Flipping the Classroom: Using Cisco Webex to Deliver Lectures to Students Before They Show Up at School


How do you capture the imagination of young people? Today's students have grown up online and communicate using WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. They consume hour after hour of interactive content and are always multitasking. You can't expect them to learn the same way as previous generations, and so you have to transform the classroom to reflect their reality.

Thankfully, their familiarity with online resources and digital tools make it easy to teach today's youth without ever having to open a textbook.

A Teacher Never Stops Learning

ROC ter AA is a vocational training institute. ROC is the Dutch abbreviation for "regional education center," and we are the smallest such establishment in the Netherlands. Every year, our 200-strong staff serves some 4,000 students aged 16 to 35.

I've been a teacher all my life. I started in health education and then changed direction and taught sailing for 13 years. I came late to IT, but I love the field. Although I'm only a couple of years short of retiring, I feel there's so much more I can learn in the time remaining. I now specialize in cybersecurity, and I give students hands-on training on how to handle network breaches, DoS attacks, and other potential threats. 

Shift Your Paradigm: Flip the Classroom

Our school is part of the Cisco Network Academy program, which gives us access to a lot of different free learning curricula, hardware, software, and support to train the next generation of IT professionals.  In the Netherlands, this equates to 16,165 students, 9% of whom are female. Worldwide, that number 2,149,000 students. 

As part of my own continuing education, I attended Cisco Live in Barcelona, where I discovered the concept of flipping the classroom using Cisco Webex.

The idea is relatively straightforward. Instead of using the classroom as a lecture hall, teachers record their instructional material with video, and students are asked to review it on their own time and at their own pace. Class time is then devoted to working on and reviewing assignments that were previously given as homework or as labs.

This approach has several benefits. For starters, it levels the playing field for students who have trouble focusing, suffer from learning disabilities, or are on the autistic spectrum. Secondly, it gives students and teachers the time to ask and answer questions because they are no longer restricted to the schedule of a typical classroom period.

We start the instructional process by delivering lectures on video, and integrating collaborative tools from the very beginning. This approach is far more effective and efficient than tacking them on to a traditional classroom-based approach.

Reject Outdated Tools

In the past, we used tools like email and a learning management system to communicate with students outside classroom hours, but there were all kinds of problems. Pupils often failed to check their inboxes and didn't reply. On other occasions, teachers and students had to install Skype on their devices and set up accounts before they could talk.

Your students might be ready for a flipped classroom, but is your communication technology ready?

It was complicated and messy because there was no standard approach to communication, collaboration, and the distribution of electronic learning material. Adopting Cisco Webex changed all that.

Technology is also making our classrooms more dynamic. Thanks to laptops, tablets, and smartphones, students and teachers have a world of information at their fingertips. These are the same tools that young people will be using when they transition to the workplace. 

Exposing them to the latest technology in the classroom gives them an edge that will translate into career success. The autonomy they cultivate through remote learning also makes our students more attractive to potential employers.

Treat Video Conferencing as a Foundation, Not an Afterthought

Our workflow goes something like this: We start by recording our lectures with Webex Meetings. We keep these short—15 to 30 minutes is enough time to explain a concept in depth without boring our students.

Next, we share these videos through Webex Teams, along with information about the upcoming in-class assignments, labs, and exams. Students can then ask the instructor questions to better prepare for the next session.

Between classes, we also divide students into groups of four and assign them collective projects. They then use Webex Teams to work with each other and communicate with their teachers as they complete their assignments. Peer feedback is often used. The students reflect on each other in the same workspace and give tips to improve the products they summited. Sometimes they answer questions from fellow students, so the teacher doesn't have to react to each question.

Make Online as Personal as Face-to-Face

Every ten weeks, we ask each of our students to complete a self-evaluation form to monitor their progress. We then hold a 15-minute meeting to review what went well, what didn't, and what the student should do to maintain or improve their development over the next ten weeks.

We used to hold face-to-face coaching sessions, but now we use Webex Teams. Students can take part in these meetings from the comfort of their homes, and we can record everything for viewing at a later date.

We also live stream all our classes. If a student is taking a sick day, stuck on a train, or completing an internship in another city, they can still follow along in real time, instead of having to borrow lecture notes from their friends.

Thanks to Cisco Webex, student satisfaction levels have risen from 70% to 90%. Test scores have dramatically improved because pupils are retaining more information, and everyone is sharing more documents and instructional material because we are no longer constrained by the 10MB email attachment limit.

Cisco’s Technology Prepares Students for the Real World

Employers love it when young hires come equipped with real-world skills and are familiar with workplace technology. When I teach my students about cybersecurity, I don't just show them some PowerPoint slides or read to them from a textbook. We simulate an attack on a network using Cisco Packet Tracer. Then the students build the network with real equipment. We start transmitting suspicious packets, and we monitor CPU and traffic loads to see how the infrastructure and the servers react. The hardware is mostly donated from companies, where IT students have their internship for 100 days.

I also teach students how to hack a system because knowing how to compromise a network enables them to test it for potential vulnerabilities and to prevent incursions. Using Cisco Webex Meetings further prepares our students for the collaborative environments they will encounter in their future work.

Email and face-to-face meetings are becoming relics in today's fast-paced business environments. Today's professionals are connecting through video conferencing and virtual workspaces that allow them to collaborate on projects and share files in real time regardless of distance. As collaborative tools grow in sophistication, remote work and telecommuting are becoming increasingly practical and common.

My students already use Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Discord to communicate. It is how they socialize. With Cisco Webex, I’m teaching them how to use similar digital tools in an educational and professional capacity.

Create Compelling Instructional Content

Cisco Webex is not a magic bullet. It's not a set-it-and-forget-it solution. Whether you're live streaming or making a recording, you have to plan the way you present yourself and your material. After all, you’re dealing with kids, and they get bored quickly. If you only mirror your whiteboard or your computer screen, you'll lose them. The same thing will happen if you record yourself as a talking head or share a PowerPoint slide deck.

Your students consume large quantities of online video on YouTube and Netflix, and you have to compete with this increasingly sophisticated content by providing them with material that is visually appealing and emotionally stimulating. Get up. Move around. Present them with cool, informative graphics and interactive demos. Show them how to do things, and don't just tell them.

To keep students’ attention, take advantage of the digital tools in your classroom. Show, don’t tell.

Take the time to work out a winning strategy. You have nothing to lose. Webex Meetings is extremely affordable and specially priced for education, which makes it attractive to both students and teachers. 

Eliminate Time and Distance to Build Dynamic Classrooms

Technology is transforming education by eliminating two of the biggest barriers to learning: time and distance. Students and teachers no longer have to be in the same room for learning to take place. Kids can rewind their video lectures instead of relying on their notes and memory when they're trying to grasp the concepts they are taught. They can even message their instructors when they need clarification.

Teachers can meet with students and parents at everyone's convenience. Mom and dad no longer have to rush to a classroom right after work to discuss a child's progress. We can also coach kids remotely so they can pursue their learning from home or focus on their internships without having to make a special trip back to the school.

Cisco has given ROC ter AA the cutting-edge tools we need to better educate tomorrow's cybersecurity professionals. I am proud to be contributing to the future of IT.