Just in time for the start of school, Cisco is rolling out Webex Classrooms, creating a new version of its platform designed to connect students and parents to teachers and peers.
The new, secure platform lets teachers set up online classes, schedule virtual office hours, and automate note-taking and attendance. For students, there‘s one space to view schedules, class recordings, assignments, and to communicate with classmates in real-time, regardless of location or whether they are remote or on campus, according to San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco on Tuesday.
“We‘ve learned that we have to give [customers] a flexible learning environment and an online collaboration platform so schools can do pure online, in-classroom, or hybrid learning as COVID-19 changes plans for learning spaces,” Renee Patton, Global Director, Healthcare and Education Industries at Cisco, told CRN.
[Related: Cisco CEO: 'We’ve Had 5.5B Meeting Minutes' During Coronavirus Pandemic In March]
“Cisco is really stepping up to the plate with [WebEx Classrooms] -- it‘s really built for education. In the beginning, schools had to use whatever they could find and most of those solutions were geared toward consumers. Then came all the shortcomings,” said Taki Gikakis, National Practice Director, Collaboration at Core Business Technology Solutions (Core BTS), a Cisco Gold partner with a large collaboration business in the K-12 and higher education space.
Education, said Gikakis, is the fastest-growing customer segment of the firm‘s collaboration business.
From a security perspective, Cisco Webex Classrooms let teachers “virtually lock” their classes with students and set policies, such as “lobby” waiting areas for users before admission into the virtual classroom or even blocking any more users from joining. Instructors can also hard-mute their classes for a better experience for students and to eliminate interruptions, according to Cisco.
Other features include breakout rooms that teachers can assign students for smaller group work, live transcripts that give students the option to go back and review a live lesson on their own time, and the availability of Webex Teams so that students can message, share, and whiteboard with study groups on any device.
The Cisco Webex Classrooms platform can also connect to third-party applications that schools may already have in place, such as Canvas, Moodle, and Blackboard, said Cisco.
When COVID-19 hit, sending students to learn from home, Core BTS quickly spun up about 60 Webex trials for 60 different school systems. “We had to get them going from 0-60 in one month,” Gikakis said. Now, customers “can‘t wait” for the new features that Cisco Webex Classrooms will feature that will change the way they are teaching online, including breakout rooms, the hard-muting function, and the presenter track, Gikakis said.
The presenter track feature requires Webex devices, such as a camera and speakers, that provides an optimized hybrid classroom experience for teachers and students. A camera can follow the instructor as they stand, sit, or walk around to keep the focus on the teacher as they move naturally around the classroom or their own home working environment. The presenter track will make remote students feel more engaged, and not like they are simply “spying” on their classroom in the case of a hybrid remote and in-classroom teaching setup, Gikakis said.
Cisco has also lowered the cost of Webex to make it accessible to more schools. Education organizations will only be charged per instructor and students seats are included for free, Patton said.
“Cisco has a reputation for being cost-premium, so this is an example of us saying we had to do the right thing for education and making these tools easier for teachers to adopt,” she said. ”It becomes a super compelling way to deliver online courses.”
Making Cisco Webex easier makes implementation and adoption easier for partners. It also makes the product stickier and gives partners a long-term avenue of recurring revenue, Patton said.
Cisco last month acquired BabbleLabs, Inc., a startup known for its noise removal and speech enhancement technology. Cisco‘s plan is to integrate BabbleLabs technology into Cisco Webex to help block out background noise during meetings, such as children or pet sounds, or even lawn mowers, the company said.