In “The Web is Us/ing Us”, Mike Wesch described to viewers through visual content how the internet has grown from primitive uses of the web to the capability today of the Web 2.0. His video demonstrated the way the web is now used to share content and ideas, allowing for contributions from the masses as opposed to simple listings of information. The web, as the video aptly describes, is more accessible to all; allowing me to create and share this content with relative ease.
Britt Watwood said that “the web has become a platform of participation.” This seems to align well with Wesch’s demonstration of the use of the Web 2.0 and the way in which many people now utilize the resources of the web. We all participate in our own way. That could meaning sharing the stories of our lives through social mediums such as Twitter or Instagram, or finding a way around the barriers that used to make content sharing arduous and complicated. This is not limited to social content, however. Academic and other scholarly contributions are now coming from all the world over. Weinberger (2011) shared that in response to a general belief that not enough information is available to the masses, the way in which information is shared has drastically changed. Some academic journals are now allowing open submissions, not limited by word counts and uninhibited by the restraints and time of the peer-review process. It is now up to the user to “bring the filter forward” (Weinberger, 2011) and identify what content is important and find the data and facts to back it up.
As accessibility to information continues to grow, the desire to collaborate and participate in the process of information sharing grows along with it. Shirky described the expanding nature of the collaborative range. He noted that the guts have been removed from the scarcity model of information and that content can be found everywhere. However, with abundant resources, businesses must find a way to compete in a saturated environment and to stand apart from organizations that may have more resources or a similar product. The use of web tools to make information more accessible and collaboration more feasible is now a way to stand out in that crowded environment.
In the field of higher education, there is an incredible amount of saturation. Colleges and university education is now more accessible than ever before. Public and private colleges, not-for-profit and for-profit education, governmental commitment to the expansion of the education workforce, and online and other delivery modes have made the prospect of pursuing a degree more realistic than ever before. It also requires though, that institutions have a way to stand out and be able to recruit a changing student population, interested in collaboration and active learning. It is with that in mind that I provide information on WebEx, a collaborative web and video conferencing tool.
Cisco WebEx was founded under the name Active Touch in 1996 and is a company that provides online collaboration and video conferencing tools for businesses, institutions of higher education, and for personal use. The products are similar to other videoconferencing and online collaboration tools such as GoToMeeting or Google Hangouts, but offer some very distinctive features that make it a leader in the field. WebEx products such as Event Center and Meeting Center allow participants to join meetings either over the phone using audio, or through any computer operating system (Windows, Apple OS, Linux, Unix) using VOIP, which sends digital signals over the internet. Accessibility is a key feature of WebEx products, as they are also accessible from mobile phone apps, an in-demand feature of today’s marketplace regardless of product.
In the field of higher education, WebEx collaboration tools address the changing population of college students described above. As students pursue online education at increasing rates, college and university leaders must look for opportunities to stand out in an overcrowded field and provide education that engages students in their educational experience. The use of the WebEx collaboration tools may provide such an opportunity for some schools. The functionality of the WebEx Training Center goes beyond traditional online education delivery methods (it feels weird using traditional there) and provides an experience that allows students to engage in active learning, which a number of institutions have identified as beneficial for the achievement of student learning goals. Decision-makers at colleges and universities making an investment in online education may find the WebEx tools useful to help address the type of active and collaborative learning techniques that may be thought of as more applicable to the in-person classroom experience.
The WebEx Training Center not only allows instructors to provide content to students like in an online course shell, but it promotes active learning. Presenting can be shared in a WebEx session. So, unlike many other web meeting products, participants can become the presenter by taking control of the class session and sharing content from their own computers or mobile devices. Another feature of WebEx that provides for collaborative learning opportunities is the use of breakout sessions. Students can use these breakout sessions to work on projects and assignments collaboratively, sharing content outside of the typical class session. There are also testing and poll features that allow instructors to gather real-time feedback and assessment data about the content of their classes.
Feedback about the WebEx products has been generally positive. Ed Tittel and Kim Lindros of CIO named WebEx one of their “8 awesome and (sometimes free) conference call services” calling it both reliable and interactive. Top Ten Reviews noted unique features of WebEx that make it beneficial software for both meeting presenters and attendees. Cnet praised the customization services and noted that it could help reduce business travel budgets.
The biggest potential downside and cause for concern for institutions and businesses choosing whether or not to utilize WebEx products seems to be data security. Cisco WebEx provides an extensive set of information on ways in which they protect the security of their clients and clients’ data. Although a cloud-based system, Cisco uses switch architecture so that data is not persistently stored in the WebEx Cloud. The product’s administrator module allows authorized administrators to control security settings and host privileges for the product. Additionally, WebEx provides a number of encryption mechanisms and firewall compatibility to help protect customer data.
However, with all of these measures in place, WebEx has still been vulnerable. Cisco disclosed a vulnerability to the WebEx Meetings Server in the summer of 2016 which resulted in a denial of service error to users, particularly those using WebEx on mobile devices. Although the vulnerability was patched, Cisco reported that their incident response team was only “unaware” of any data exploitation. Leaders who choose to take advantage of web-based collaboration tools must weigh the benefits of the functionality of such products against the very real security concerns that exist today.
Overall, the unique collaborative features of the WebEx products make it a useful consideration for those institutions of higher education looking to set themselves apart from more standard online educational delivery platforms and provide students with an active and engaging learning experience.
-The Ayes Have It
Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts,
experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York, NY.