Why would any school now pay substantial costs for a school email service if they could get a better one free from either Google or Microsoft - for school and for anytime, anywhere learning - with up to 10 gigabytes of storage space?
At the BETT 2009 educational technology show in London the London Grid for Learning (LGfL) launched a free email service for 1 million schoolchildren courtesy of Microsoft’s Live@Edu collaboration suite of online services developed specifically for education. And leading learning platform supplier Studywiz announced a global partnership with Google to integrate free Googlemail into its learning platform (three local authorities are ready to sign up to the service).
Early Google adopter Cottenham Village College saved around £20,000 at a stroke on software licences and was delighted with the Google service, so it's clear that this is an emerging big issue for schools. The LGfL initiative will see 2,500 schools benefit not only from extended email (10 Gb of space per account) but also additional options including Office Live Workspace. This web-based feature of Microsoft Office has potential for collaboration as it allows students to share information without the need for downloading and for schools to easily create online communities.
Already 25,000 London learners have registered for the new service that has been branded “London Mail” by LGfL and hailed as one of the largest deployment of Microsoft’s Live@edu mail services worldwide. This figure is expected to double in the next three months.
“Part of our responsibility within education is to bridge that gap between school and the world of work. London Mail gives students an e-mail experience in line with what they will use when they graduate,” says Brian Durrant, chief executive of the London Grid for Learning.
“Amongst the 25,000 students we have been piloting the system with, we have enabled an increase in teamwork across schools, which is extremely positive. And, practically speaking, using this service has helped schools make significant savings. We estimate the average secondary school could save around £18,000 a year using London Mail, so across the 2,500 schools in London, it’s a multi-million-pound reduction in costs.”
Studywiz now has seamless integration with Google mail
For more than 12 months (and with high-level meetings at the US Googleplex) Studywiz boss Geoff Elwood and his team have been working with Google UK to perfect what he calls a seamless “direct migration between Studywiz and Gmail”. It gives schools a single sign-on between both systems. As Studywiz works well with current student management systems like Capita's SIMS, getting access to class and other user information takes a simple press of a button in Studywiz’s administration area to automatically generate Gmail accounts.
In addition to the automatic provisioning that cuts out the need for the tedious and overlong administration processes normally associated with setting up multiple email accounts, the new service means teachers will have access to tools that give them the option to suspend or block accounts and, if necessary, limit them to particular key stages for any given period. In effect it's a continuance of the same personalised way they currently work within Studywiz.
Geoff Ellwood is very excited about some of the new facilities this partnership with Google creates for schools and education generally. And he is at pains to point out that it is not exclusive, saying that it is crazy for any company to think it can be “a one-stop shop and provider of everything for everyone”.
“Being able to send messages direct to Gmail accounts essentially joins the dots between what are otherwise very disparate systems. Many students will have a Gmail or Hotmail or some form of email account themselves and this provides yet another way - just like we’re doing with the mobiles side of things – of reaching out and engaging students where they are with the tools and things they use every day of the week instead of expecting them to switch their brains off and use archaic antiquated systems that have been provided for schools.
Integrating Google Apps for online sharing and collaborative work will be the next logical step although Geoff Elwood would not be drawn on this apart from an expected "Watch this space."
With Google becoming a familiar free service in higher education (check out Leeds Metropolitan University), outsourcing email to the net is becoming a major and obvious trend for schools.
As well as the addition of Office Live Workspace for the “London Mail”, students they’ll be able to use Windows Live SkyDrive to store documents and photos online and Windows Live Spaces to set up a space for weblogs, which can then be linked to whatever is in SkyDrive. And they are all accessible from any computer that is connected to the internet.
Ray Fleming UK education marketing manager for Microsoft says: “We know that students want technology to help them communicate with their peers and access and share information easily. Working with LGfL allows us to reach as many students as possible, and truly embed ICT into schools — which will give students the advanced IT skills they need to be successful in the workplace.”