Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco, kicked off Cisco Live last month with a look at The Network. Intuitive. The Network. Intuitive. is a complete transformation in hardware, software, and management that will change how networks operate, enabling them to adapt in real time with artificial intelligence (AI), and delivering the secure foundation for our digital world, faster and more  securely, all while driving down operational cost. This new era in programmable networking leverages machine learning and analytics to deliver a new level of intelligence at the core of any organization. So, what does that mean for the future of Digital Education?

While at Cisco Live 2017, I spent some time with our Education customers and the Digital Network Architecture (DNA) experts who have re-engineered the foundation of the network to incorporate this new dimension of networking. This provided me a deeper look at the meaning of this big announcement for Education IT departments and beyond.

Surprisingly, the new direction is directly related to the use of intelligence to support human intervention in how we teach and learn—in fact, more than you would probably expect straight off the bat. With the growth in AI in the classroom, including learning analytics, adaptive curriculum, and even student-authored AI, we are seeing a genuine move to this technology to help teachers deliver personal learning to every student and increase student success. The use of machine learning, analytics, and contextual automation is now growing stronger in the network layer too. The ability for the network to LEARN and make real-time decisions based on the INTENT and CONTEXT of traffic/applications/devices/users will deliver a new foundation for Digital Education.

In both cases, the argument that AI is replacing our roles (in teaching and in the IT department) is not true. It actually frees our time to be more impactful, deliver higher levels of value, and ultimately hit our goals faster.

Another synergy is this freeing of valuable resources to focus on vital areas, in both the IT department and in the faculty. Cisco’s The Network. Intuitive. reduces repetitive tasks and enables IT staff to focus on pivotal projects that will more directly deliver strategic outcomes. AI adoption in the classroom gives the teacher the ability to cover more students and more topics, faster and with more accuracy.

In either case, AI should not be feared. AI will not take over the role of IT or replace the teaching staff, but it will enable new levels of competency and efficiency to help educators reach new heights: IT delivers a new user experience, while helping teachers deliver a higher level of student success than ever before. There are a number of ways that AI and analytics can make a teacher appear to have superpowers. (See my previous blog series on teaching superpowers.)

At the heart of Cisco’s Digital Education Platform is the DNA architecture that is the core of The Network. Intuitive. So, it is also the foundation of Digital Learning and Digital Campus practices, and with that, at the heart of these Teaching Superpowers. For example, AI can be used to provide students with a virtual teaching assistant for online distance learning or after class using collaboration. A teacher can use a personally tailored ChatBot to give them the appearance that they can be in multiple places at once. For example, with Cisco Spark, a teacher can enable Cisco Spark BOTs with integrated AI so that students working on a project can get help, speak a different language, and automatically receive relevant and pertinent information, all in addition to the face-to-face teaching they require.

One of our customers at Cisco Live asked how the network can understand the context and the intent of traffic, and learn to be truly intuitive. The answer lies in what is possible to understand from information now, and how we act upon its collection.

For example, in a recent test using Cisco Spark and IBM Watson, 89 percent of questions from engineering students were answered without human involvement. It’s important to know that the 10 percent of questions that weren’t answered led to deeper conversation with the actual expert (teacher) and that, in turn, personalized the knowledge transfer for those students asking, provided feedback as professional development, and led to tweaks in the curriculum to help other students in the future. This is the future of any classroom or course.

The future of our students is intertwined with these new AI and analytical technologies, so it’s important that the evolution of digital teaching is performed over a network that uses these technologies as well. Today, explicit instruction, guided instruction, and collaborative engagement with students are adopting more of these technologies. In turn, we will see their use in new pedagogical models to take advantage of the efficiency benefits.   The evolution of digital study means that leveraging data analysis in real time, and affecting change in digital delivery, will change the way we look at the student’s ownership of research. Critical thinking and collaboration are now supported at all times, regardless of the involvement of a teacher, in person or virtually. This drives success for teachers and students, at all levels. This is one of our defined goals of personal learning.

The first step for many to experience the impact of AI in the classroom could be through adopting integrated video and collaboration in the classroom. Teacher and student interactions through tools like Cisco Spark are a perfect gateway to its greater impact. Soon, we will see classroom designs and curriculum designers using AI as a major keystone to student success as was the case with Pearson’s proposed 2016 model for AI in education last year.

The AI space is only just developing (see Venture Scanner chart below). The number of startups with relevant capabilities for assisted and augmented intelligence means that it is not a question of whether AI comes into the teaching arena, but how soon. Consider that this industry’s growth will also start to factor into the choice future students make in learning and career paths. Although no one venture has yet become a heavyweight in this innovation quadrant (see chart), we are at the cusp of change, a change that will impact the way we utilize this technology in education.

For example, in the future using AI and augmented reality, a teacher will be able to get a “heads-up display” on student progress, whether through early warning tools on devices or live via augmented glasses. Facial recognition could keep a teacher fully informed on every student’s behavior and engagement, not as an invasion of privacy but rather, to assist the teacher in adjusting real-time delivery to better support learning. Today, Cisco has a classroom video solution that already has the potential to enable the use of AI (e.g., Cisco Spark Room Kits), which currently can count the students. In the future, using facial recognition, it will be able to check who is present, integrate with an LMS, and take attendance, allowing the teacher to maximize the time allotted to teach the subject they are paid to deliver.

The collection of data and the analytics of teacher and student’s digital footprints correlated to education activity, ones that relate to a teacher teaching or a student learning, will be critical to the way we make use of the data we collect. Cisco’s continued investment in analytics is at the heart of this new architecture and maps to the many ways education organizations will manipulate and respond to data analysis. AI is even more important when we look to help our teachers utilize student data, evaluate learning and digital footprint information, and get assistance quickly and accurately to monitor the impact success.

In a full circle, this is where The Network. Intuitive. re-enters the discussion. All this data analysis means the network can be aware of all usage, applications, and actions of teachers and students. It now will be able to look at the context and intent, using the same information that a learning analytic collects, or an application buffers. This will revolutionize the speed at which a network will adapt to every scenario it encounters.

Like the Oracle character in a superhero story, real-time access to data analytics is the all-knowing superpower that could benefit every teacher and serves as the pinnacle of the superhero universe. We must put teachers back to the rightful peak of knowledge and inspiration in the classroom.

As we reflect on the Cisco Live 2017 conversations, announcements, and impact of digitization, it’s clear that The Network. Intuitive. announcement is an enabler for Digital Education, one that will bring efficiencies and strengths to the IT department, in areas where it is so difficult to hire, train, and retain staff. Like our desire to make teachers superheroes by using our innovation, we are delivering a new era of networking that will help our education customers deliver education in a new digital era.



Neal Tilley

Cisco Education Advisor