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Every organization has had to get used to using video conferencing software to make up for the loss of in-person meetings since the coronavirus pandemic began earlier this year. The transition has been rocky for some who may not be as familiar with technology as others. Teachers and parents in particular have spent months discussing the difficulties inherent in trying to teach through a screen.

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Cisco Webex has heard the complaints from parents as well as teachers and is hoping its latest offering will help both sides better assist children during this difficult time.

Cisco is previewing its newest features for Webex Classroom, which enables students and faculty to have highly secure and immersive online learning experiences regardless if they are in the physical classroom, the virtual classroom or a hybrid of the two.

“Webex Classroom provides a classroom structure where students and teachers can organize classes, review syllabuses, schedule and launch classes, virtual office hours and more. Students connect with each other and simply access course resources, and parents can stay involved more easily—easily scheduling virtual parent-teacher conferences,” said Renee Patton, global director of education and healthcare at Cisco, in an interview.

“It reflects feedback from our education customers and partners. Solving for the hybrid classroom has been an ongoing challenge to make distance learning more engaging and scalable to serve learning styles, scalable to reach more students as well as to aid in distance learning new education models.

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For months, schools across the country have questioned whether they can fully reopen, but most are working with a hybrid model, where some students can choose to continue distance learning through platforms like Webex Classroom or Zoom and others do in-person schooling.

Patton said most teachers have access to similar systems but many are often too rigid to be used for communicating with students or parents, forcing them to use less-secure methods.

Through the Classroom platform, teachers can easily set up online classes, schedule virtual office hours, and automate note taking and attendance. Students will be directed to a single space for things like schedules, class recordings, notes, and assignments.

Teachers will also be able to lock their virtual classroom with an auto-lock feature that keeps out anyone who is not a signed-in user or student. There are even breakout rooms that allow teachers to separate students so they can learn dynamically from each other. Students can focus on each other, share content and hold video discussions all while teachers move between the breakout groups.

Webex Classroom gives teachers more control over the classroom, with hard-mute options and other tools that let them regulate the classroom experience, Patton said, adding that there is a co-hosting capability so that teacher’s aides can help manage classes.

There are devices that can be provided for teachers allowing them to stand up and walk around as they teach.

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The live transcript feature is useful for students and includes action items and highlights. Within Classroom is Webex Teams, which helps students stay connected with their peers, message each other, share documents, whiteboard projects, and study together.

Patton noted that there are even ways for teachers to set up virtual spaces so that they can meet with parents, share updates, and notify them of assignments. For IT departments, the platform is particularly useful because of how simple it is and because of the predefined education templates that allow teams to set the security standards. Webex Classroom can even integrate with other platforms like Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard, and others.

“In general, our view is that the pandemic and natural disasters like the California Wildfires or Hurricane Laura continue to be a disruptor to business, education, government, and healthcare as well as many other industries. As school begins again this week, it’s clear that usage levels are further increasing. Many higher learning institutions have announced a full online education for the first term in order to better manage outbreaks,” Patton said.

“Video adoption is essential for connection on a personal level with their study groups, peer groups, and to have a more engaging experience within the virtual classroom. This use of video and collaboration is a natural part of the way this generation interacts and communicates more effectively. This is why we have accelerated Webex Classroom, to bring better education experience to K-12 and university students.”