By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Baylor Gibbs gingerly steps back, and then back, and then back, his eyes never wavering from the cellphone camera that sophomore psychology major Christiana Hurtado steadily focuses on him.
They weave through the cavernous space of the Grand Canyon University Student Union, past Canyon Pizza and Habit Burger, before emerging into the Arizona sunlight through the doors to the North Dining Hall.
“If you’ve never heard of Q’doba, it’s like Chipotle except with free guac and queso. We like our Q’doba,” Gibbs said with a smile to tour-goers tuning in remotely from around the country, eager to soak in everything they can about the University without even stepping foot on campus.
It’s just one of the little gems of GCU student life that Gibbs, a sophomore sports management major, and his fellow tour guides love to share with potential future Lopes.
The Arizona sunshine. Free guacamole. Free queso.
Could anything be better?
Gibbs and Hurtado share their knowledge and excitement about the great things GCU has to offer in a unique way: by broadcasting live tours to remote visitors.
They’re just two team members of GCU Live, which offers immersive, interactive video tours of the campus to anyone who might not be able to make it to the University for an in-person tour. It’s something even more relevant now as the coronavirus outbreak and social distancing have changed the way GCU is doing just about everything.
Before the outbreak, the GCU Live team averaged 15 people per day on those video tours, which are streamed on YouTube or Facebook. Now the team is seeing 15 people per tour, with four tours offered per day, said GCU Live ambassador and sophomore sports management major Kameron Bode.
“Our numbers have doubled or tripled in the past week or two,” said Bode, who readies the department’s high-end equipment for livestreaming, dispatches tour guides as needed and handles various technical aspects for the team.
“But we emphasized that even before this (social distancing) has gone on. Not everybody has the funds to come to campus for a live (in-person) tour. Even if they’re in New York or Hawaii, they can still get a great tour of the campus, can interact with people. They can see how nice our campus looks and what great weather we have in Arizona.”
A simple idea
Ask around campus and not everyone has heard of the hidden gem that’s GCU Live, even though the team helmed more video tours over the recent winter months than the Antelope Reception Center did with in-person tours, “which is amazing,” said ARC Coordinator Kyle Traber.
The team, a branch of the ARC housed on the first floor of the new Student Advising Services building, got its start two years ago.
“It was just a simple idea I had as a student, and it was something leadership encouraged,” ARC Operations Manager Keaton Edwards. “From there, it grew into what it is today.”
Ironically, Edwards does not have a background in video, broadcasting or technology.
“I was a business student, and GCU Live derived from a business need,” he said.
He noticed that parents who couldn’t make it to campus with their children for Discover GCU tours wished they could be on those tours, too. Bringing the campus to them via an internet broadcast seemed to be the next best thing.
At the outset, the team worked out of a small office space in GCU Arena, the ARC’s home until the five-story Student Advising Services facility debuted in January.
Now GCU Live operates in a much roomier, state-of-the-art production area with top-of-the-line equipment, a full studio, green screens and high-tech lighting that Edwards said “opens up the opportunity for us to be more creative.”
Twenty-four student workers contribute to the GCU Live experience as tour guides and ambassadors. They stream full, live, interactive tours to students around the world, including Israel, Sweden, Ecuador and France.
“We’ve given tours to more than 30 different states,” Edwards said, adding that GCU Live averages anywhere from 30 to 150 tours a month.
In 2019, the team hosted more than 13,700 guests on its tours.
Not that tours are all the department does.
The team also interviews faculty in the studio and facilitates live panels, such as a recent student panel.
Then there’s the educational focus of GCU Live. The team has expanded from streaming tours and panels to presenting live lessons, an idea inspired by an enrollment counselor.
GCU prephysical therapy graduate Chloe Zwicker is the team’s live lesson presenter. She offers free, live, interactive academic lessons from the GCU Live studio to students who might be a few states, or even a few countries, away.
Zwicker conducts suture clinics, for example, while cameras zoom in on her hands at various angles. Students perform the suture techniques at the same time Zwicker is teaching the lesson, using suture kits GCU sends to them before the activity.
She will speak to students, not just about the technique of suturing wounds, but about the health care field and GCU’s health care programs. She can hear the students and answer questions, just as she would in a real classroom setting.
“They get a pretty awesome experience,” said Zwicker, who also helms an engineering lesson in which students use a 3D printing pen to design something that will solve a problem, such as preventing students from flying off a skateboard.
Educators can choose from a dozen live lessons, from engineering and health care to business, cybersecurity and psychology. Students even can watch Zwicker dissect a sheep’s brain.
Edwards looks at the “simple idea” he had a couple of years ago and is proud of what it has become. But he’s even prouder, he said, of how GCU Live is such a student-led endeavor. Only two members of the team aren’t student workers.
“They (the students) are the producers and they’re the hosts for all those sessions. It’s made me so proud as a manager to see them producing something that has good quality and good content and to work through adversities. That’s what’s so cool to me, to be amid problem-solvers.”
Just as cool is how the team is continuing to push forward, even in the face of a global pandemic, and put its best efforts forward.
“To my knowledge, no other school is doing what we do to the extent we’re doing it,” Edwards said of GCU Live.
Bode added, “We still love the fact that people can tune in, ask their questions, they can speak with program development specialists.”
Most importantly, “We’re still giving the best tours possible.”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at email@example.com or at 602-639-7901.
Links to virtual tours