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To democratise educational access and experience for millions of students worldwide, CDSM depends on the cloud

September 8, 2021: Amazon Elasticsearch Service has been renamed to Amazon OpenSearch Service. See details.

CDSM Interactive Solutions Ltd (CDSM), founded in 1998, is a multi-faceted EdTech company that provides bespoke e-learning services and Thinqi, a next generation learning management system (LMS), to the state education sector. We spent some time with two of CDSM’s more senior colleagues, Steve Finch, Head of Marketing, and Darren Wallace, Chief Technical Officer, both of whom have been with CDSM since the early 2000s.

Finch says CDSM’s mission has remained the same over the years, “We want to improve the life chances of young people by providing equal access to high quality learning opportunities and experiences.” In order to focus on mission-critical operations, the team turned to Amazon Web Services (AWS) to help them achieve their goal of changing the education landscape globally.

How CDSM delivered its innovative learning management system (LMS) for the Welsh Government’s Hwb Project for 500,000 teachers and learners

The first time CDSM made a bid for the Welsh government’s contract to build a national digital content repository, they lost to a well-established competitor. Wallace recounts, “I feel that one of the reasons we missed out was because we didn’t highlight the opportunities and benefits of working in the cloud.” So when the opportunity next arose, Wallace says, “We showed how hard-wired, hosted layouts were over-engineered, over-specced and costly. We emphasised how our approach would allow us to meet the immediate needs of Hwb and allow the hosting solution to grow with the success of the project.” This, in addition to other key benefits from the cloud, helped CDSM to make the case for why the Welsh government could move from a dedicated data center to the cloud.

Wallace says, “The second time, we demonstrated that we could provide a more secure solution than a traditional data center, and iterate more quickly in the cloud. Essentially, the project would benefit by having a more powerful, scalable solution.” With scalability, security, and cost savings as major benefits of moving to the cloud, the Welsh government awarded CDSM the Hwb contract. CDSM embraced the challenge, designing and delivering a national digital resource library ready for the 21st century classroom.

The Welsh government’s digital education project is powered by selected components of Thinqi, CDSM’s next generation LMS. “We provide a library full of digital learning resources in an environment where people can consume, comment, like, share, and bookmark.” Finch adds that as the system matured, CDSM continued to roll out more Thinqi features, such as, “curation tools that allowed users to aggregate content, and make quick collections of resources as learning activities.”

Wallace recounts, “The project has gone on to be the most successful digital service in the country, which has given us the springboard to successfully market Thinqi overseas where the AWS stack and infrastructure allowed us to compete with and against more well-known brands in the EdTech industry”.

From Wales to Egypt, CDSM goes international to a future where they will reach 22 million students and teachers in Egypt alone

Using Wales as an example of best practice, CDSM now provides the LMS for all Egyptian teachers and learners and is an integral part of the successful Egyptian Knowledge Bank project (EKB). The project is phased with an eventual end population of 22 million students and teachers. To date, about 3 million people have accessed the Egyptian national LMS. Wallace says, “The EKB project is about the ‘root and branch’ transformation of state education provision in Egypt. The project can deliver standardised, high-quality education opportunities and experiences across a hugely diverse set of regions in the country. It’s about enabling access to high-quality education for all.”

With this project, the team has met and solved new and significant technical challenges. Wallace says, “In March, we had 74 million page views, which was a 23x increase on the previous month. Demand for the service grew very quickly, as the Ministry of Education promoted and marketed the project. The biggest week-on-week jump was 4.9 million page views. We experienced incredible spikes in adoption and usage, and we were able to scale the infrastructure as needed.” To meet the ebbs and flows of demand, CDSM used AWS to provide elastic solutions that would reliably scale with the increased usage. Wallace adds, “Egypt has been a testament to what we learned from the Hwb project in Wales about scaling and using container technology.”

Finch summarizes the company’s two landmark projects in Wales and Egypt as such, “Regardless of income or location, learners can access the same high-quality digital resources. That’s a huge achievement, one of many real benefits and something that bucks the trend in a world where inequality of access to quality teaching and learning opportunities continues to grow.”

How CDSM built their solutions using AWS

To create readily accessible platforms, CDSM used many AWS services. Wallace says a key aspect of making the repository was “knowing everything would be safely stored so people could reliably access the content.” To do this, he and the rest of the team utilised Amazon CloudFront, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Amazon ElasticSearch Service (Amazon ES), and more. He adds, “Container services (Amazon Elastic Container Registry and Amazon Elastic Container Service) from AWS have allowed us to scale more effectively, and to demonstrate that parts of the platform can be portable.”

No matter what the challenge, Wallace says AWS has helped CDSM create a solution for its customers, “We’ve learned new skills and quickly turned it around to make something viable and useful for our customers. 100% of our software services are delivered through AWS.”

With AWS in its corner, CDSM plans to use its Welsh and Egyptian experiences to support many other ministries of education, for the benefit of children and young people across the globe.

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