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Celebration of Service

Software engineer volunteers his expertise and saves school thousands of Euros


Richard Metzger, an employee at IBM Business Process Management and Software Development in Boeblingen, Germany, understands the importance of open source software and its cost savings for financially strapped organizations such as schools and not-for-profit organizations.

Metzger saw an opportunity to maximize the time of the teachers working at the Theodor-Schutz Realschule, where his wife, Beate, just happens to teach. The school has 800 students, ranging in age from 10 to 17 years.

To meet government requirements, Beate Herrmann-Metzger needed to aggregate and maintain a set of documents called the school portfolio. The portfolio must include a description of the school's pedagogical principles, pupils' test results, periodic documentation of evaluations, quality assurance, and other related projects. The approach suggested by the school administration looked easy and obvious at the beginning, but, according to Metzger, "It soon turned out that it would rapidly develop into a maintenance, usability and appearance nightmare."

So Richard Metzger went to work to bring his technical expertise to bear, and assist the school and his wife. After analyzing the situation and the requirements of a "portfolio management system" in general, Metzger determined that the most suitable solution would be a content management system (CMS).

"I didn't want people, who are paid to educate students, wasting excessive time organizing, maintaining and navigating the contents of 150 to 200 documents, while trying to create and keep a common look and feel," explained Metzger.

Keeping cost uppermost in mind, he developed the CMS using an open source software. Initially piloted in 2009, the CMS today is fully operational. Multiple authors can easily, and independently, enter documents into a book-like structure in a central place, providing consistency and ease of use.

"With this electronic school portfolio, Theodor-Schutz Realschule, which prides itself as a learning organization, gets an important and modern instrument that reflects the school's development processes and will be a fundamental part of quality assurance," said the head of the school, Siegfried Kemmler.

The CMS is used by the school's 55 teachers and administrative staff, as well as a number of external portfolio evaluators. If the school had to buy commercial software, they could have easily spent $1,000–$2,000 on licenses, and even more on services for installation and some local modifications/customizations. "The professional support provided by Richard Metzger was a very important and basic prerequisite to the portfolio's success and is an outstanding example of voluntary engagement from an external expert," said Kemmler.

Metzger received a 2011 IBM Community Grant for his work, and has applied for a second one, based on his hours of volunteer service. He continues to monitor the CMS, as needed, and advise the school. "In today's societies, where signs of egocentrism and individualism are more dominant than common welfare, corporate support for volunteerism is not only important, but also a refreshing and rewarding counterbalance to business life," said Metzger. "Community programs ultimately help to preserve and develop the social and economic environment we all live in. There is some responsibility for the community in each of us."