Finding a common time and space for teachers to meet and collaborate can sometimes be a challenge.  One solution is to use a videoconferencing tool such as Cisco WebEx which can bring people together in a matter of minutes no matter where they are in the world.  WebEx is a web-based videoconferencing application that can be used for on-demand collaboration, hosting online meetings and web conferencing.  WebEx can be used on any computer (Windows/Apple/Linux) using your favorite web browser (IE, Safari, Google Chrome, Firefox) and also is available for Android and Apple iOS mobile devices as an app.

Please Note: Cisco WebEx is a paid-for resource available to all EVSC teachers and staff. We have included other free video teleconferencing tools in the Additional Resources section at the bottom of the page.

Overview of Cisco WebEx

EVSC teachers and staff can access Cisco WebEx using any of the links on this post or from the Login Links on the ICATS website.

Advantages of Cisco WebEx

  • Cisco WebEx LogoAll staff accounts are pre-populated in the WebEx system so inviting staff to a meeting is as easy as typing their name and send the invite to their Outlook inbox.  The email invite puts the meeting on the recipient’s Outlook calendar and contains directions and a link to join the meeting.
  • You can create a WebEx meeting inside your Microsoft Outlook calendar and send invites to all attendees (Windows Only).
  • WebEx stays inside our network so Internet bandwidth is never an issue.
  • Attendees can either use the computer microphone & speaker, a USB headset with microphone (preferred), or call in using an EVSC Cisco IP telephone.
  • Up to 100 people can be in a single meeting room PLUS all can have their webcams streaming at the same time.
  • The time limit on recording a session is only limited by the available storage space on our server.  So no matter if your session lasts 30 minutes or 6 hours, Cisco WebEx will be able to record it and allow you to send it out to anyone wanting to view it.

How to Get Started with Video Conferencing

Once you have determined the web conferencing tool of your choice (WebEx or some other option), here are some things you should consider before hosting a live videoconference.

  • Practice, Practice, Practice,…

    Get familiar with the tool prior to hosting a web conference.  Test it out with a couple coworkers to see if they can hear you and see you when you test your microphone and webcam.  Do a test recording and practice your presentation.  Watch the recording to see if you like what you did and make changes.  Practice makes perfect!

  • It’s All About the Environment

    Make sure the room where you are located is free of any excess background noise or possible interruptions.  You may want to notify the office and/or hang a sign on your classroom door letting passersby know that your classroom can not be interrupted or disturbed.

    So it sounds like I'm in a hyperbaric chamber?  That's weird. So, how do I look?
    So it sounds like I’m in a hyperbaric chamber?  That’s weird.
    So, how do I look?

    Do some cleaning in your room so there’s not any unsightly clutter in the background or around you which could be seen when your webcam is on.

  • What Are the Rules?

    Review proper etiquette techniques with students prior to participating in a live videoconference so they understand your expectations and the consequences if etiquette is not followed.

  • Hello?  Can You Hear Me?

    If you have to talk during the videoconference, be sure to test out your microphone and speakers prior to the session.

    • Headset Mic (great for single user) – You can experience an annoying feedback loop if your computer speakers playback your voice and the computer microphone picks it up.  The best way to avoid this is to use a set of headphones that have a microphone built-in.  Here’s the Logitech H390 headset that is decent quality and costs around $28.
    • External Microphone & Speakers (great for whole class use) – If your class will be present during the videoconference, you still need to get the microphone away from the computer speakers to avoid the annoying feedback loop.  A desktop microphone that plugs into the microphone jack or USB port works great. This Connectland desktop mic is adequate enough to do the job.  As far as speakers go, you can probably find a pair somewhere in your building to hook up if you don’t already have some.
    • Telephone – Cisco WebEx does offer the option for users to call in to the web conference.  All EVSC Cisco IP Telephones can interface with WebEx in this way.
      • The only negative with choosing the telephone option is if someone decides to call in and they’re long distance or if they’re on their cell phone and they have limited talking minutes.  Their best option is to use the computer for audio.
  • Can You See Me Now?

    Test out the webcam to make sure it works with the videoconference software.  Is the footage blurry or fuzzy?  Make sure you have enough lights turned on – set a desk lamp nearby for additional lighting.  It also doesn’t hurt to try taking a soft cloth and wiping away any smudges that may be on the webcam lens!  ;)

  • Which Device Should I Use?

    • Computer – Web conferencing requires a web browser and maybe a plugin or two to make them run.  If you end up having problems getting the webconference to work, check your web browser and other plugins such as Adobe Flash Player or Java for software updates.
    • Mobile Device – Usually there’s an app for that!  Check the app store that goes with your mobile device for an app related to the videoconferencing tool.

Is My Internet Fast Enough?

The Internet speeds here in the EVSC are plenty fast to accommodate a WebEx.  If users have Cable or DSL Internet, these services should be fast enough – however if you experience slowness, check for programs on your computer that may be using internet such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Email, Netflix,… and turn them off.  Also check with other users at the location who share the same connection to limit their usage.

