At UNC Greensboro, students and staff take charge of online groups and collaboration

Staff and students at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro are longtime users of Google and G Suite for learning and communication needs, taking advantage of new tools and capabilities as they are launched. The school’s IT department encourages the campus community to adopt G Suite tools to work together with ease.

Nick Young, IT manager at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) believes in two ingredients for campus technology. First, students and staff should adopt tools because they find them useful, not because IT requires them to do so. Second, students and staff should be able to manage the technology largely on their own, with minimal help from IT. During UNCG’s long history using Google–starting in 2005 with Gmail–ease of use and organic adoption have driven the spread of G Suite for Education among the school’s 20,000 students and 3,500 staff.

“We try to listen to what students and staff want–we don’t want to tell people what to do,” Young says. “We make apps available and keep things open in terms of which tools people can use, and we try to encourage adoption that way.”

As students and staff saw the value of Gmail and other G Suite tools like Google Docs, they also gradually adopted the new capabilities that Google added to G Suite over the past 10 years, such as Hangouts and Google Groups. These new tools and features, Young says, helped the campus community realize the value of collaborating with each other and sharing useful information.

What IT leaders are saying

"Google Groups have become a big part of our communication plans on campus."

Nick Young, IT Manager, University of North Carolina Greensboro

Self-service tools for collaboration and storage

“We don’t have a huge staff of developers,” says Young of his IT team. Nor does the university have a large administrative staff, considering its size. Young is always on the lookout for ways to use G Suite to help students and staff save time and work together more efficiently, without heavy intervention from IT. “We look for improvements that are scalable–where we can create the biggest bang for the buck,” he says. That means self-service tools that students and staff can operate on their own.

For example, Young suggested that student life associations and dorm leaders share messages using Google Groups to replace bulk email tools. The manually-maintained email lists made it difficult to manage tasks like adding and deleting members. Emails were often ignored, since the messages were buried in recipients’ other emails. By using Google Groups for specific campus groups, Residence Life staff and students created online communities where conversations could flourish. Google Group members can visit the online hub for their groups and see how discussions are progressing – or check up on important notices from group leaders–without waiting for emails.

“Google Groups have helped us reduce infrastructure associated with email lists, like server maintenance and software backups,” Young says. Group leaders can easily add and remove members, and use features like Q&A forums to ask questions of other members and receive members. “Google Groups have become a big part of our communication plans on campus–we’re starting to add more of them for various alumni groups,” Young says.

Team Drives help eliminate ownership headaches

Young is helping UNCG departments take advantage of Google Vault for email retention, as well as for transferring e-mails when employees leave the university. “This helps us do a better job of handling employee offboarding,” Young says.

Young is also encouraging staff and students to use Google’s Team Drives to share and store documents. Since files in Team Drives are managed by a group and not individuals, if a member leaves the group, the documents remain.

“With Team Drives, ownership of the documents won’t be a pain point,” Young says. As with Google Drive and other G Suite tools, managers of Team Drives can control permissions and membership–without asking for help from IT.

Collaborating with other campuses

Because G Suite is widely used in the University of North Carolina system of schools, administrators like Young can easily share ideas for improving processes. For example via a Google Hangout, a “Monthly Admin Hangout” brings admins together from across the UNC system to talk about new ways to use G Suite.

“You rarely have an issue that other admins can’t help you work through,” Young says. “It helps that we’re all using Google so we can interact on the same platform–the Hangouts give us an easy way to solve problems."

Organization Profile

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) is a liberal arts and research university offering 85 undergraduate degrees, 74 master’s programs, and 32 doctoral programs for 20,000 students. The school’s mission is to offer a student-centered and inclusive community fostering intellectual inquiry and preparing students for engaged citizenship.

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