Cisco expert appraised the advantages and disadvantages of online conferences

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On Wednesday, April 15, the Russian stage of the International Forum-Contest of Young Researchers “Topical Issues of Rational Use of Natural Resources” will take start. For the first time in sixteen years, due to the spread of the coronavirus, its delegates are not coming to St. Petersburg but will remotely report on their scientific research. The Webex platform, which allows holding online conferences with up to three thousand participants, was provided by Cisco, one of the global leaders in the development of network telecommunication systems. Dmitry Razumovsky, Head of Cisco Corporate Social Responsibility Programs in Russia and the CIS, told Forpost about the factors that affect the quality of conferences in virtual space.

- Did Mining University request Webex to host a conference under the pandemic circumstances? Or did you transfer it to the university in a scheduled manner and it just turned to be of high relevance now?

- We granted Mining University a no-cost access to Webex back in June 2017. Since that time, this tool has been in active use in the educational process; however, until recently, the university could conduct only one webinar at a time. Considering current events, Cisco decided to expand the accessibility of Mining University to Webex till the end of June 2020. Nowadays, our partner can conduct up to a thousand webinars in parallel.

- Why did you choose this particular university? And have you provided this platform to other educational institutions in Russia?

- At present, our company helps many educational institutions, but Mining University is a special partner for us. Back in 2012, a Cisco Academy was launched at this university; for several years in a row, it has been the best in Russia in terms of the quality of training at the entry-level and basic courses, as well as by the number of students who have attended the training. This was one of the reasons why we were among the first to offer Mining University to expand access to Webex up to one thousand accounts, so that any university employee could conduct classes or work meetings online if necessary.

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Nevertheless, according to our global initiative, we provide free three-month access to any university that makes a request. Information about this is available in open sources.

- The Cisco Academy of Mining University holds advanced training courses for third-party users or for student training?

- All hardware and software that we have delivered is used both to enhance the competencies of existing employees of Mining University and its partners, and in the normal educational process. For example, students of the Department of Information Systems and Computer Engineering by the end of 4th year receive the complete set of knowledge and skills required to pass the exam for Cisco industrial certificate. This document is recognized by employers around the world and gives a good competitive advantage on the labor market. Annually, from 10 to 20 university graduates receive such certificates.

If we are speaking about the basic level of training, at present, as far as I know, all first-grade students of Mining University, which is about 1800 people, must learn the latest trends in information technology through the courses of the Network Academy named "Introduction to the Internet of Things" and "Introduction to Cyber Security”.

The Cisco platform also helps those who are nowadays engaged remotely. Students of the Department of Computer Science and Computer-Aided Technology, as well as of the Department of Information Systems and Computer Engineering use our platform in the learning process; it hosts electronic textbooks, virtual laboratory classes and a testing system. This is a very convenient and efficient study tool that cannot be overextimated in the current situation.

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- You are now speaking about IT professionals. But cannot you use this service to organize the educational process in all areas of training?

- You certainly can. As a remote collaboration system, Webex is quite easy to learn. But one has to learn how to use it effectively in the educational process. That is why now, during the preparation for the International Forum-Contest of Young Scientists, moderators of all its 17 breakout sessions are undergoing special training. They learn to connect delegates and experts; how to provide communication among all participants of the online forum, so that it goes without a hitch.

- How many universities have submitted applications? What cities are they from? And will the organizers succeed in ensuring the quality of the event?

- As far as I know, it was about several tens of national universities. Concerning the quality, geography does not matter in the use of Webex. What does matter, it is the quality of your Internet connection to provide HD audio and video signal. Of course, we cannot be responsible for each channel; that is especially true under the current conditions, when both speakers and experts will be getting in touch from home, not from universities. If everyone within their sections has a stable Internet connection, then the competition will be a success.

- How many people will simultaneously connect to a Webex session?

- According to information from the Cisco Academy of Mining University, 17 parallel sessions are scheduled with up to 100 participants each.

- It is clear that the cultural program has been canceled this year. And what about other activities, i.e., master classes, business cases, etc.?

- No doubt, Webex cannot completely replace live communication and a cultural program. However, it is quite suitable for master classes, trainings and similar activities. After all, it was created to work in such formats.

- Live communication is really hard to replace even with the state-of-the-art technology. What, in your opinion, are the main advantages of online conferences? Reduction of the organizational costs, time saving, what else can you name?

- Systems for organizing web-conferences have been developed since the early 2000s, and they have always aimed at reducing the cost of meetings and conferences. Indeed, why would you fly for several hours in an airplane, stay in a hotel, if you just need to participate in an hour-long meeting? It’s easier and cheaper to chat online. Using its own products for remote communication, Cisco annually saves hundreds of millions of dollars on internal business trips of employees.

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A lot of systems have been developed to do this, but, according to independent experts, so far, Webex is the best in the world. No wonder that the recent virtual G20 summit was held using Cisco technologies. By the way, unlike a number of similar popular systems, Webex provides reliable protection of all transmitted information.

It should be noted that the organizers of the International Forum-Contest of Young Researchers “Topical Issues of Rational Use of Natural Resources” are the International Competence Centre for Mining Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCO and St. Petersburg Mining University.