Google Apps Evaluation Overview

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

In the interest of keeping the community informed and encouraging involvement in this evaluation process, we’ve posted an overview of the who, what, where, when, how, and why of the Google Apps for Education evaluation project below. If you have questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions, please feel free to add to the comments on this post or send email to mdroy@middlebury.edu .

What is Google Apps for Education?

Google Apps for Education is a suite of Google-hosted services which includes email, calendaring, document sharing, web site creation, and other tools. It allows students, faculty, and staff to “securely create, share, communicate, and collaborate from any web browser.” For those who wish to continue to use a traditional email client (e.g. outlook or entourage), email and calendars functions remain more or less the same.

Why are we doing this evaluation?

We are evaluating Google Apps for Education because Google Apps offers more functionality and storage space per account than we currently provide in-house. Moving to Google Apps would free up LIS resources to provide more support for teaching, learning, and Middlebury-specific needs, while maintaining high levels of availability and reliability.

Why are we doing this now?

LIS is constantly looking for ways to improve the quality of the technology services that we provide to the College community. In the current economic climate, the cost-effectiveness of Google Apps is a factor.  “Google Apps Education Edition is free – available at no charge for nonprofit educational institutions anywhere in world. It’s also free of ads, so that staff, students, and faculty never see ads in any application – ever.” (b) Thousands of schools, colleges, and universities are already successfully using Google Apps for Education. We are also very interested in providing ‘email for life’ for our alumni, in providing improved user experience for Mac web users, for mobile phone users, and in the collaboration possibilities afforded by the Google platform.

What are some of the specific functional improvements that Google Apps provides?

Aside from the benefits of removing the need for LIS to do specialized client software installations and server and related systems maintenance, there are some very compelling functional reasons to consider Google Apps.

  • Everything in one place.
  • Access from anywhere.
  • 8 Gigabyte Gmail accounts.
  • Gmail SPAM filtering.
  • Real-time, world-wide collaboration with Google Docs.
  • Simple web publishing with Google Sites.
  • Headache-free upgrades.
  • Google reliability and innovation.

What kinds of questions are we asking during this evaluation?

There are many issues that need to be carefully considered before making a decision to move something as mission-critical as email to Google. LIS has been building three lists of questions intended to provide answers to functional, technical, and policy questions and concerns.

Functional

  • What are the functional differences between Exchange and Google Apps that our users would notice? For each of these, we should document our existing uses, and understand what would be different in the new environment.
  • Is it really the case that users who prefer to stick with outlook, entourage, mail, or any number of other mail clients can do so with minimal loss of functionality?
  • How would we handle some of the various ’special’ things that we do, including:

Technical

  • How will the migration from our current e-mail system to Google Apps happen?
  • Will the user “preform” the migration or will it be a sysadmin function?
  • How will Google Apps interface with our in-house systems and processes?
  • What is the exit strategy? How easy is it to leave?

Policy

  • How do we make peace with what it means to move some of our most vital services to the cloud where we give up a certain amount of control in exchange for a more attractive product?
  • What are the policy implications for this?
  • Who do we need to include in this conversation?
  • How do we ensure data access and security when our data is in the cloud?
  • What contractual benefits/obligations do these services provide (and fail to provide)?
What opportunities exist for the community to learn more, provide input, and give feedback?

Because this is a decision that will impact every single member of the Middlebury community, LIS needs to involve the College community to determine if Google Apps for Education is a good fit for Middlebury. To that end, LIS is creating a number of different opportunities to solicit and encourage community input, participation, and feedback during the Google Apps evaluation project. These opportunities include;

  • An overview of the Google Apps for Education legal agreement that was reviewed and approved by the College’s legal council.
  • A project blog where community members can learn about Google Apps from a Middlebury perspective and contribute to the discussion and evaluation. (c)
  • Surveys to gauge community interest and support for Google Apps and hosted services.
  • Open meetings to explore and discuss Google Apps.
  • Pilot testing groups to provide feedback on Google Apps features and functionality.

Members of the community are encouraged to visit the official Google Apps for EDU resource site.

When will a decision be made, and who will make the decision?

LIS, working closely with our Faculty LIS Advisory Group and our Student LIS Advisory Group, will make a recommendation to President’s Staff, which will ultimately have the final say in whether or not we choose to pursue this option at this time. We hope to make a recommendation in July of 2010.

If we decide to do this, when would this new service be available?

We would expand our pilot project in the summer and fall, and ideally launch this campus wide in January 2011.

a: Google for Education
b: Google Apps for Education
c: http://go.middlebury.edu/googleappseval

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