At St. Norbert College, G Suite brings easy collaboration, communication and information sharing to campus
Inflexible email systems and inefficient processes slowed down communication and information sharing at St. Norbert College. By switching to G Suite and creating custom applications, students can access coursework and messages from any device, and staff save time and reduce errors.
Even with a small student body, St. Norbert College (SNC) students and staff found that working across departments was hampered by paper-based processes and previous email and productivity tools. Technology leaders like instructional technologist Ben Hommerding saw the potential of cloud-based tools to help students and professors work together easily and share information accurately and quickly.
'Before we switched to Google, we were using our own email system that was hosted on site, and we stored all of our files on our servers,' says Hommerding. 'But there wasn’t a lot of collaboration. Documents would be sent around in long email chains, and information got stuck in many places.' Administrators used paper forms to gather and update course descriptions, a cumbersome process that resulted in delays and errors.
'When we chose Google, we made sure that we can offer the capabilities our students need this year and in years to come.'
Ben Hommerding, Instructional Technologist, St. Norbert College
Storage for everything – and accessing from anywhere
'Once people understood how G Suite works – the unlimited storage for email, and sharing documents with the entire campus – there were a lot of mind-blowing moments,' Hommerding says. Professors discovered that they could use Google Docs to comment on student work while it was in progress, creating 'a live conversation with students,' he adds.
Professors also began using Google Drive to store documents needed for classes. 'In the past, downloading documents off campus or from home would have been an issue,' Hommerding says. 'Now we can access everything from anywhere.'
The 'everything from anywhere' mindset was part of the college’s new 'bring your own device' (BYOD) programme for students and teachers, including replacing teachers’ desktop computers with laptops. 'If you’re transitioning to a BYOD policy, you need strategies for people to share content via G Suite no matter what kind of device they have,' Hommerding says. 'That’s why we thought Google was a good fit for us.'
Google Team Drives, in which files belong to groups rather than individuals, provided shared storage for administrative documents. That made it easier for the administration to manage student hires, since files wouldn't be stored in their student Drive.
Saving time and improving accuracy for common admin processes
To improve updates to the college’s course catalogue, the SNC ITS team used Apps Script to create custom G Suite code that collects course descriptions from Google Forms and feeds the information into Google Docs and Google Sheets. This application streamlines the approval process for changes and new courses so that approvers and members of staff know where their submissions are in the process. With the help of student workers, Hommerding is now testing App Maker for these processes as part of an Early Access Programme (EAP), Google's product pilot programme that invites users like Ben to test and provide feedback on products before they're fully launched. Feedback from these EAPs is used to improve and tailor products to user needs.
After Hommerding created the custom G Suite code, administrators then created the catalogue using Docs. The new process eliminated the back-and-forth email chains and error corrections that added time to catalogue creation. 'The team that we created this process for was over the moon,' Hommerding says.
Google Forms also help administrators gather information quickly and accurately, especially within the college’s Sturzl Centre for Community Service & Learning, which promotes community engagement.
'We manage many one-time service events, and prior to using Google Forms, registration was a cumbersome process,' says Community Engagement Coordinator Susan Angoli. Last year, the Sturzl Centre reviewed the registration process for its MLK Day of Service to make it more user-friendly. Angoli used the Choice Eliminator add-on for Google Forms, which removes choices for volunteering options once enough students have signed up for a particular site or time.
The ITS team at SNC is also using G Suite and App Maker to streamline check-in and approval process for the college’s Tech Bar, a new service providing technology training and troubleshooting for students and staff. For some St. Norbert class projects, students need to attend Tech Bar workshops to show that they’ve undergone training in certain skills, such as blog and video creation
With App Maker, Hommerding built a custom application to allow Tech Bar instructors to send a 'receipt' to staff members showing that students had completed the training. In addition, the app allows students to rate Tech Bar instructors. Hommerding plans to add an appointment scheduling system to the Tech Bar; for now, meetings are scheduled using the appointments slot feature in Google Calendar.
Prepping for the future
By adopting G Suite, St. Norbert College is preparing for a future where collaboration and access are requirements, not just 'nice to have' options, Hommerding says. That includes reducing reliance on servers and tools that IT teams have to maintain. 'We recently had a power outage across campus,' he explains. 'We were still able to send emails and documents from our phones or by using hotspots – something we couldn’t have done with our old email system.'
Preparing for the future also means choosing tools that students are already using, so that technology ramp-up time is minimal. 'Our data shows that 90 per cent of students arrive on campus already using Google products,' Hommerding says. When professors use G Suite to share course resources and schedule online meetings, they know that students will quickly adapt to the collaborative learning environment.
The college’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness is testing BigQuery, part of Google Cloud Platform, to crunch data on jobs that they obtain, as well as advanced degrees – with a goal of determining how well the college is preparing students for careers.
Hommerding is considering using other Google Cloud Platform tools to help staff better share research data and analyse the college’s performance.
'When we chose Google, we made sure that we can offer the capabilities our students need this year and in years to come,' Hommerding says. 'If professors can work more closely with students, and staff can better serve our campus, we can set the college apart in a competitive market.'
St. Norbert College, based in De Pere, Wisconsin, is a private, Catholic, liberal arts college with about 2,200 students. The college offers more than 40 undergraduate fields of study as well as four graduate programmes, and was named 'The Best in the Midwest' by the Princeton Review for 2017.
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