On Monday, Feb. 25, the Wharton School and Cisco revealed to the world the future of distance learning for business education: classrooms powered by Cisco TelePresence.
“We have now the first instance of fully teleconnected classrooms,” said Wharton Vice Dean of Innovation Karl Ulrich.
Ulrich then “turned on” the classroom for all to see, virtually connecting F90 in Philadelphia’s Huntsman Hall with room 612 at Wharton | San Francisco. To use the technology’s “throw-and-catch” parlance, Cisco TelePresence “threw” Ulrich and the rest of us in the classroom across the U.S., and colleagues, students and press “caught” us 3,000 miles away. Likewise, we were able to see everyone in attendance on the West Coast on large projection screens in the back of our classroom.
The technical pyrotechnics exploded when the roles reversed and Philadelphia played catch. A screen nearly as wide as the lecture hall descended from the ceiling and touched the floor. Inder Sidhu, WG’91, senior vice president of strategy and planning, and worldwide operations at Cisco appeared before us as if he had walked through the wall and into the room. Thinking back to the event, it is difficult for my mind to remember whether Sidhu was actually in Philadelphia or projected there. The TelePresence audio and video are both high definition.
The experience left an imprint on the media in attendance and watching from afar. Numerous major outlets have commented on the significance of the Wharton-Cisco partnership, including:
InformationWeek: “Wharton MBA Classes Go Bi-Coastal With Video”
NewsWorks: “Wharton and Cisco Unveil New ‘Connected Classrooms’“
Enterprise Innovation: “Cisco, Wharton School Unveil ‘Classroom of the Future’”
The throw-and-catch is not just for show. Possible uses for the technology include a faculty member beaming a presentation to a remote classroom. Ulrich, who also serves as Wharton’s CIBC Endowed Professor, plans use the technology for his next Wharton | San Francisco course. Normally, Philadelphia-based teachers venture to the West Coast for biweekly classes. Ulrich plans to teach weekly, alternating a week at the Wharton | San Francisco campus with the next week in Philadelphia using the Cisco TelePresence.
More intriguing is how Cisco TelePresence can foster a “shared experience”—with students in multiple locations taking a course at the same time. The critical mass gained by pooling student bodies could lead to an increase in the number of elective courses offered to MBA for Executives students. Additionally, Wharton’s West Coast and East Coast students could enjoy unprecedented and much welcomed interaction.
“This major technological advancement will connect Wharton’s campuses and community in ways never before possible,” Dean Tom S. Robertson told attendees.
Editor’s note: Visit the Wharton Flickr feed for more photos of Cisco TelePresence.