Enhancing the Learning Experience with Cisco Spark in Education

Education at its core is about communication. How can a teacher transmit knowledge to learning students in the most direct, clear, and efficient way possible? How can educators ensure that their lessons are heard, learned, and retained by the student population? As in an office environment, teachers often act as project managers for each individual student and coordinate their homework, activities, and reports.

Though traditionally thought of in a business context, Cisco Spark, a leader in collaboration technology, addresses both of these aspects of the classroom. Spark can bring together student and teacher, connect them with clear communication, and enhance the learning process.


What is Cisco Spark?

Before we discuss how Spark can benefit a school, we must first outline the varied tools and capabilities of Cisco Spark. Spark is not just a collaboration tool. It is every collaboration tool in one comprehensive platform. To start, Cisco Spark includes the following capabilities:


Spark Team Spaces

In Spark, users can be assigned to Spark Teams, which group individuals in your classroom. From there, you can organize your interface to display your main Spark Team Space and any branching sub-spaces that the team needs. Any member can access any Spark Space with which they are associated.

This Spark Space system allows you to organize your conversations around the people and topics most valuable to your role, thereby eliminating confusion and creating greater efficiency.  Every Spark Space is persistent and stored in the cloud. Every message sent and file uploaded to a Spark Space is saved indefinitely. Students involved in these spaces will have a permanent reference document for their coursework and classroom conversation.


Spark File Sharing

With Spark, users can share files of all kinds through the Spark Space system. Simply drag and drop your file into the space, and it will be posted and saved in the persistent space indefinitely. Users can then preview and download the file from the Space at any time and onto any device.


BYOD and Spark

Spark can be used on any PC, laptop, tablet, or smartphone through a user-friendly and intuitive application. This helps schools leverage a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy in their organization. This is particularly useful for schools who may not have the resources to provide tablets or laptops to every student in their district.


Spark Video Calls and Video Meetings

Spark allows you to host video conferencing meetings from wherever you are, be it on a PC, Mac, mobile device, or other Spark-enabled device. With a clear picture and clear sound, you can instantly connect with anyone and address an issue on the spot or plan your next steps.


Spark as a Standalone Cloud or Hybrid PBX System

Cisco Spark can also double as a complete cloud hosted voice system. By using the Spark Phone OS on select Cisco phones, users can make calls and join meetings through Spark. Alternatively, the Spark app itself can function as a soft phone. Using Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM), you can connect Spark with existing Cisco telephony.


End-to-End Content Encryption

Cisco Spark provides thorough protection of user data through end-to-end content encryption. Data is encrypted during transit from user to user or from the cloud to the user, and not even Cisco can access your content without your consent.

Cisco Spark serves as a central hub for all communication within a school, a business, or other organization. Users can connect with anyone in their organization without the normal inefficiencies of email and voicemail.



Cisco Spark in Education

Cisco Spark offers an opportunity to create a new dynamic classroom free from physical limitations and outdated teaching strategies. When directly applied to the classroom setting, Spark offers the following benefits:

  • Project-based Learning: By using the Spark Team and Space system, students will be organized into groups most relevant to their particular education. They can ask questions, receive answers, reference previous conversations, and stay current on the activities of the classroom.

  • Physical and Virtual Classrooms: Spark allows teachers to host video meetings with ease. Students can now attend their most important lectures remotely from wherever they are. Furthermore, the Spark Space itself can serve as a virtual classroom with teacher and student participation through chat.
  • Cloud Connectivity: Spark is entirely supported in the cloud. Students and faculty alike can access their Spark application at any time, from any location, and on any Spark-enabled device. This ensures that students always have access to the course materials, so during class they can focus more on the lecture and less on taking notes.


Cisco Spark Spaces at Every Level

The Spark Space is an organizational tool that works at every level within the school. Whether at the micro, macro, or administrative level, the Spark Space is a boon for the entire organization. Here are some use cases for Spark’s application in education.

