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Microsoft Launches Free Office 365 Service for Education

Microsoft marked the one-year anniversary of Office 365 today by announcing the debut of a free edition for education, as well as a schedule for Live@edu migrations starting this summer.

"This is a huge opportunity because we're providing a level of service to schools for free that only our corporate accounts have been able to enjoy so far," said Cameron Evans, chief technology officer for Microsoft Education. He spoke with us at the ISTE 2012 conference in San Diego this week.

At the ISTE 2012 conference in San Diego this week, Cameron Evans, Microsoft Education's chief technology officer, discussed the role of IT in migrating to Office 365.

Office 365 is Microsoft's cloud-based productivity and collaboration platform. The education edition, identical to the commercial version, is being offered free to schools, colleges and universities, which covers use by teachers, students and administrators. Office 365 education edition has Live@edu hosted e-mail features, along with hosted solutions such as the Microsoft Office apps, Lync Online, SharePoint Online and Exchange Online.

  • Lync Online is a conferencing and communications package with support for instant messaging, Web conferencing, VoIP calls and video chats.
  • SharePoint Online is a multipurpose server solution used for creating sites, sharing documents and collaborating.
  • Exchange Online is the enterprise-class edition of Microsoft's hosted e-mail, calendar and contacts management system.

Office 365 for Education also includes Microsoft's Office Web apps, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

Early Adopters in Higher Education
At the ISTE conference, Microsoft showcased six early deployments of Office 365 for Education -- three in K-12 and three in higher education.

On the higher ed front, about 7,000 faculty and staff at Cornell University will move onto the Office 365 platform beginning in the fall. Initially they'll have access to Office 365's e-mail and calendar tools, with plans calling for SharePoint Online and Office Web Apps to be deployed for both faculty and students in the future.

Gonzaga University will use Office 365 to support its distance learning students with online collaboration tools. According to Microsoft, Gonzaga's online student body accounts for about 20 percent of the Washington university's entire student population. About 8,000 total students and 1,200 faculty and staff will be affected by the move.

And at Dartmouth College, about 10,000 faculty, staff members and students will be moved onto Office 365.

On hand at the ISTE conference was University of Massachusetts Amherst Professor Gino Sorcinelli, who used Office 365 in an international collaboration with National University of Ireland Galway Professor Murray Scott. This spring, students from the the two universities participated in a course called "Effective Decision Making in the Age of Cloud Computing," in which virtual collaboration was a central theme. He said that while all of the collaboration tools in Office 365 benefited the students, two that were not a part of Live@edu had the greatest impact on students -- Lync and SharePoint Online. He said the Lync conferencing and messaging system with its ability to broadcast PowerPoint presentations contributed significantly to the collaborative capabilities of the students and also helped bolster their enthusiasm for the work they did in the course.

"Lync has the software capabilities so that [students] can connect with one another, and they can start off in an IM presence and say, 'Well, do you want to do an audio call?' And they can boost that into a video interaction," Sorcinelli said.

Near future plans call for bringing in universities whose students do not speak English natively, he added. The language barrier will let the students try out Lync's translation capabilities, which allow messages to be translated on the fly.

Early Adopters in K-12
On the K-12 front, the Tennessee Department of Education will be bringing Office 365 to K-12 institutions statewide, encompassing 136 districts and 1,677 schools.

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools will migrate its 80,000 students off Google Apps for Education and its 9,500 faculty and staff members off on-premises tools. Microsoft estimated the move will save the district about $400,000 annually.

Fresno Unified School District will also make the move to Office 365, affecting about 70,000 students and 12,000 faculty and staff. According to a blog post from Anthony Salcito today, "... Fresno USD expects to save $50,000 to $100,000 per year in costs. Nearly one-third of students currently utilize Microsoft Office and SharePoint to create documents and presentations and collaborate on class projects, which is expected to increase three-fold with the move to Office 365 when students will be able to access school portals at home."

Migration from Live@edu
While migration from Live@edu will begin this summer, according to Microsoft representatives, schools will have a migration buffer of about 18 months to allow IT staff to prepare for the move.

Microsoft's Salcito and Evans told us the move would be essentially invisible to end users. On the IT side of the migration, there are some technical considerations, including conversion of domains from Live@edu and issues related to identity management.

At the ISTE 2012 conference in San Diego this week, Microsoft launched Office 365 for Education. Anthony Salcito, vice president for Microsoft Education, spoke about the launch.

Complete details about technical issues can be found on Microsoft's Office 365 upgrade page. Additional details can be found on Microsoft's education site or the Office 365 for Education portal.

About the Author

Dave Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's educational technology online publications and electronic newsletters.

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