Solving the Challenges of Hybrid Learning with a Solid Partner and an Easy-to-Manage Tool

CISCO

People who value education will likely have an opinion about the benefits of small class sizes. In small classes, students get the full benefit of the instructor’s time and more 1:1 attention. But there are downsides, too. Small class sizes can also result in administrative problems, such as efficient use of classrooms and instructor resources, which creates scheduling issues.


At Centre de formation professionnelle Berne francophone (CEFF), we have a lot of small class sizes due to the highly specialized nature of our vocational training. Our 1,800-student school emerged from several pre-existing sites across three municipalities, and it is sometimes the case that students in the same class live in multiple cities. We didn’t want to hire another instructor for just two students, so we decided we needed distance learning to accommodate, allowing us to teach from one site to another. We turned to our local technology partner, VNV, for a solution. 

A Simple, Yet Robust, Solution

Distance learners should not have an inferior experience to other students, so we required high-quality audio and video to create a clear, pleasant, almost in-person experience. We also knew the system had to be robust but also easy to use. 


VNV suggested we take a close look at Webex Suite, and it proved to be the simple solution we wanted. There are so many communication and collaboration platforms out there, and of course, we looked at other solutions. Still, no one else provided everything we needed in such a simple package with the same end-to-end encryption. We could find similar hardware to Webex on the market, but then the question became about the integration between these various elements. Staff used Microsoft Teams for example, but we were never entirely sure whether an instructor’s camera or microphone would work properly when depending of the brand. 

Solutions with multiple parts often disappoint when it comes to integrations.


In my experience, when you cobble together a solution with multiple parts, the integration between elements often disappoints. And then, when you run into a problem, every manufacturer passes the buck and refuses to take responsibility. We could waste a lot of time and energy creating a solution ourselves. By contrast, Webex offered a competitively priced, complete solution for schools that met all our criteria. In addition, we were long-time Cisco customers for our telephony and networking equipment, so we trusted the reliability and longevity of Cisco. 


VNV helped with deployment by first touring the space, classroom by classroom, to discuss the best installation of Webex Cameras, Webex Room Kits, and other devices. We handled the installation, but VNV gave us a script to automatically configure and test everything. VNV’s help continues after the deployment, so we know we can go to them with any general questions, and specific troubleshooting we can take to Cisco.

Filling Two Needs with One Deed

Our initial implementation solved our initial problem: one teacher could now teach students in multiple locations. It was perfect for students, but at the time, it was only in use for specific classrooms. We were not ready when the pandemic arrived because we hadn’t yet rolled it out. The teachers used Microsoft Teams in order to have a quick solution for everyone and to allow the students to follow the lessons at home.


We took the pandemic as motivation to expand our use. We started out by installing two rooms for distance learning with Room Kit Pro. We then converted the conference rooms at our four sites with Room Kit. Each conference room has the same configuration: a TV with the RoomKit installed on top or underneath, the touch 10 screen on the conference table. We have gained about 20 users, who have quickly become accustomed to the platform. 


Staff also started using Webex devices for conference calls. We previously used Skype for conference calls, but we frequently encountered problems, such as an improperly installed driver or an undetected camera. Since installing Webex devices in our conference rooms, conference calling is much simpler and more seamless.

Virtual Events and Beyond

When social distancing and capacity limits came into effect in Switzerland during the pandemic, we limited the number of participants allowed in a room. 


In that environement, we began to use Webex Events to host events for our 200+ staff members that we couldn’t hold on campus. The first virtual event was a bit stressful because it was entirely new to us, but we needn’t have worried. The learning curve for the distance learning rooms was quick, and the simplicity of the product helped. Everything went very well, and there were no audio or disconnection problems. 


Having Webex during the pandemic was a help for us, and in the future, we expect to use Webex even more as we deploy Webex Share. This device allows teachers to easily share their screen across multiple devices, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, or PC, without having to worry about configuring the different devices or connecting cables. 


Share is a big part of how we envision the future of post-pandemic teaching, which is hybrid learning. Eventually, we will equip all our approximately 100 classrooms with Share. It is a robust solution that also allows students to easily stream content with a computer, smartphone or tablet, in the training room, or even stream from home.

With the Right Partner, Tackling Problems Is a Breeze

We began working with VNV in 2017. We were searching for a partner on a Lenovo project, and Lenovo Switzerland put us in touch with them. We have been disappointed by certain IT suppliers in the past, so we initially felt that choosing VNV was a gamble. Anyone can sell equipment, but VNV has such expertise that they are an essential asset to the region. They have lived up to their promises during the entire time we’ve worked with them. Their support is extensive, and their reliability, availability, and simplified communication make them a solid partner. The added value of VNV is that they are local, meaning they not only respond quickly and earnestly to our service requests, but they can also be on-site if necessary. 


Before launching Webex, we worked with VNV on another big project: implementing Cisco Meraki to ease the management burden in one of our campus buildings. Again, we looked at other solutions, but they required more traditional manual configuration, which introduces the possibility of errors. My IT team has only five people, and that building alone had over 350 devices, including computers, switches, printers, among others. We wanted to get away from manual configurations altogether. 


With Meraki, we can configure and manage everything from a single dashboard and see analytics, too. Plus, it updates automatically, so we always know we’re using the latest version. 

Big solutions can be intimidating, but there’s no need to be afraid with the right partner.


It is essential to have a local partner who is familiar with Cisco solutions and from whom we can seek advice. Our next major project with VNV is to renew our core switches and access points to complete all seven of our buildings. With each of these deployments, we have gained efficiency and time for our IT team. 


Big solutions can be intimidating, but there’s no need to be afraid. Webex and Meraki are robust, secure solutions that have solved our problems to date and helped our students focus on their lessons, wherever they attend.