Cisco’s conferencing and collaboration equipment will serve as a platform for a program that connects Canadian students with science and tech experts

Cisco, Sheridan College partner in STEM project

Toronto’s Sheridan College is providing data centre space and other IT resources to support Cisco Systems Inc. enterprise collaboration technologies being used by a charitable organization to foster science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning among students across the country.

The partnership aims to boost the initiatives of the Virtual Research on Call Program (VROC) of the non-profit group Partners in Research, an organization founded in 1988 which supports STEM education by connecting science, technology and engineering experts with Canadian grade 5 – 12 students in their classrooms. Since 2005, PIR has been doing this with the use of Internet-based video conferencing.
Attracting interest among students in the so-called STEM areas is a problem in many Canadian schools that eventually becomes apparent in universities and colleges and the job market. For instance Canada’s IT talent gap has been traced to its aging population, offshoring lack of women and skilled immigrants entering the IT field but also the technology bust in the early 2000s which cut the number of students taken IT courses.

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Under the agreement, announced yesterday at the Cisco Connect 2013 conference in Toronto, the networking company will provide more than $1 million worth of collaboration equipment to enable the project, particularly the Cisco Show and Share Webcasting and video sharing solution.

Cisco has also installed its Cisco Telepresence Content Server (TCS) Cisco Media experience Engine and Multiport Conference Unit at Sheridan’s Trafalgar Campus in Oakville, Ont. to act as a platform for the VROC program.

Involvement in the program is part of Cisco Canada’s program that includes enhancing technology research and development and education in the country, according to Nitin Kawale, president of Cisco Canada.

He said, the company has earmarked $45 million for R&D projects in Ontario over the next five years.

The infusion of new collaboration technologies was welcomed by PIR.

“By partnering with Cisco and Sheridan, we are better able to deliver innovative hybrid-class experiences to students and continue to transform and enhance Canadian education,” said Kevin Cougler, executive director of PIR. “We hope to extend the reach of VROC experts to more remote locations across Canada.”

He said the organization is planning to make the program available to Nunavut this year.

Under the VROC program grade 5 – 12 teachers are able to augment their classroom curriculum by going through to online roster or VROC subject experts and requesting an online conference with them either for seeking advice on class projects of for setting up an video conference with the whole class.

“The program really sparked a new interest among our students,” said Brandon Zoras, a Toronto-based science teacher. “VROC experts have become sort of a mentor for many of my students who now want to pursue science courses in university.”

The partnership with Cisco also allows Sheridan faculty members to improve their skills, according to Jeff Zabudsky, president of the College.

“With the program, Sheridan gets to use Cisco’s collaboration equipment for unified communication and conferencing purposes in campus,” he said. “The exposure and experience with the equipment will also enhance the skills of our IT staff.”

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