Suggested Uses

  • Form virtual PLCs to share ideas with colleagues not in your building but that teach the same course(s) you do.
  • Have a virtual guest speaker which can be recorded and shared with other classes and shared later with others.
  • Moderate students sharing work/giving presentations to other students in similar classes across town or the world.
    • There’s even the option of giving control of the shared computer to another user.
  • Host office hours virtually to answer student questions on projects/homework outside of class.
  • Host a professional development sessions and share the recording for attendees to review later and for anyone who was unable to attend.
  • If you don’t have a screen capture tool, you can use videoconferencing to record a demonstration and then share the recording.

Why It Matters (Teaching Rubric)

Through the use of videoconferencing, teachers can connect with other teachers to collaborate on curriculum writing, plan cross-curricular projects, and share classroom experiences.  Teacher’s Knowledge of Content (essential competency 2.8).  Videoconferencing can bring an outside resource to the classroom such as a guest speaker who may be somewhere else in the world. Resources, Activities, & Materials (competency 2.1)

Additional Resources

Your Challenge

Your challenge is to test drive a videoconferencing system of your choice (WebEx or Google Hangouts are good choices) and consider how you might use these tools to increase educational outcomes in the classroom and improve efficiency in your daily work. Do you have experiences with attending, presenting, or hosting a videoconference? In the comment area below, share a few of your reflections. 

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  1. In the Academy we try to expose the students to as many speakers as possible and Cisco WebEx is going to become another tool in our bag. A few years ago we were given a grant to purchase some amazing video conferencing equipment that we have used to speak with politicians, community activist, soldiers and others based around the world

    Another use for WebEx is the ability to collaborate with colleagues (PLCs,) when a physical meeting may not be possible. As with most of the applications in the 30 Day Challenge the goal is to allow us to work more efficiently and productively. Being able to communicate with anyone anywhere in world via the Internet using WebEx shrinks the world and allows the student’s classroom experience to know no walls.

  2. I have had little experience with video conferencing other than a few Skype sessions that had problems of their own. For my particular teaching load, I can see using Cisco WebEx to bring speakers into my classroom rather than to collaborate with other teachers. My teaching partner and I recently purchased video conferencing equipment through a PEF grant. The equipment would enhance the videoconferencing experience for the participants.

  3. When students from my class go on vacation or trips, I ask parents to send pictures when they have time.Recently, a parent sent in a video of their family vacation for her child to share in class. I’m thinking students would enjoy seeing their friends in other places in real time. So by using Cisco WebEx this might be a possibility.

  4. I think Cisco WebEx can be used for collaboration with other teachers even in our own district. Algebra teacchers at the high school and middle school could communicate best teaching practices with each other. I also can use this with students. I have a few students in my 1st period class who like to help students with their homework. At the same time another teacher is teaching the same class at the same school but in a different building. My students could also help the at the same time.

  5. We are a K-6 building. Since our 6th grade is departmentalized many times the teachers do not have a buddy to team up and do PLC’s with their subject. To help connect the teachers with other teachers at their grade level we have done a Google Hangout. I hope to use a Webex to connect with other Technology/Keyboarding specials teachers in the district so I can collaborate and get more ideas from them. We used a Google Hangout with our 6th grade class to talk with one of the big shots at Mad Video. The students enjoyed putting a face with the program they were using. Riley from Mad Video also was interested in the students ideas and gave them a voice.

  6. We use video conferencing to supplement and reinforce our classroom lessons. We store recordings of these videos on our MBC bundles for easy student access. Google is the main platform we use, but I have tried Skype for author visits and the students loved it. This tool was a life saver during last year’s never ending winter. We were able to keep our students caught up even missing 16 school days. The kids really enjoyed it too, they even recorded video messages on their iPads to share with us through MBC.

  7. I have used Hangouts and like it. I am anxious to try Cisco Webex to see how good it will work for our needs. We have corporation wide technology training each Tuesday morning and sometimes the method we use to communicate between the various schools is not working well. I am wandering it Cisco might be an alternative.

  8. Cisco WebEx is a great resource for audio and video conferencing. I have used it many times for audio conferencing so we could use our limited time in discussion rather than driving. With video conferencing, I need to experiment more to feel comfortable with the recording feature for a guest speaker. Google Hangouts is great, but Cisco WebEx offers so much more.

  9. I have used Google Hangouts in the past and have really liked it. I hope, at some point, to bring in a speaker virtually using Hangouts or Skype. I’ve attended many webinars that use Cisco WebEx, Hangouts, and other software, generally speaking they work out well. I think this platform could really add to what I am doing in the classroom and help to bring the outside into my room.

  10. I have “attended” many video conferencing sessions, but have never run one myself. I think I would need a leap of faith to be able to pull it off. I like the fact that WebEx can be used on a variety of devices. I believe my district, as well, has created web conferences for some district meetings. I can see this being used during the summer to collaborate with others in my building. I also like that the conferences can be recorded for later use. It looks like it is a pretty user friendly program.

