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Clemson finds new ways to collaborate with Acrobat Connect

Emergency preparations, student-faculty consultations and managing major system rollouts are new uses for online meetings

Clemson University, located in the Upstate of South Carolina, has always been quick to use technology tools to advance the accessibility of higher education.

With 55 sites around the world, 17,000 students and 5,000 faculty and staff, distance learning, training, support and the accessibility to other suites of e-education tools is critical.

Adobe Connect is a key tool in that effort, said Deb Charles, manager of instructional services for the university's computing and information technology department.

The instructional services team uses Adobe Connect to teach the online course on how to develop an online course. The idea is that "faculty who are going to be teaching online experience exactly what it is like to be learning online," Charles said.

The university has been using Connect for online learning for several years and there are several graduate programs that are completely taught online.


"Online enrollment has increased significantly since 2001," said Charles. "A big part of that is cost; where students don't have to move to campus, they can keep a job, keep an apartment, but still go to Clemson. There's probably not a department on campus that doesn't have at least one class online."

But Adobe Connect at Clemson has gone far beyond distance learning and tech support. Every faculty member has access to set up and conduct meetings, and Charles estimates the university in the 2009-2010 academic year exceeded the quarter million Connect accesses it logged the previous year.

With so many users, ideas bubble up from the end-user level on new ways to use the service.

Last spring when H1N1 fears ran high across the country, many departments raised the possibility of using Adobe Connect as a way to continue classes if the university had to be closed or quarantined. "We started talking about it and training on it, so people would know what to expect, and the first time they used it wouldn't be under extreme conditions," Charles recalled. "Thankfully," she said, "we never had to implement it." But now the university has some procedures set up to continue classes via Connect in an emergency situation.

A significant number of the university's faculty is adjunct professors who are only on campus when they are teaching. Yet, many - like Charles, who teaches health communication - have started to use Connect to maintain office hours. "The tools make it easier to communicate," said Charles, who said many students might not bother to ask a question if it was too time consuming to get to campus, wait in line or schedule an appointment.

Their time together can also be more productive. "We can look at their papers together and they can share their screen with me," Charles said.

Faculty who are going to be teaching online experience exactly what it is like to be learning online.

The efficiencies and collaborative benefits of Connect were brought home to Charles in a very real way this summer when the university implemented a major upgrade to its Blackboard education management system.

"Adobe Connect was a huge part of the implementation," said Charles. In planning for nearly a year, the university conducted a number of dress rehearsals with staff in different locations on and off campus. Over three days in June, the team transitioned to the new version with nary a blip evident to the 20,000+ users. "

Connect gave us the ability to do testing, issue tracking and communicating between the team very quickly and efficiently," she said.

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