Customer name: Luiss University
Location: Rome, Italy
Number of employees: 2,069
Number of students: 10,000
● Switch from physical classrooms to online learning, overnight
● Establish a secure, reliable, and user-friendly digital platform for 10,000 students and 500 lecturers
● Expanded the use of Cisco Webex to provide robust video and communications
● Integrated additional third-party application to enable online examinations
● Digital teaching platform established online in less than 24 hours
● Delivered 17,000 hours of online classes, involving 500 lecturers and 10,000 students in first four months
● Hosted an online graduation ceremony for 750 students
● Enabled Luiss University to securely administer 2,100 online exams
Few university experiences can compare to the Luiss University experience. A national leader in the teaching of law, economics, political science and business, with links to international universities and Italy’s biggest companies, Luiss University students are well poised to become future leaders.
They also get to study in the heart of Rome, the Eternal City.
“It’s a unique blend of beauty, culture, research and learning,” says Andrea Prencipe, Rector Magnificus, Luiss University. “We’re in a privileged position.” The physical aspect is a big part of the university experience. But it cannot be the entire experience— especially when COVID-19 emerged in early 2020.
“Italy has been one of the worst affected countries in Europe. We were in lockdown for four months. At Luiss University we had to decide very quickly to go from an entirely presence-based learning environment to 100% online,” says Prencipe. “It was unacceptable that we stop teaching.” Prencipe is not being euphemistic with “very quickly.”
The university decided on the afternoon of March 4, 2020 that it would need to go online, with lessons starting at 8:30 the next morning.
“No pre-recorded lectures, all live,” says Prencipe. “It was vital that we maintained the engagement between students and lecturers.”
The engagement between Luiss University and Cisco goes back to 2005 with the university’s installation of Cisco Wireless Networking. The university adopted Cisco Webex in 2017. It was clear, says Prencipe, that Webex would hold the key to getting up and running quickly. “We know Webex to be reliable, secure and user-friendly. Security is fundamental.”
Cisco Webex delivers video conferencing and communications for the entire university community. Teachers can create calendar invites for classes. The platform is secure, flexible, and accessible from a range of devices.
Crucially, it enables Luiss University to scale-up and scale-out. The university could increase the number of attendees and the number of simultaneous sessions.
“With online learning it’s important to have a digital platform that enables interaction, whether that’s student to teacher or student to student,” says Prencipe. “Webex allows that.”
To switch to online learning, Webex Conferencing was delivered in two different ways: Webex Training for written exams and Webex Teams for oral exams. In addition, the Webex platform integrates with Luiss University’s use of the open source Moodle Learning Management System. This allows teachers to organize students into project groups in seconds, students can work together on any device, both teachers and students can chat, meet, whiteboard, and share files securely.
The Luiss University IT team was on hand to coach less experienced staff. “We recognized some staff would be more comfortable with this shift than others. We had support available for those who needed it, but the beauty of Webex is that it is intuitive,” Prencipe explains.
By 8:30 the next morning, classes were ready to start online. Within a week every single professor, even those who had never used Webex previously, were running their courses online.
By early July, the university estimates that it delivered 17,000 hours of online classes, with 500 lecturers and 10,000 students. Staff and faculty arranged a graduation ceremony for 750 students, all online, and all via Webex. In total, 75 million connectivity instances have been made.
“The user-friendliness of the Webex platform, for both students and teachers, played a huge part in this success,” says Prencipe. “We’ve been able to maintain that live interaction.”
He says the existing engagement with Cisco meant Luiss University was faster than other universities to pivot to online learning, and more certain of its online delivery platform.
The response from faculty and students has been excellent. He says online learning has created a different experience to in-classroom participation. Lectures may now include a Q&A via chat, polls or audio/visual elements.
“There are new forms of engagement. Some students may be comfortable raising a question on the call; for introverts, chat or email have proved an ideal way of quietly querying something. It’s shown there are different ways to communicate.”
Luiss University is going beyond online teaching. Working with Cisco and Keyless, an application created by a former student, the university is conducting online exams. Almost 10,000 students will securely sit for 2,100 exams.
There will be a mix of oral and written exams, created by course professors, and hosted on the Webex platform.
“One of the advantages of Webex is its open architecture,” says Prencipe. “It allows us to plug-and-play third-party applications.”
Online learning has proven successful for teachers, for the organization, and for the reputation of the university. Perhaps the best feedback has come from students. Prencipe says he has been inundated with emails from students praising the university’s response, and there are countless positive stories on Instagram. It was especially meaningful that families were able to access graduates’ dissertations online.
Continuity through tough times, particularly for young students on the cusp of a career, should not be underestimated. Luiss University has demonstrated that it can continue to deliver a valuable learning experience, even in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic.
“Luiss University never stops,” says Prencipe.
It is difficult to accurately predict the future, or meaningful timeframes. Prencipe does say it is unlikely that online teaching will disappear once COVID-19 clears:
“We have to accept that students are digital natives. They are comfortable online, and they expect certain functions to be available online. Our challenge is to ensure that we have the tools to blend physical and digital, and to make our teaching more effective.”
He continues, “Digital technology is not a substitute for traditional approaches, but the best can augment teaching. It is important we move forward with the right partner. We have that partner in Cisco.”
Cisco Webex Conferencing platform:
● Webex Meetings
● Webex Teams
● Webex Boards
● Webex Training
Cisco Wireless Networking
Please visit cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/industries