ITS to Roll Out Webex to Iowa State University Community

When classes pick up again for the fall 2019 semester, Iowa State University faculty, staff, and students will have access to a new online meeting and video conferencing platform.

Over the years, the university has amassed multiple online meeting and video conferencing platforms available at varying levels of access across campus, including Adobe Connect, Skype for Business, and Zoom. But beginning in the 2019-2020 academic year, Information Technology Services (ITS) will begin offering university-wide access to Cisco Webex, the newest supported platform for video conferencing, private and large group meetings, and collaboration between university leaders, students, and staff.

The new resource comes at no additional cost due to a licensing agreement between Iowa State University and Webex’s parent company Cisco Systems, which is also responsible for providing campus phone services. For the 2018-2019 academic year, Zoom cost $47,279 for 1,500 university users.

“Having Webex included as part of our Cisco Enterprise License allows ITS to provide a robust online meeting and video conferencing platform without having to invest new funds,” said ITS Director of Enterprise Services and Customer Success Mike Lohrbach. “While other services have been valuable tools, we have an opportunity for campus to capitalize on savings through standardizing a common solution.” 

Webex services have been in use at the departmental level for several years, and have provided messaging capabilities, phone conferencing, screen sharing, and video sharing. Once fully rolled out to campus this fall, Iowa State’s implementation of Webex will offer unlimited cloud storage, an increased number of allowed users per meeting, and the ability to save meeting sessions and conduct surveys during sessions. 

With Zoom, a user with a “pro” license could host meetings with up to 100 participants for an unlimited amount of time, and student users were limited to a maximum of 40 minutes of use per meeting. Webex will allow meetings to hold up to 1,000 participants and will not have any time restrictions. Iowa State’s implementation of Webex will also include unlimited cloud storage for meeting recordings, and will soon include the ability to have meetings transcribed.

ITS is currently developing an integration between Webex and Canvas, Iowa State’s online learning system, which will add support for virtual office hours, recording lectures, and student collaboration. 

“We have been using Webex for five years and would recommend it to anyone,” said Matt Carver, manager of credit course delivery in the College of Engineering. “Webex allows online students to interact with the on-campus sections of their courses, share content, and give their presentations, helping them to feel more part of the classroom experience.”

Before university-wide access was selected as the path forward, Webex was pilot tested for two months by 30 staff and faculty members across campus to ensure it was user friendly and technically sound. 

Webex use will be highly encouraged following its roll out this fall, however, no decisions have been made to immediately discontinue the use of Zoom. Access to Zoom will still be offered on campus at least until the end of the resource’s current contract, which expires in March 2020. ITS will ensure all web conferencing needs are met with the new platform before the topic of removing Zoom is addressed.

“We’d like to encourage people to use Webex, but we are being sensitive to ensure it meets the needs of those who have been using Zoom for a long time,” Lohrbach said.