To keep students, teachers and academic staff connected to each other and to online resources, University College Dublin must offer easy access to email, and productivity tools – without increasing the burden on IT. 'We have to provide a very open network, which isn’t tied to a particular device, and where everything works off of wireless,' says Brian Morrissey, the college’s Head of Web Services. With 32,000 students and 6,000 staff, there can be as many as 40,000 computers, tablets and smartphones on the campus network, using email and sharing documents. 'Our campus community wants always-on capability, and doesn’t want to worry about registering their devices or connecting to email,' Morrissey says.
The university’s Sunmail email system was labour-intensive for Morrissey and his IT colleagues, and not very user-friendly for students and staff. 'It was an expensive draw on resources in terms of cost and management – both things we try to avoid,' Morrissey says. IT staff had to maintain and monitor several large email servers, as well as spam and antivirus software running on even more servers. Students and staff complained about the limited account quotas, which forced them to often delete messages. 'We were looking at a six-figure sum to renew the architecture for a system that was still behind the curve in terms of features,' Morrissey says. The IT team decided to switch to a cloud-based email system that would be easy to implement and manage.
'The big driver for choosing Google was that Gmail was reliable, always on and intuitive for people to use.'Brian Morrissey, Head of Web Services, University College Dublin
Easing migration with on-site help desks
UCD chose Gmail to replace the ageing, cumbersome email system. 'The big driver for choosing Google was that Gmail was reliable, always on and intuitive for people to use,' Morrissey says. 'It’s a familiar interface for everyone.'
To make sure that the switch to Google was successful, Morrissey and his colleagues migrated staff and students’ email messages to Gmail on a department-by-department basis, then set up temporary help desks within those departments. 'We’d work in the offices with staff, or near the concourses where students walked by,' Morrissey says. 'We spent a lot of time on customer engagement, which was a big investment – but we think it paid off as people quickly switched to the new email system.'
As students and staff adjusted to Gmail, they also discovered other G Suite tools, such as Google Docs, Google Calendar and Google+. 'This took us by surprise, as we were focused on email,' Morrissey says. 'Staff and faculty realised that G Suite was easier to use than other productivity tools, since G Suite could be accessed by any device. Google Calendar was a game changer,' Morrissey says. 'Previously, university departments used a variety of calendaring apps, so there was no consistent way to alert students to change in-class times or professors’ office hours.'
Creative ideas for saving time and sharing teaching strategies
UCD staff found creative ways to use G Suite to replace time-consuming processes, and more easily connect with each other and with students. Staff created the UCD Teaching and Learning Community on Google+, which allows them to post ideas about improving the learning experience and get feedback from other educators. 'If we tried to do this without Google, we’d probably have far less engagement than we do now,' Morrissey says. In addition, the IT department replaced an email list with its own Google+ community, which is used to share presentations about new technology initiatives.
At the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine, teachers and academic staff use G Suite to plan lessons. Staff asked Web Services Team leader Matthew Hynes for better ways to share class curricula, so that they could avoid duplicating topics from course to course. Hynes suggested that teachers use a master spreadsheet in Google Sheets, containing lessons for every veterinary school class. Using Google Sites, Hynes created a website that pulls data from the master spreadsheet and displays charts that highlight which topics are being taught and when.
In addition to encouraging creative ways to save time and improve teaching, the switch to Google also saves money for UCD. Morrissey states that the university has saved a significant six figure sum by eliminating hardware and maintenance for the old email solution, as well as costs for antivirus and spam solutions that are not needed with Gmail.
'We don’t get calls about people having trouble connecting to email, or about storage,' Morrissey says. 'With Gmail, concerns about exceeding quotas have disappeared.'
'With Gmail, concerns about exceeding quotas have disappeared.'Brian Morrissey, Head of Web Services, University College Dublin