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Four Ways Social Software Collaboration Technology Can Change Higher Education

December 23, 2011 - 9 Comments

New media and collaboration technologies have the potential to transform higher education in terms of the classroom, the learning process, the relationship between students and instructors, and how institutions conduct academic research. While much of the industry discussion revolves around use of consumer tools and social network sites like Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn, Cisco’s educational customers also see tremendous opportunity to increase student engagement and drive their own institutional strategies with “enterprise class” social software as well.

Since Cisco first announced Quad, we have had conversations with dozens of colleges and universities regarding the role enterprise social software and Cisco Quad can play in transforming education. Cisco Quad is an enterprise collaboration platform that brings people together to share ideas and content, collaborate on projects, and interact using chat, voice or video, regardless of where people are located.

Below, we’ve outlined four ways in which educational institutions are telling us enterprise social software is helping, or can transform the way learning, research, and academic advisement is crafted, delivered and consumed:

1. The 24/7 interactive classroom: Instructors often struggle to deliver a collaborative environment for their students that is secure and supports multiple access methods such as mobile.  Technology like Quad can enable students to interact in a secure, policy-based manner that extends the classroom conversation beyond physical walls. Courses partially or wholly targeted at off-campus students can similarly benefit from enhancing the class-like experience for remote students. For example, at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, the cross country MBA students based in the US, England, India and other countries are using Quad to create virtual working groups, find people with common interests, share files or videos with other students working on similar projects and instantly start video conferences or chat sessions. Quad provides students with the ability to interact, ask questions and share ideas with professors/faculty/tutorial assistants anytime, as opposed to only during fixed faculty office hours. It can also drive improved accountability on team projects, as content and comments are tracked in activity feeds and in project communities by both participating students and faculty leads.

2. Serendipitous Research: Quad contains several features, such as an activity feed that compiles microblog posts from students and staff and allows a snapshot view of a person’s current activities. These dynamic updating functionalities can facilitate broader cross-departmental collaboration, for students and researchers alike. Security features ensure that research that needs to be confidential is shared in a secure and safe manner.  As researchers update their statuses with exciting discoveries or frustrating problems, or create posts, upload videos or otherwise document their work, this content becomes accessible to hundreds of fellow university researchers through activity feeds and searches, making it possible for providential inter-disciplinary connections to be made and new insights to be generated.

3. Chalking up more grant wins: Grants are the lifeblood of research. Writing a successful grant proposal requires weeks of closely coordinated work from an inter-disciplinary team.  Anecdotal conversations with higher education institutions indicate that between 30-50% of proposals started may never get completed due to the difficulty in assembling and coordinating the work of a cross-department team.  Quad’s social networking capabilities can help to more easily bring grant opportunities to the right faculty members’ attention. Then, Quad’s search capability can mine stored content (as well as expertise and interest tags related to faculty and communities) and return relevant people/experts and communities in the search results, not just content. This capability can drastically reduce the time taken to assemble an inter-disciplinary proposal writing team. Virtual audio, video and web meetings help drive efficiency and attendance at meetings, and project communities act as a single source of truth for proposal drafts and supporting material helping all team members stay engaged through the weeks-long process. The potential impact is a higher rate of proposal completion and an improved chances of success

4. Higher Access Advising – Academic advising is consistently cited as a critical contributor to maintaining a high student retention rate in higher education. However in many universities, advisors have a significant advisee load (an average of 285 advisees per advisor*) and on average have less than 3 one-on-one meetings with students per academic term. Advisors can spend one whole day per week answering advisee emails, often on the same subject. Remote students or those attending evening classes have even fewer windows of in-person interaction with advisors. Advising communities within Quad can enable efficient one-to-many communication from the advisor to advisees, freeing up some of the time spent replying to emails. Updates from the advisors in student activity feeds can help remind students of the advising resources available to them and potentially make it more likely for them to reach out for advice. Conversely, an advisor can see any student’s availability within Quad and reach out to them by starting a call, web meeting or IM session with a single click.  With desktop video meetings, advisors can have richer interactions with remote students as well as conduct orientation meetings with groups of students during advising peak periods. Quad can drive more frequent and more effective contacts between advisors and advisees (expand on benefits here).

We, the Cisco Quad team, would love to hear from you about these ideas and also other ways in which Quad may be able to address education imperatives at your institution. Happy holidays and best wished for a wonderful and successful 2012 on behalf of the Cisco collaboration team!

*For four year public universities, per ACT’s Sixth National Survey on Academic Advising

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  1. thanks for this news..

  2. Reading this post is really encouraging to me in that companies such as Cisco is recognizing the need for social collaboration tech in education. This is a concept I’m really interested in learning about more: freearticles

  3. My daughter is currently completing her BS through an on-line program at a large University. Every class has a requirement for a group project,typically a PPT, that must be a collaborative effort by a team that is assigned by the instructor, and is geographiocally dispersed. She is constantly frustrated by the inability to effectively collaborate with the other team members to deliver a polished presentation before the class deadline, due to the inability to contact and reeive feedback from the various team members. This project always represents a significant portion of the student’s grade. Quad would be such an incredibly valuable tool for this University. I hope someone there is aware of this technology and looks into it.

    • Alexis,
      Thank you so much for your comments. We’re always interested in hearing how schools are working collaboratively and the types of assignments they’re assigning that utilize 21st century skills.

  4. Thanks for the information to all a happy 2012!

  5. I hope Cisco does not forget the younger kids.

    I live in Thailand where the schools are severely lacking in the area of teaching the English language. Therefore i have used the internet to provide my children with games and materials to practice their English.

    Why wait until the kids are in University to start learning online? I started my kids playing educational games on the internet when they were 4 years old.

  6. Hello Doron,

    Reading this post is really encouraging to me in that companies such as Cisco is recognizing the need for social collaboration tech in education. This is a concept I’m really interested in learning about more:

  7. Interactive online programs have helped many students transition from the traditional brick-and-mortar teaching environment to one that meets the students’ schedule. Kudos to Cisco for understanding this and creating the Quad Platform!