Duke MBA program networks over Cisco's Quad

The unified platform helps working students around the world collaborate

Diversity is key in Duke University's MBA-Cross-Continent program, which brings together students from around the world and sends them to several continents to learn. But when it comes to tools for linking the students and faculty in that program, a unified platform from Cisco Systems has brought several advantages.

Students in the 16-month Master's of Business Administration program travel together to six places around the world, where they study business issues in the context of the local environment for 10 days. But when they're not traveling together, the students usually participate in the program virtually, because it's designed for working mid-career executives. In the current session, there are 155 students from 29 countries.

Duke needed students to work together remotely on projects, and it wanted them to experience the latest collaboration technologies, as training for modern-day management.

"In a way, the medium is the message," said Tony O'Driscoll, [cq] a professor at Duke's Fuqua School of Business, which runs the program.

However, the school originally ran the Cross-Continent program on a homegrown learning management platform and let the students find their own collaboration tools. They kept in touch via Facebook and conducted meetings via other tools, such as conference-calling systems and Skype. But there were no real links among those tools, and different passwords for each, O'Driscoll said.

So Fuqua became an early adopter of Cisco's Quad platform, a unified collaboration system that incorporates presence information, personal profiles, communities of interest, personal content publishing and communication methods including text and voice. It began using the system as the current Cross-Continent program kicked off in Shanghai in August. Quad has been commercially available only since July, according to Leon Baranovsky, [cq] group director in Cisco's Enterprise Collaboration Platform business unit. There are about 20 organizations using Quad today, he said.

Now, students have their formal interaction with the program, such as getting assignments, on the same platform they use for informal interaction, O'Driscoll said. He compared it to a "teamroom," the physical space where business students meet for projects at Duke.

"I kind of think about quad as being the virtual teamroom that persists across time and space," O'Driscoll said.

Students can now also share videos they create for projects, using Show and Share, a Cisco application that they have integrated with Quad so students can post and view videos from within their Quad home screens. For example, for one assignment, students use Cisco Flip Video cameras to interview people in the city where they are studying, and then edit the clips into a short video that is shared with other teams of students, O'Driscoll said.

For videoconferencing between PCs, the students use Cisco Unified Personal Communicator software, also integrated with Quad. Cisco's WebEx voice and video conference service can also be integrated with Quad. Some of the program's videoconferences take place through Cisco TelePresence, which is not integrated with Quad.

A key advantage of Quad is that it works with Shibboleth, the open-source federated identity management software used at Duke and other educational institutions. This provides a unified security mechanism for all the activities that take place in Quad, O'Driscoll said.

The rollout has gone fairly well, O'Driscoll said. Duke considers the deployment for the Cross-Continent program as a pilot for how Quad could work elsewhere in the university. Over time, some legacy components of Duke's back-end systems might be integrated with Quad, while others, such as the grading system, might not, based partly on the level of difficulty.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com