtitles,” adds Vannini.

     He celebrates the solution found which, in his words, “generated a large economy of scale and with significant financial savings. Now we have managed effectively to popularize the use of video, with subtitles and for multiple media.”


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12 maio 2020

Centro Paula Souza – How Covid 19 speeded up digital transformation in the largest public technical school in Latin America

In view of the social isolation required to protect the population from Covid 19, the Paula Souza Center, a reference public institution in technical education in Brazil, could not simply suspend classes for its 350,000 High School and University-level students. The solution found combined resources from  Office 365, such as the Microsoft Teams, and Azure’s cognitive services (AI) to guarantee the perfect functioning of the 296 units of the Paula Souza Center (CPS) and the maintenance of all the classes and subjects, with an adhesion of more than 75% of the students by the fourth day of operation of a new educational reality, when this text was written.


The Institution

A reference in technical education

The Paula Souza Center (CPS) is largest public technical school in Latin America, linked to the Department of Economic Development of the State of São Paulo – the state with the most important economy in the country. It offers public education of recognized quality at the High School and University level. It is to be found in 322 São Paulo municipalities, operating 223 Technical Schools (Etecs) and 73 Technology Faculties (Fatecs), with a total student population of 350,000 of an excellent level, as places in the Etecs and Fatecs are disputed by students of all social classes.

The Etecs concentrate more than two thirds of the CPS students, enrolled in 185 different courses directed at a wide variety of sectors, while the Fatecs offer 80 undergraduate technology courses, such as Civil Construction, Mechanical Engineering and Information Technology. In addition, the CPS offers postgraduate, technology-updating and extension courses.


The challenge

A project to be carried out in record time to cater for an enormous volume of users remotely and with security, implying the digital transformation of education in the CPS.

The ultimate great challenge faced by the Paula Souza Center is connected to the need for social isolation adopted officially by the State of São Paulo as a result of the Covid19 pandemic. With classes suspended in public education institutions throughout the state, how to maintain pedagogic activities for hundreds of thousands of students, geographically dispersed all over the state, respecting the academic year? Furthermore, a second component of this challenge was the administrative question, now to be carried out remotely by collaborators in the whole state.


The solution

Suíte Office 365, Microsoft Teams, cognitive services (AI) and Azure’s Windows Virtual desktop ensured the continuity of classes and administrative services in times of a pandemic.

Combining Office 365, already implemented since 2014, with the Teams collaboration tool, which the Paula Souza Center had access to three years ago, Ruben Pimenta, the Director of Technology, managed successfully to face the challenge of connecting 350,000 students and 22,000 teachers to reinitiate classes interrupted in mid-February already at the beginning of May. Pimenta turned to Microsoft which recommended ITCore, a partner with wide experience already in the education sector.

“And then we started to develop the project of how to classroom – what I call to classroom is to put in a classroom – the teachers of each subject, in each unit, with their respective students, in all the Etecs and Fatecs. This project had little time to be elaborated and we managed to do it in a time that I consider to be amazing: 110,000 teams (virtual classrooms), to meet the needs of students and teachers, in less than a month,” says Pimenta.

The project did not stop there. With the support of Microsoft and ITCore, a robot (virtual assistant) was developed, in one week, by means of Azure’s cognitive services (Artificial Intelligence), automating replies to the questions of the whole community related to the new reality.

And while this platform is being implemented, the development of a mobile app gets underway to serve students that lack data plans. According to Pimenta, the CPS will be responsible for the data consumption cost of these students, allowing everyone to be able to connect themselves without any problem to the classes.

Utilizing Azure already as a cloud solution for the administrative service, the CPS incorporated in only two days the Windows Virtual Desktop to create an environment able to serve around 450 machines, allowing all the administrative servers to execute remotely their activities.

Plans for the near future include a refinement of security, particularly in view of the LGPD (General Data Protection Law) which is scheduled to come into force in Brazil in 2021, and which will have implications, says the Director, “in the way the student uses the tool: which is something that he shares, what he can and cannot do, if he can share internally, if the teacher can share things of the institution outside the institution, and so on.”



Adhesion of 75% of the students shows a path with no return

The students and teachers have totally accepted the idea of remote classes. One only has to look at the adhesion of more than 75% of the students, verified in only four days, from Monday, May 4th, when the new model was initiated, until Friday, the 8th. Pimenta views these numbers as “an absolute success.”

“It is a very big change. I consider this to be a digital transformation in education, and Paula Souza is one of the pioneers in this change. At this moment where we are, as they like to say in the IT market, the plane has taken off. Now with an improvement in processes, security, availability…with the help of ITCore, I am sure that we will continue to pursue an innovative project,” says Pimenta.

Summing up, he makes it clear that “this project has revealed a digital transformation in education that is very strong – and which, in my understanding, has no return.”

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© 2019 ITCore | by Stratlab