June 2006 // Volume 44 // Number 3 // Ideas at Work // 3IAW1

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Facilitating the Adoption of an Online Conferencing System--A Recipe for Success

The adoption of an Online Conferencing System by Texas Cooperative Extension has provided a way to meet challenges of geographic distance, time, and resource limitations in providing professional development. Implementation of specific steps throughout the diffusion of online conferencing has proved to greatly reduce the inherent technology intimidation that can exist with the adoption of new technologies. While the use of Online Conferencing Systems offer new and innovative ways to meet needs while reducing travel time and cost, implementing and gaining acceptance of this technology requires purposeful and planned efforts.

Theresa Pesl Murphrey
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of Agricultural Education

Susanna Coppernoll
Extension Program Specialist
Texas Cooperative Extension

Texas A&M University System
College Station, Texas


The mission of Texas Cooperative Extension is to provide quality, relevant outreach and continuing education programs and services to the people of the state. Succeeding at this mission requires timely access to in-service opportunities for employees, which can be challenging given geographic distance, time, and resource limitations. The adoption of Centra 7™ (an Online Conferencing System) by Texas Cooperative Extension is one means of meeting these challenges. This article describes the process by which online conferencing was introduced and shares lessons learned to encourage adoption.

Encouraging Diffusion and Adoption of Online Conferencing

New technologies continue to provide opportunities for Extension. Ezell (1989) articulated more than 15 years ago how technology would enable virtual conferencing and stated that "the real issue is how Extension professionals will interact with technology" (p. 7). Advantages of virtual meetings such as flexibility and cost savings have been well documented (Futris, Adler-Baeder, & Dean, 2004; Nudell, Roth, & Saxowsky, 2005; Parcell & Giddens, 2002; Rogan & Simmons, 1984). However, assessments of on-campus and off-campus training courses (e.g., Ajayi, 2001), the use of video conferencing (e.g., Murphy, 1999), and the use of online conferencing (e.g., Parcell, & Giddens, 2002) reveal that while these modes of delivery can be successful, it is important to employ strategies that can improve quality.

Online conferencing, which allows voice-over-Internet, application sharing, and the ability to interact between and among participants, has the potential to expand employee learning opportunities as well as program outreach to clientele. However, "getting a new idea adopted, even when it has obvious advantages, is difficult" (Rogers, 2003, p.1). In an effort to encourage the adoption of online conferencing in Texas and encourage use that results in quality programs, several activities were put into place that contributed to acceptance and adoption.

The use of online conferencing in Texas Cooperative Extension began during spring 2003 with the selection of a Web collaboration tool and was introduced to all agency employees in the fall of 2003 at the annual regional meeting, when two team members presented from their offices via online conferencing to the group. Approximately all 1,200 employees participated in this regional meeting.

Following the regional meeting, 11 online training seminars were delivered via Centra™ to demonstrate online conferencing and to discuss how it could be used to deliver professional development and to support programming initiatives. Over 200 individuals participated from various locations across the state.

During the spring of 2004, three employees championed the adoption of online conferencing by offering one-on-one coaching sessions on how to schedule and conduct meetings/seminars using Centra 7™. These sessions consisted of providing guidance via phone and the review of session materials from an instructional design perspective. Champions also offered practice sessions and volunteered to co-facilitate with first-time facilitators.

During the summer of 2004, adoption of online conferencing became evident. Quarterly meetings and professional development seminars for office managers began to take place using online conferencing. Efforts to encourage adoption by office managers was purposeful, recognizing that if office managers embraced the use of the technology they could be influential in encouraging and supporting administrators, specialists, and agents in the adoption.

Champions continued to model online conferencing in 2004 by offering a variety of high need seminars. The online professional development seminars were so well received that they evolved into what is now known as "Friday Online." Each Friday morning a 2-hour professional development seminar is offered by one of the internal support groups.

