Founded in Gainesville in 1965 with the goal of providing the people of Florida with high-quality two- and four-year degree plans, Santa Fe College has grown over the past 50 years to become not just one of the premier public colleges in the state, but in the nation as well. The college’s seven Florida campuses serve some 24,000 students from around the world, providing them with both physical and online courses in more than 50 accredited programs. One of Santa Fe College’s hallmarks has been a dedication to making education convenient for its students, which is why it ranks first among public colleges in graduation rate and is in the top ten nationally for the number of associate degrees awarded in the liberal arts.
But it was exactly this academic scope that contributed to a serious logistics challenge. Providing instructors and professors for classes across seven Central Florida campuses proved to be a problem with no easy solution. Should the administration elect to hire more teachers to work each campus? No, that would be both prohibitively expensive and impractical. Should it require current professors to travel between the campuses, teaching one class in the Archer area and then commuting an hour northeast to teach another class in Starke? No, that would put a serious strain on the staff, and potentially discourage qualified candidates from taking positions in the faculty in the future.
There was, of course, a third solution: video conferencing linking the disparate campuses together under one easy-to-use telecommunications solution. Realizing the technology’s potential, Santa Fe College had previously invested in a system several years ago, but its low quality, bandwidth issues, and sudden crashes made it functionally useless. The administration knew it was time for an upgrade, so the college’s IT department sought out the advice of their Gainesville neighbors at the University of Florida.
“We trusted UF and knew they had more experience with HD video than we did,” explained ITS Desktop manager Fred Evans. “Once we saw the Lifesize system in action for ourselves, we realized that it was exactly what we needed. It was tremendous video that would be ideal in the classroom setting. It wasn’t long before we placed an initial order and overhauled our entire video environment.”
Evans and his team were so eager to unveil their new Lifesize system that they rolled it out three months ahead of schedule, to instant success. “I remember showing one of the faculty members the first Lifesize system we set up and he said, ‘Wow! I can actually see!’ It made me laugh, but really it just demonstrated how much better the quality was than before.”
The results have been as instantaneous as they’ve been remarkable, and the faculty couldn’t be happier. Rather than being expected to scuttle between campuses and to teach the same class three times, professors are able to conduct classes in a virtual environment, teaching in one classroom while broadcasting to two or three additional locations. Because Lifesize supports interactive video calls, remote students are able to ask questions and communicate with their professor and their colleagues as though they were in the same room.
“I currently teach music appreciation to students on-site at the Gainesville campus, as well as satellite campuses that are 45 minutes away,” said Dr. Samantha Ryan Barnsfather, Adjunct Associate Professor for Fine Arts at Santa Fe College. “Lifesize allows me to play music and display my lecture notes at the same time. If the sound quality wasn’t acceptable, this model would never work. Thankfully, everything sounds terrific on Lifesize and my students are able to experience the music exactly the way the composer intended. Before Lifesize, using video was a nightmare. Now, I can teach from any location and my students don’t miss a beat. It’s a lot better than it was. All I can say is, thank you!”