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[email protected] Gaining Higher Ed Traction

[email protected], Microsoft's e-mail service, gained four million new student users over the last three months worldwide, the company announced today.

The service, which includes Web-based e-mail, calendaring, online file storage and instant messaging, is now used by 15 million students, according to Microsoft. Institutions that have signed on for the service include Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Augusta State University, Beijing Open University in China, the University of Bologna in Italy, Copenhagen Business School in Denmark, Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia and Lodge Park Technical College in the United Kingdom. The service, while free to students, isn't free for faculty or staff.

Western Kentucky U recently deployed the suite for 42,000 students and alumni. The efficiencies gained from moving to [email protected] will save the university $50,000 a year in hardware and software costs, according to Robert Owen, vice president of IT. Letting someone else take over systems management frees up IT staff for other kinds of work, he added.

"We're in the business of educating students, not administering e-mail systems," he said. "Everything we can do to get away from having to mess with that allows us to focus on enhancing students' educational experience."

The university is also testing components of Office 365, the next generation of [email protected] The school recently ran a pilot project for Microsoft Lync, which integrates e-mail, instant messaging, audio, video, and Web conferencing. The students who participated in the pilot were doctoral candidates in education, the vast majority of whom worked fulltime while they went to school, according to Owen.

"Obviously you're going to hesitate before you call someone at 1 a.m. and ask for help," Owen said. "With Lync, they could immediately see who else in the class was online and communicate with them however they want, whether IM or phone or video chat. We found that aspect worked very well."

Augusta State adopted [email protected], rebranded "JagMail," after its school mascot. The deployment, in November 2010, was carried out as part of a major technology overhaul at the Georgia campus. That deployment has 22,000 users, encompassing students, faculty, staff, applicants, alumni and retirees. According to Chip Matson, CIO and director of IT Services, an increasingly tech-savvy student body expects to be able to access school resources on whatever device they have in their hands.

"This is a new generation of students," he said. "These people have grown up with all these devices that let them always be on, always be connected. They have a new set of expectations."

He added that although the services making up [email protected] are in the cloud, "it was a major project for us. We are pleased with our deployment."

About the Author

Dian L. Schaffhauser is a freelance writer based in Northern California.

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