  • Space for Each Class: Every teacher in the school can create a specific Spark Space for the classes they teach throughout the day. Each class will have its own Spark Space using the class period, teacher name, and subject to help distinguish the Space. For example, one Space might be named, “Johnson – Spanish – 1st Period.” In this Space, Ms. Johnson can post assignments, publically answer direct student questions, share files relevant to today’s lecture and more. When replicated for each period throughout the day, students and teachers will find their education far more organized and accessible.
  • Smaller Groups: The Space will also function on a smaller level. Within a single class, there might be group projects. Simply create a Space for each project group. There they can coordinate their efforts, submit their respective portion of the group project, and complete their assignment. This strategy can even help a teacher assess whether each student contributed equally to the project.
  • Larger Groups: Spark Spaces will even be useful at the macro level. Create a Spark Space for the entire school. Using administrator and moderator tools, you can include the entire student body in a single Spark space while also keeping the conversation on task. Use this Space for announcements from the administration, notifications of snow days, and other large scale communications.
  • For Faculty: Faculty can organize their spaces for administrative communications and by department. If teachers are collaborating together to co-teach a unit, the Spark Space serves as an excellent channel to share lesson plans and bounce ideas around.
  • For Administration: At the highest levels of the institution, the administration can use Spark to communication about the direction of the district, discuss important disciplinary matters with deans, and provide support for faculty. The Spark Space can help the administration become more accessible to their faculty, their students, and their support staff on every level.
  • Student Teachers: Student teachers can form spaces together to share advice and support during their time at the school. Advising teachers can also offer guidance in these spaces, answer questions and help the student teachers develop their craft.
  • Replace Email: One of the biggest uses for Cisco Spark is to reduce the amount of email teachers receive on a daily basis. Instead of communicating through long, confusing email threads, faculty can access a Spark Space, use advanced search functions and @mention tools to find the passage or file they need in a moment’s time. This will help teachers spend more time during their planning periods and after hours working to directly benefit their students rather than working through a mountain of unread emails.


What is the Cisco Spark Board?

Cisco Spark is an application, but bringing it to the classroom is best achieved when a Spark Board is included. The Cisco Spark Board includes all of the capabilities of Cisco Spark in one designated device. It is best thought of as the physical embodiment of the Spark application.

Coming in either 55 inch or 70inch models, the Cisco Spark Board resembles a large tablet or flat-screen television. It can be mounted on the wall and features a camera, microphone, and touch screen interface.

In a school context, this board could be used to completely replace the traditional chalk or white board at the front of the classroom. Doing so will equip your teachers with a powerful all-in-one collaboration tool. It provides your organization with everything you need to wirelessly present, whiteboard, and hold video and audio calls. The Spark Board combines multiple devices and whiteboards into a single, consolidated tool.



Cisco Spark Board in Education

  • Digital White Board: The Spark Board is a full-fuctioning digital white board. It includes all the colors one might expect to find at a traditional white board, and teachers can draw on the board using the touch screen interface. The best part of the white boarding feature is that each white board drawing is automatically saved in the Spark Space. Students can recall and download previous drawings, and teachers can pick up right where they left off in last class.

  • Teleconferencing Screen: The Spark Board also functions as a teleconferencing device. Teachers can arrange guest speakers for their classroom and connect them to their students without the need to arrive in person. The lecture is simply hosted as a video meeting. The lecturer can give their presentation, see the classroom from their screen, and interact with the students as normal.
  • Presentations: Instead of using an expensive projector to display a Power Point Presentation, teachers can simply display their slide decks through the Spark Board, and because the Power Point can be uploaded to a Spark Space, students can follow along from their own devices. Alternatively, they can download the presentation to study and reference later before a test.
  • White Boards and Math: The white boarding tool is ideal for math and science courses that require calculations. Students can use the white boarding tool to complete their equations and submit their work mid lecture. A teacher can then take a student’s white board, display it for everyone in front of the classroom and point out exactly where a student went wrong in their calculations. This can all be completed with just a few clicks in real-time.


Education in the Internet Age

Technology is revolutionizing the classroom, and Cisco Spark is a perfect touch-point for that transformation. It takes the traditional procedures of giving lectures, doing group work, taking notes and more and makes them more efficient. Students can connect to their teachers and fellow students faster and with greater clarity, and the uses teachers will find for Spark in their classrooms will be near endless. Improve communications among departments, explore new teaching methods, and enhance the learning experience of your students with Cisco Spark.

Contact Mindsight today to learn more about how Cisco Spark can benefit your students, your classroom, and your district as a whole.


For Further Reading:

Email Is Dead. Long Live Cisco Spark

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