The evenings have been getting darker for a few weeks now, the mornings are wreathed in mist and the start of December means that Christmas is well and truly on its way. Even though I am now officially a ‘grown up’ (so I’m told), like many of us my vision of Christmas has been shaped since my childhood by Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” - a book that is as synonymous with the time of year as roast turkey, presents under a tree and carols on the radio.
Dickens’ journey through Christmases past, present and future is initially bleak and unforgiving. However, given the opportunity to reflect, Scrooge is able to learn from his previous experiences and his outlook on the world is transformed. “He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.”
Although this Christmas might be very different from previous years, if we take the time to reflect we should take heart from what we have learnt and achieved. Whilst the Firefly family is unable to get together this year, we believe there is much for us all to be proud of and here are a few lessons we have learnt from 2020:
The start of the year saw huge disruption for everyone as schools had to close their doors in response to the first lockdown. Our ability to respond to the sudden change in the needs of schools and help them keep learning going was paramount. We were proud to offer access to Firefly to schools impacted by the move to remote learning for the duration of the crisis. We were also able to fast-track a number of feature developments, such as integrating with Microsoft Teams meetings, and the Microsoft Immersive Reader tool as schools adapted in response to the crisis. A preliminary version of our new Insights tool was also made available to schools so that they were able to track how Firefly was being used during this period and understand the impact of their new strategies. Crucially, we wanted to help schools deliver learning continuity throughout those initial weeks.
Keep a focus on infrastructure
The way that schools were using Firefly changed dramatically overnight, as they moved to a remote learning model, and this had a significant impact on our infrastructure. We saw traffic levels on our servers hitting 320,000 requests a minute, and usage at peak times being around 13 times typical peaks prior to the pandemic. We had a difficult first couple of days adjusting to this huge increase in traffic, but by significantly upping our server capacity, (in the region of 1200%), whilst the infrastructure and development teams worked to increase the efficiency of our systems, we were able to meet this new demand. We’re really proud of the team who have pulled together to achieve 99.97% uptime since. To put this in context, 99.97% represents around 3 minutes of downtime per week, the majority of which occurred out of hours.
Prioritise the role of family
Strong parent engagement in the learning process has long been seen as an important factor in a child’s success, but this was highlighted even further during lockdown. Whilst we always had plans to further develop the way that Firefly could help schools work with their parents more effectively, we needed to be agile in response to the immediate needs of schools and accelerate these plans. The development and launch of our new Parent Portal was brought forward and we‘re proud to have been able to deliver a platform combining greater academic insights for parents with all of the administrative tools they need in one seamless space.
Rethink support and training
At Firefly we have always believed in the importance of a partnership with the schools we work with, and as more and more schools turned to Firefly, it was essential that we looked at our support and training provision to help them get up and running faster. The launch of our Firefly Diagnostic tool helped schools understand their strengths and identify what steps they needed to take to improve further. Our onboarding process was streamlined so that schools could get up and running in days, whilst all our training moved to an online environment. To help schools access training more easily, we launched our online Accelerator Programme, so that teachers could continue to develop their Firefly skills at a time that suited them. To help schools learn from each other at this time, we ran a series of 31 webinars and online events to give schools a platform for sharing best practice, with nearly 9000 teachers from all around the world taking part.
We were also able to learn a lot from schools who were using Firefly in new and innovative ways. The Heroes of Home Learning competition saw a wide range of schools sharing their activities and ideas for meeting the challenges of remote learning. It was inspirational to see how they were going about engaging their school communities and supporting families and students, whatever the situation. It has been a privilege to be part of these schools' journey over the last few months, and we look forward to working with them moving forward.
Dickens’ tale is one of transformation and the story of education in 2020 has been no less ground-breaking. With vaccines seemingly just around the corner, we have finally been given the freedom to hope for a better 2021, but let us not forget all that we have learnt and the extraordinary progress we have made in the face of adversity. The holiday season is a time to draw breath and be with those you love, (and eat too much!). I would like to wish you all a joyful and relaxing Christmas, and I hope to be able to catch up with many of you, in person, next year.
Happy Christmas everyone, and as Tiny Tim would say, “God bless us, every one!”