  11. I have used Google Hangout to do a iCats/Code discussion group and found that I was way behind the learning curve on figuring it out. I think if we “had” to do this more we would need step by step directions and practice for many teachers. I have also helped in judging cheer tryouts at a local school using Skype (makes cheer tryouts so much more interesting).

  12. I have used both Skype and Google hangouts before. I like that compared to Skype, WebEx is more suited for a group conference rather than one and one. While I have used Skype for years, WebEx seems to solve some of the fundamental issues that I have with Skype (It’s hard to use the share screen feature in Windows 8 and to add more than one person to a conversation. Also, once Skype is installed on your computer it never is fully gone from your task bar.) I like that WebEx allows you to record your meetings. I also wonder if since our internet provider is Cisco if the video connection wouldn’t be as spotty at school. (When my daughter was studying abroad in Scotland, I Skyped with her during my lunch. We constantly were getting dropped due to connection issues.) I also recently started a Connect my Classroom with a teacher in Minnesota. I will be using Google Hangouts to connect with her and her classroom. I am a big fan of video conferencing and the educational benefits that it offers.

    • Hey Mrs. C! Our Cisco WebEx is hosted downtown so speed shouldn’t be an issue. Other videoconferencing tools may experience some slowness depending on congestion in the network. I have used WebEx a lot to train teachers and staff across the district and haven’t had any problems with screensharing or webcam buffering. Give it a try sometime and see if it will work with your Connect my Classroom project. Feel free to give us feedback on how it works and we’ll be sure to share your comments with Cisco to make the experience better.

      • I have used Cisco WebEx and have never had any issues. My issues have been with Skype not WebEx. WebEx seems to solve a lot of the issues that I have had with Skype in the past. It is a great tool to have access to.

  13. We are required to collaborate with our sister school in the district. We would Facetime weekly, but were not able to share lessons and items actually on our computer. Also, the cell service int he building is not good and our calls dropped and stalled. I tried a Google Hangout session last week. It worked out nicely. We shared each other’s screens and lesson ideas. It saves a lot of time driving back and forth and is more productive than just trying to visualize what the other person is talking about. It took us a few tries to get the hangout going. I suggest setting up the hangout and then sending out the link. I initially set up the hangout and told her to look in her email or notifications. That didn’t work, but sending her the link did. I can see students using this to meet up for group projects. This would be especially nice for the kids that can’t drive yet.

  14. I have attended many video conferences while watching webinars. I believe that the IDOE site uses Cisco to show their ISTEP webinars. I have never set one up, but I think that this might be useful if numerous teachers teaching the same classes were to collaborate with each other. This could be shown to all of the students at the same time as a review or as a new lesson. If using a PowerPoint on the conference it could be handed out out later for review. I have used both types of audio and prefer the audio on the computer vs the phone call

  15. Cisco Webex looks like an awesome tool to use within an organization for communication and collaboration. In the past, I have used Adobe Connect and GotoMeeting for such videoconferencing tasks. It is very helpful that EVSC has provided a tool for their teachers and staff members to use quickly and easily. I especially appreciate the list of tips for how to get started with videoconferencing. So many times my teachers express the feeling of being overwhelmed by learning just how to get started with a new tool or strategy. I will definitely be sharing these ideas with my teachers as well as sharing some of the free ways that you suggested that we could videoconference with each other.

  16. I’ve used Google Hangouts, Skype, and Blackboard Collaborate extensively. The master’s classes I take through Kent State have a weekly video or audio chat through Hangouts or Collaborate. Using video or audio is much faster than emailing back and forth or using a text-based chat system.

    I see Google Hangouts (or WebEx) as an excellent resource for virtual PLCs. Obviously, some teachers don’t have another person in the building who teaches the same subject. I would like to trade advice and resources with other yearbook advisers in the area, but it takes a lot of time and effort to set up a meeting in-person.

  17. Video conferencing is a great tool to expand curriculum and support skills and lessons taught within the classroom and as an educator for professional development. I have used Skype, Google Plus Hangouts, Google Communities, and Twitter Chat. All are great tools! I have not used the WebEX Tool, but do have it downloaded on my computer. I can see great uses for it, especially in developing PLCs and conferencing with colleagues regarding students and curriculum. I can also see it as a benefit to students in supplementing instruction.

  18. As a school, I believe we have used Cisco Webex for a web conference on a couple previous professional development days discussing grading practices and student learning management systems as we transitioned from one product to another. They are wonderful to use to ease needing to pay for a person to come speak for a very brief amount of time when they are not local but also because the presenter can stream their computer screen to show a presentation or example. I’ve sat in on web conferences too for specific topics which this was nice to hear the presenter but also be able to type responses back. Typing responses is almost essential when there are a large number of people involved in the conference.

    • Having the chat pod is awesome for driving conversation around your topic, allowing attendees to ask questions, and for building relationships with people in the room that otherwise would not have met if not for the videoconference. It’s all about the learning and the networking! :)

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