Jump to content

University of Lynchburg embraces active learning supported by Google Workspace for Education Plus

About University of Lynchburg

University of Lynchburg is a private liberal arts undergraduate and graduate university in Lynchburg, Virginia, serving 3,100 students. U.S. News & World Report, the Princeton Review, and Colleges of Distinction recognize the university as one of the best institutions of higher education in the country.

Engaging students with new approaches to teaching and learning

Charley Butcher, director of instructional technology at University of Lynchburg, loves helping instructors and students discover new tools and strategies for connecting in the classroom. “I get to push people out of their comfort zone, and help students learn in environments where they can do their best work,” says Butcher, who started his teaching career as a K-12 biology teacher.

Butcher is especially passionate about encouraging professors to try active learning techniques, in which class time is devoted to collaboration, discussion, and hands-on activities instead of traditional lectures.

“There are a lot of schools out there that say, ‘watch this lecture, take this online test, submit this assignment’, then they give you a degree,” says Butcher. “We wanted to get away from that model, combine face-to-face experiences—both live and online—and get students working together, collaborating and discussing.”

To move toward this goal, Butcher and his IT colleagues adopted Google Workspace for Education in 2016 and upgraded to Google Workspace for Education Plus in early 2020. “Google Workspace has become a major integration with our active-learning classrooms,” Butcher says. “It’s built for the 4 C’s: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.”

Bringing collaboration to every campus department

Before using Google Workspace, Lynchburg relied on servers and local storage, which had key limitations.

“We had no ability to collaborate on documents in real time,” says Butcher. “It was inefficient to ask people to send their document changes back and forth by email.” It was common to misplace files and lose revisions, he adds: “I felt like there must be a better way.” In addition, the university’s on-premise server required a costly upgrade, which IT leaders didn’t feel made sense when the budget outlay wouldn’t improve collaboration and document sharing.

Converting to Google Workspace solved the collaboration problems—and also inspired new ways of working that helps administrative and teaching staff save time and money. “The revision-history capabilities in Google Docs alone were enough for our faculty to buy into Google Workspace,” says Butcher. “They realized they could just have one copy of a course syllabus in which everyone can contribute.” Because documents were now stored in Google Drive, professors and students no longer needed on-premise personal drives—which meant the IT team didn’t have to manage storage.

Admin staff and professors also quickly realized that they could replace time-consuming paper-based tasks with Google Workspace. “We’ve worked really hard to try and become more environmentally friendly, and one way Google has helped us do that is by transitioning most of our paper forms on campus to Google Forms,” says Butcher. “Almost everything on campus previously done with paper is now a Google Form.”

For example, when working together on Vision 2020, the university’s strategic expansion plan, staff and faculty use Forms to conduct surveys, and Google Sheets to collate and work with the data. Similarly, Sheets is used to manage Lynchburg’s faculty development grant fund.

“These programs used to involve a lot of communications back and forth,” Butcher says. “But with Google Workspace, now the admin staff maintain a single master spreadsheet that is always accessible by everyone—and therefore, always up to date. It’s reduced the back-and-forth emails and phone calls to almost zero. The admins tell us it saves them hours of work.”

Upgrading to recorded lectures and improved security

As Butcher helped professors adopt active learning, he saw value in upgrading to Google Workspace for Education Plus. As a tool for an active learning classroom, teachers can share lectures in advance.

“Now, with Google Workspace for Education Plus, if a professor wants to record a lecture, they just hop onto a Meet by themselves,” says Butcher. “It’s very convenient and integrated with everything else in Google Workspace.” The asynchronous lectures are helpful for students, he adds: “They can review the lectures on their schedule, and review parts over and over if they want.”

As Butcher discovered, Google Workspace for Education Plus also helped the university protect itself against security threats. Right after Lynchburg adopted Google Workspace for Education Plus, the campus was hit by a scam involving emails with spoofed student and staff addresses, asking recipients to purchase gift cards. With the plus-grade security and remediation features in Google Workspace for Education Plus, Lynchburg’s IT team was able to remove similarly worded spam emails across all Gmail user accounts before the messages even hit recipients’ inboxes.

Meet provides an academic and social lifeline

In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced Lynchburg to close school, Google Meet helped the campus community manage the challenge. IT leaders rapidly trained educators on using Meet to not only shift classes to a distance-learning model, but also support the university’s renowned online graduate programs in health sciences and physical therapy.

Over the course of just five days, Butcher and Jay Proffit, director of the university’s Teaching and Learning Center, trained 300 faculty members in using Meet to run classes online—including features like recording and captioning. “Use of video tools had to be up about 2,000 percent in the first few weeks of online classes,” Butcher says.

Meet isn’t just useful for recording lectures. During the COVID-19 closure, it also helped students and teachers keep the classroom vibe going strong. “Students said that it’s helping a lot,” says Butcher. “Compared to other video conferencing tools, Meet is easier to use, easier to manage, and more secure. It also has features that helped us get buy-in more easily.”

Butcher says there’s also an equity advantage with using Meet. Students can access Meet with any device that has a browser. “We have students learning with us from all over the world, especially in our online graduate programs,” Butcher says.

As the university moves ahead with its Vision 2020 plan as well as promoting the active learning model, Butcher expects Google Workspace for Education Plus and Google Workspace to continue playing a central role. “Once I show Google Workspace and Google Meet to people on campus, the light bulb comes on, and they’re off and running with new ideas,” he says.

And in spite of the hardships faced by teachers and instructors dealing with the COVID-19 campus closure, Butcher believes the continued adoption of tools like Google Workspace and Google Meet will strengthen academic performance.

“One of the blessings that may come out of this COVID 19 experience,” says Butcher, “is that when we get to the other side, we’ll be in a much better place with instructional technology than when we started.”

“Once I show Google Workspace and Google Meet to people on campus, the light bulb comes on, and they’re off and running with new ideas.”

Charley Butcher, Director of Instructional Technology, University of Lynchburg

Sign up here for updates, insights, resources, and more.