Originally created 09/14/96

Clemson shifts into high gear on information superhighway



COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Plug in, turn on and go to class.

A few years ago, that might have meant watching a televised college lecture. For some Clemson University students this fall it means firing up their personal computers and visiting the academic equivalent of an Internet chat room.

And why stop there? With the PC fast becoming a part of a college student's life, Clemson is starting to accept some applications electronically over the Internet.

The graduate-level course's name - Agricultural Sustainability: Environmental Factors - hardly hints at the technology shift it is bringing to the campus or the distant promise of doing away with some of those hours spent in crowded lecture halls.

The 15 students receive and send assignments through electronic mail. They get together online simultaneously once every week or two to discuss the material, said Barbara Speziale, associate professor of curriculum and instruction. It's called "real-time chatting."

"So far, we're having a lot of good response," she said this week. "We didn't have too many bugs."

Speziale said the computer classes are a good way to reach a larger population.

"I think this is a test situation to find out how useful and how desired these Internet classes are," she said, noting that she was not sure if or when more classes would be offered.

Clemson officials were adamant that students taking the course not only have a personal computer but also be very familiar with Internet access and lingo.

"We might have scared more people away," Speziale said. All 15 have more than enough computer knowledge to get through and next time the rules may be relaxed a bit, she said.

Clemson also is accepting electronic applications for graduate programs.

"We started thinking about this a couple of years ago," said Farrell Brown, the graduate school's associate dean.

"We asked why the students couldn't give us that information via a laptop computer instead of a piece of paper. The next step then was to have the entire information card appear on a screen," he said.

The system has generated about 3,000 inquiries since April; about 15 percent of the graduate school applications have arrived online.

Clemson is looking at an eventual paperless system where letters of recommendation and transcripts come in electronically and the application fee is paid by a credit card or debit card. Students could use a secret code to make the process more secure.

"The beauty of this system is that we don't have to wait," Brown said.

"Barring an overload on the Internet, we get their application immediately, and we can respond much quicker than we could when we processed paper applications manually," he said.

Plus, it saves money in reduced processing time, Brown added.