Ingredients for Success

Implementation of specific steps throughout the diffusion of online conferencing has been shown to reduce intimidation that can exist with the adoption of new technologies and therefore facilitated adoption and diffusion. Ingredients for success are the following.

  • Involve a small group of individuals in the initial efforts that can become proficient in the technology and then be the core champions facilitating adoption and diffusion.

  • Provide wide exposure of online conferencing to employees in a group setting via an actual event(s) versus a mock event.

  • Following the exposure event(s), organize a series of training seminars to demonstrate the technology tool and to discuss how it can support programming.

  • Offer one-on-one coaching sessions via "standard technology" (i.e., telephone) to reduce intimidation, and offer to assist with practice sessions and/or co-facilitate with first-time facilitators.

  • Encourage adoption by select groups who can be influential in encouraging and supporting other employees in adoption. Examples include office managers, new employees, or technology-savvy employees.

  • Model how the technology can be used by offering a variety of high-need/-demand professional development seminars. Include a wide variety of topics that appeal to various employee audiences, and include partners, which will encourage adoption by others, model different delivery techniques, and prevent over-burdening one individual or unit.

Evidence of Adoption

Analysis of the current use of online Web conferencing in Texas Cooperative Extension provides further evidence of adoption. In addition to the Friday Online Seminars, online conferencing is being used in key program areas (Agriculture & Natural Resources; Family & Consumer Sciences; and 4-H & Youth Development) for meetings, collaboration, and professional development seminars. As of January 2005, the agency had conducted over 435 Centra 7™ events. Individuals from every district across Texas have participated in either a Centra 7™ meeting or seminar.

Events have included topics such as horticulture, foreign animal diseases, nutrition essentials, aging, and others. Based on studies documenting the diffusion-adoption of the personal computer and Internet within agricultural groups (e.g., Hall, Dunkelberger, Ferreira, Prevatt, & Martin, 2003), the current goal is to expand the use of online conferencing to meet the needs of external clients that include parents, producers, and home owners.


The evolution of technology is bringing about new ways to collaborate and communicate. Online conferencing systems that allow voice-over-IP are providing new ways to meet professional development needs. Seminars, impromptu meetings, and recording of seminars and meetings for later viewing are just a few aspects that make use of the technology valuable. However, implementing and gaining acceptance of this technology requires purposeful and planned efforts.


Ajayi, M.T. (2001). A comparison of the effectiveness of on-campus and off-campus training courses for agricultural staff at the international institute of tropical agriculture (IITA). Journal of International Agricultural and Extension Education, 11(3), 41-47.

Ezell, M.P. (1989). Communication-age trends affecting extension. Journal of Extension [On-line], 27(3). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1989fall/a8.html

Futris, T.G., Adler-Baeder, F., & Dean, K.J. (2004). Using technology to link researchers and educators: Evaluation of electronic conferencing. Journal of Extension [On-line], 42(1). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2004february/rb1.shtml

Hall, L., Dunkelberger, J., Ferreira, W. Prevatt, J.W., & Martin, N.R. (2003). Diffusion-adoption of personal computers and the Internet in farm business decisions: Southeastern beef and peanut farmers. Journal of Extension [On-line], 41(3). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2003june/a6.shtml

Murphy, T. (1999). A quantitative analysis of instructor-student verbal interaction in a two-way audio two-way video distance education setting. Journal of Agricultural Education, 40 (3), 50-60.

Nudell, D., Roth, B., & Saxowsky, D. (2005). Non-traditional extension education using videoconferencing. Journal of Extension [On-line], 43(1) Article 1TOT3. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2005february/tt3.shtml

Parcell, J., & Giddens, N. (2002). Assessment of NetMeeting¨ for professional development programming. Journal of Extension [On-line], 40(5). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2002october/rb2.shtml

Rogers, E.M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations. New York: Free Press.

Rogan, R.G., & Simmons, G.A. (1984). Teleconferencing. Journal of Extension [On-line], 22(5). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1984september/a4.html