Cisco Relevant Products/Services is launching a version of WebEx for colleges and universities. Called WebEx Social for Higher Education, the integrated, cloud Relevant Products/Services-based solution was developed in conjunction with several leading institutions of higher education.

The new offering integrates WebEx Social, WebEx Meetings and WebEx Messenger, is delivered through the Cisco WebEx Collaboration Cloud, and is available to institutions of higher learning through a site license. WebEx Social, which formerly had been called Cisco Quad, is an enterprise collaboration Relevant Products/Services platform that integrates social networking, content creation and real-time Relevant Products/Services communications.

This incarnation for higher ed, which the company said goes beyond learning management systems and portals, allows a university to dynamically manage access for large numbers of users through the use of Active Directory synchronization and Shibboleth authentication.

Usable with LMS

The environment provides users with the ability to quickly ID subject matter experts, obtain group feedback, and co-author and share documents, while having access to mentors, relevant communities, syllabi and videos.

The collaborating educational institutions were Duke University, North Carolina State University, Case Western Reserve and the University of Chicago. All four institutions are piloting the offering, and Duke is in the process of making it available throughout its entire academic community.

John Tuohy, Cisco's educational marketing manager for the U.S., told us the new product involved senior executives at those institutions "working closely with our product development team," beginning with the initial evolution of the product idea.

He noted the difference between WebEx Social for Higher Education and a learning management system Relevant Products/Services, in that an LMS allows an instructor to set up a curriculum, enable course registration, and manage courseware. By contrast, he said, Cisco's new offering is "designed to be a social meeting space" that can be integrated with leading LMS's, such as Desire2Learn or Moodle.

'Universities without ZIP Codes'

Within a WebEx Social group, Tuohy said, students or faculty can utilize WebEx Meeting and WebEx Messenger to share information by posting a document, collaboratively working on a document, or conducting a video Web conference for up to eight attendees via VOIP. Cisco said Web conferencing beyond eight is available at an additional charge.

In addition, the experience is designed to be customized, so that users can change layouts and add portlets, OpenSocial-compliant gadgets, or RSS feeds. Users can view an activity stream of updates from their network Relevant Products/Services, monitor a Watch List to keep current with shared content, or stay connected through multiple devices, including Apple's iPad and iPhone.

Laura DiDio, an analyst with industry research firm Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, noted that these kinds of educational collaborative environments are helping to create "universities without ZIP Codes." She also pointed out that this is a "clever" strategic move by Cisco, because, as college students become used to Cisco's collaborative products at school, they are more likely to continue using them after they graduate.