• E-Mail in the Cloud: An Open University Survey

    Windows Live Mail mailbox in Redmond, WA

    Windows Live Mail mailbox in Redmond, WA

    I joined the Open University (OU) as an Associate Lecturer (AL) back in May 2000 to teach the university’s T171: You, Your Computer and the Net course, the university’s first large-scale foray into online teaching. As one of hundreds of new ALs, I was thrown into the world of FirstClass, the university’s chosen platform for collaboration and discussion in its courses, and among its students and associate lecturers. If you haven’t already heard, the death knell for FirstClass has been sounded. I believe the transition away from FirstClass for courses is expected to be complete by October 2010. As part of that transition, our e-mail accounts need to go somewhere, but where?

    Sample Google Mail Spam Folder

    Sample Google Mail Spam Folder

    If you’re a student, you may already be using your own personal, non-OU e-mail address at the university. If you’re an associate lecturer or other academic/support staff, having a .open.ac.uk e-mail address is an important part of your professional identity. According to David Wilson, director of strategic planning in LTS, a choice is being considered between Google Apps Education Edition and Microsoft Live@edu and should be made shortly (in Snowball 36 – November 2009). It will definitely be put into place for students, but it may extend further than that. The decision has not yet been made, so we have a very small window of opportunity to provide some input as to our preferences. I’ve constructed a very small, unofficial survey at SurveyMonkey to do that.

    Both of the cloud offerings offer considerably more functionality than just e-mail. Google Mail’s been joined by Google Docs, instant messaging, and calendars. Microsoft’s HotMail has been combined with Outlook Live, a remote file locker, calendaring, instant messaging, and Microsoft Office workspace to share documents. If you’re not familiar with some of these systems, here are some resources:

    The survey is open to any Open University community member, whether staff, consultant, or student. The survey will run between November 22nd and November 29th. I’ve specifically asked in the survey about your role, because I recognise that different university community members will have different needs. The survey results, broken down by role, will be forwarded onto the senior decision-making committee. I can’t guarantee how much attention they’ll pay, but the more of us who participate, the stronger the impact our voice and preferences will have.

    You may feel you don’t know enough to make a choice between the two systems on offer. That’s OK, too. There’s a choice in the survey to indicate that or even that you don’t care either way.

    No personal details, not even your IP address, will be collected and stored with the survey. It’s completely anonymous. It’s also unofficial. I’m doing this because I think we should have some sort of say and I’m motivated to provide a mechanism, however imperfect, to provide at least an indication of our preferences as a community. Comments or questions can be directed to me on this blog entry or via @Eingang on Twitter.

    You’ll find the survey at the short URL of http://tr.im/OUinCloud. I hope you’ll participate. Feel free to point people at this blog entry, re-tweet the survey or blog address, or otherwise let as many of your fellow students and OU associates know about the survey. We only have a week and more participation is better, so let’s make it count!

    Michelle A. Hoyle,
    Open University Associate Lecturer and postgraduate student




    9 comments on “E-Mail in the Cloud: An Open University Survey”

    • Sandy Garrity says:

      Hallo, I would be interested to hear about the numbers of people who submitted a response to your survey.

    • A post describing the key survey results is now available at http://einiverse.eingang.org/2009/12/05/ou-in-the

    • The survey is now closed. I'll be analysing the responses over the next several days. Stay tuned for a new post with the results.

    • Today (Sunday) is the last day to participate in the survey. It will close automatically just past midnight (GMT).

    • michelle says:

      More clarifications (carrying on from last comment):

      6.) .open.ac.uk addresses: Both Google Apps for Education and Microsoft Live@edu will allow the OU to give everyone .open.ac.uk type of addresses, so you can still use your e-mail address for educational discounts.

      7.) The Cloud: Your e-mail can be completely hosted in the cloud but it doesn’t have to be. Both systems will allow you to use IMAP or POP capabilities in most e-mail clients to pick up mail, similar to how e-mail likely works from your current Internet Service Provider. You can then organize your e-mail on your own computer however you like, delete it from the remote system, or leave it to be accessed via a web browser.

      8.) Advertisements: Google has this to say about ads in Google Apps Education Edition:

      There are no advertisements used with the Google Apps Education Edition.

      If you have an account for only alumni at your schools, you are required to enable advertisements.

      Gmail also offers web clips at the top of your inbox which show you news headlines, blog posts, RSS and Atom feeds, and relevant sponsored links. Each clip displays the source from which it was received, how long ago the clip was published, and a link to access the entire story or page containing the clip. You may want to create custom RSS feeds for your University.

      If you have an Education domain and choose to Hide all advertisements for this domain in your domain’s Google Apps control panel, then sponsored links will also no longer be shown as webclips. Your users will still be able to customize their webclips for news headlines, blog posts, RSS feeds, and Atom feeds. ”

      In other words, the university can include its own ads if it wants, but Google itself won’t be adding any (or that’s my reading of the above paragraph).

    • michelle says:

      Thanks, @Lynne, for the Part 3 Google vs. Microsoft pointer of http://www.emergingedtech.com/2009/10/choosing-between-microsoft%e2%80%99s-liveedu-and-google-apps-for-education I’d missed that earlier. I’ve added it to the original post and to the survey.

    • michelle says:

      Just a few clarifications after a quick read through some of the comments posted on the survey form:

      1) Forums: Forum functionality, if provided, will be part of the Open University’s Moodle system. I don’t know at this point what’s going to happen to the existing OUSA forums. An OUSA representative would be a better person to ask. Google does have “Google Groups”, similar to the idea of Yahoo Groups. This isn’t included in the Google Apps Education Edition specifically, but I’d think any Google account created would be able to access any Google service, including YouTube, Google Groups, Picasa, etc.

      2) Keep E-Mail In-House: I realize there’s no option to just keep e-mail in-house or outsource it to a UK-based mail hoster. My understanding is that, for students particularly, it will be migrating to the cloud. It’s only a question of which provider. The two choices are the shortlisted choices the committee is considering. A number of factors were likely considered in shortlisting, including issues about data privacy and transport of data beyond UK/EU borders. In other words, the decision to outsource it has already been made. Many other universities have already done this (which doesn’t make it a good idea, but it’s not unheard of). See, for example, Google’s list of edu customers and some Microsoft Live@edu case studies.

      3) Give ALs In-House Address: David Wilson, in the referenced Snowball article, hasn’t discounted this possibility. I don’t have any additional information at this point. I could imagine, however, that migrating everyone to the cloud, especially if it’s “free”, is a tempting choice especially in an environment where education funding cutbacks are rife and we’re in a recession. I don’t know, however, if that’s being considered.

      4) No Choice: There’s no choice/way to not answer the question. As it’s fait accomplit, especially for students, that it will be one of the two systems and the factors about acceptable systems are quite complex, I haven’t allowed no choice. That’s also why it’s phrased, “If you had to choose…” You can offer some commentary in the free-text box. I will collate those responses as well.

      5) Cross-Platform: Microsoft Live@edu claims to be cross-platform and work with both Safari and Firefox. I have no personal experience with it. I do know that Microsoft HotMail (acquired from Sun Microsystems originally) is web-based and does work fine from Mac browsers. There are, I believe, also ways to use your current e-mail client to pick up e-mail via IMAP/POP from Outlook Live/HotMail. Google Mail and many other Google products are already cross-platform.