The Power of the Web 2.0 and online collaborative tools in Higher Education: A review of Cisco WebEx

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

Reference

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.

Basic Books.

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11 thoughts on “The Power of the Web 2.0 and online collaborative tools in Higher Education: A review of Cisco WebEx

  1. Actually, I noted in my video that my good friend Jeffrey Nugent of Colgate University coined the phrase “the web has become a platform of participation.” WebEx is certainly representative of that…and I have chaired several dissertations in which the defense occurred on WebEx, linking members around the courntry with the defense occurring in Omaha.

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  2. The phenomenal job this week. Truly an excellent contribution and examination of the clear uses of the tool. I appreciate you tying in education. Are you using it at your university? It was explored as an option at my previous institution but for whatever reason was not promoted enough for it to be implemented on a larger scale. It seems to me to be an excellent solution to assist in leading blended courses in particular.

    Jason

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the feedback, Jason. We do use WebEx at my institution on a small scale, but are moving towards larger scale use. It was introduced to support our blended delivery mode MBA program. Students participate in their MBA classes remotely with the assistance of mobile teleconferencing equipment that helps to mimic the in-class experience. We are moving towards integration of the Spark platform (https://www.ciscospark.com/products/overview.html#learn) for our entire campus. It was actually discussed at length at a meeting I attended yesterday to determine other ways to utilize the technology and platform. As the Spark platform will allow for everyone on campus to use the product, we are exploring its usage for conference calls, non-instructional teleconferencing, and other possibilities. It is my hope that we can integrate it to the point where we can eliminate some more expensive redundancy on campus such as Adobe Connect.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for sharing Matt. We have a lot of work ahead of us at our institution. Do not be surprised if I reach out to you from time to time. Have a good evening and again, wonderful job with your blog this week.

        Jason

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  3. Ayes,

    Great post! As Jason said, you provided a terrific discussion of Cisco WebEx and its uses. I appreciated how you framed the tool as a strategic advantage. I agree with your observation that postsecondary institutions need to stand out and adapt to a changing student population; I see this at my university as well. We were an early adapter of online learning, and the focus has been on asynchronous course offerings. In the last few years, many students have expressed their desire for an online synchronous option. A few professors have successfully incorporated this into their courses, but I really like a model we are currently piloting. The model uses technology (Blackboard Collaborate) to bring online and in-class students together in one classroom. Sessions are recorded, so if someone misses a class they can watch it later. Student feedback has been very positive. I am curious, what was the feedback from your MBA students? Have you thought about combing online and in-class students in one classroom?

    CatOnKB

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  4. Good morning CatOnKB and thanks for your questions. One interesting thing about our MBA class sessions is the different ways in which people are participating. I actually heard an interesting note this week about one of our employees who is pursuing the degree. She found the experience of the online students participating in the class (through WebEx and our mobile teleconferencing hardware) so interesting that she logged in for the first class session this semester from her desk – located one floor below the physical meeting location. What that told me is that the experience of the students logging in from around the country is at least comparable to the classroom experience. I believe it is something that the school can promote when marketing the program to those who may not have had experience with an online education and are experiencing some apprehension about the delivery method.

    It will also be very important for us as an institution to track the academic progress and success of students logging in versus those coming to the classroom to ensure that we are providing opportunities for both groups to be successful. Some of that assessment data should help us decide if the blended method should be expanded to other programs being offered.

    -The Ayes Have It

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  5. Ayes, thank you for your thoughtful review. I definitely see the value for education and want to add a few comments from the business and nonprofit viewpoint. I do not recall if I have specifically used WebEx at a previous company. We use LiveMeeting where I am now, and I know I have used GoToMeeting in the past. I imagine they are all relatively similar in value delivered, which for me is to give meetings and collaboration more value and intimacy through the visual component.

    My organization suffers from an overabundance of standing meetings in addition to ad hoc meetings. We are probably not alone in this. Having so many conference calls leads to an obvious tendency for people to multitask, while technically present. I am as guilty as anyone. I go on mute and treat the meeting as background noise, keeping an ear open for my name.

    An aspect I like about the added element of video collaboration is that the meeting is brought closer to an in person event, and it is more likely when attendees can be seen that they will pay attention. I say this, while acknowledging that the problem is not the meeting itself, it is the human overuse of the meeting as a tool, and this can of course happen with anything (Bumiller, 2010).

    From a nonprofit perspective, I offer the volunteer program, Soliya, which I mentioned earlier. I am not sure what technology they are using as underpinning for the online video collaboration environment they provide for cross cultural facilitation. However, I can say with absolute certainty that a significant amount of the value gained by participating would be lost if the video layer were removed.

    References
    Bumiller, E. (2010, April 26). We have met the enemy and he is PowerPoint. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/27/world/27powerpoint.html?scp=1&sq=we%20have%20met%20the%20enemy%20and%20he%20is%20powerpoint&st=cse

    Julie

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  6. Ayes,

    You and CatOnKB’s discussion on using this technology to provide a synchronous online classroom is interesting. When I think of teleconferencing technology I often just think of the business sector and its applications there, and ignore the academic uses. I remember when I took my first online course at a college around 12-13 years ago and it did allow for a synchronous discussion, however, online students where limited to asking the professor questions over chat (this was also for a math course so that added another layer of difficulty). I found the experience not very ideal and rarely connected to the course real-time, instead watching the recordings when I was free. Since then, most online courses I have taken are mostly limited to a discussion post format with recorded videos.

    You mentioned the importance of institutions recording academic data comparing online and in-class students, I would also be interested to see if there is a measurable advantage between the teleconference offerings, such as WebEx, Google Hangouts, Blackboard, etc, especially as the technology continues to be refined and more prevalent.

    Chris

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  7. The Ayes Have It,

    Using web conferencing in the classroom is growing. In fact, research from Cornelious (2014) indicated between 2009 and 2014 web conferencing in higher education increased by 11%. Most of my classes occur via web conferencing. My institution is trying to find ways to increase our web conferencing presence. Currently, we use several different tools to sort of piece to together a process that for the most part works well, but as our course offerings grow, we will need a more streamlined process. While I am a big believer using Web conferencing in the classroom, it can be a tough environment for teaching and learning. So quality tools that aid in creating a quality classroom environment are critical.

    -Shelli

    Cornelius, S. (2014). Facilitating in a demanding environment: Experiences of teaching in virtual classrooms using web conferencing. British Journal Of Educational Technology, 45(2), 260-271. doi:10.1111/bjet.12016

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    • Interesting conversation on web conferencing here. To muddy the waters further, a couple of years ago I taught a graduate class that met for two weeks face-to-face, then went online for 4 weeks, and then reconvened face-to-face for the final two weeks. During the four weeks online, the class was split into three teams to do a group project.

      One team, consisting of four women, met frequently at night via Google Hangout. What I found fascinating was that as soon as they connected, they tended to minimize the Hangout window, each working on their own but carrying on a constant chatter with each other. Their process apparently worked, as they had the best project at the end of the four weeks! I have not seen any other groups use Hangout as an audio only vehicle, so I found their process interesting!

      Like

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