Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Cisco debuts Webex Classrooms

As online learning takes off, Cisco debuts a version of the video conferencing platform with features geared toward teachers and students.

Cisco on Tuesday previewed Webex Classrooms, a version of the video conferencing platform designed to securely connect teachers with students and parents -- during, before and after class. The product is designed to bring the best of Webex to online learning, while augmenting traditional learning management systems (LMSs). 

Webex Classrooms lets teachers set up online classes, schedule virtual office hours or parent-teacher conferences, and automate note taking and attendance. It supports pre-defined education templates and security settings for virtual classroom experiences. Students, meanwhile, can use Webex Classrooms to view schedules, class recordings, notes and assignments. 

Online learning has taken off this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, to the benefit of digital education companies like Chegg, as well as Webex's typical competitors in the collaboration space, such as Zoom. On Monday, Zoom said that more than 100,000 K-12 schools have signed up to use its platform for free during the pandemic. Meanwhile, there are a bevy of well-established learning management systems for educators to choose from, including Instructure's Canvas, Blackboard and Google Classroom

Cisco contends that there's room for improvement. Webex Classrooms, the company says, is less rigid than a typical LMS, making it easier for teachers to communicate with students and parents before and after class.   

Webex Classrooms gives teachers video conferencing features designed to keep a classroom focused. For instance, teachers can auto-lock meetings so only signed-in users and students can join. They can also mute students and accept questions from "hand-raisers," who are automatically sorted by the order in which they asked a question. The platform also offers co-hosting capabilities for a teacher's aide. 

It also offers "breakout rooms" so students can work in small groups. Teachers can monitor or join the breakout rooms, and they can broadcast messages to the different rooms. 

Students, meanwhile, can benefit from Webex Assistant for Meetings features, like live transcripts, action items, meeting highlights and recorded class sessions. They can use Webex Teams to collaborate with their peers. 

Parents can also use Webex Teams to connect with teachers, and they can tap Webex Assistant to track their child's progress and help manage assignments. 

Webex Classrooms is currently in use by early adoption customers, and Cisco expects it to be generally available in the fourth quarter of 2020. It's provided at no additional cost when used with Cisco Webex Meetings.

Meanwhile, Webex Education Connector, which integrates Webex tools into a number of LMSs, now also integrates with Schoology. Currently, thousands of customers currently use the Webex Education Connector.