By fall 2013, Boston College webmail will have transitioned entirely to Google Apps for Education, a free platform that includes, in addition to email, a web-based calendar, documents, and Google Drive.
“A committee was formed a couple years ago to look at student email,” said Julie Gillis, director of technology implementation and communication at BC. “We were well aware of the limitations of the current system, particularly the space quota.” That committee, the Student Email Project, consisted of 14 administrators, including Gillis, and seven student representatives, all but one of whom graduated within the past two years.
“The process was a real collaboration,” said Scott Cann, technology director for ITS Support Services. “We looked at peer institutions … we had students participating, faculty participating, and staff participating. We wanted it to be a real group decision.”
Gillis also said that, in switching from an internal email system, BC is following in the footsteps of other institutions. In the process of finding a new platform, the University looked at various options, including Microsoft and Google, for outsourcing webmail, and talked to faculty members and students about the transition. Gillis noted that over 60 percent of students said that they already forwarded their BC emails to another account, and 76 percent of those students chose Gmail.
“We’re really excited that students will not only have 25GB for email and docs, but they’ll also have access to the tools of Google Drive,” Gillis said.
She mentioned that, despite enthusiasm about Google’s innovative suite of apps, the University was still careful in its negotiations with Google. “Google Apps for Education is free, and we wanted to see if there was any sort of ‘gotcha’-any chance that we would be charged at a later date-and there really wasn’t any catch,” Gillis said.
Cann confirmed that the switch to Google Apps is free-he noted, however, that the University still had to enter into a contract with Google before the transition could start.
According to Gillis, the transition will begin this March, when a trial group of 1,000 students will be offered the opportunity to switch to the new platform on a first-come, first-serve basis. Once feedback from that initial group comes back, the transition for the rest of BC students will begin. “Assuming that all goes well, which we’re sure that it will, all undergraduates and graduates will move to Google Apps by the end of the summer,” Gillis said. “The new address will be g.bc.edu-it will look and feel like Google, but it’ll be a BC instance of Google.”
“The purpose of the pilot is to make sure we’ve got everything worked out,” Cann said. “I think that it’ll go very smoothly.”
While the webmail URL will change, students’ “@bc.edu” email addresses will stay the same, and they will retain all their old emails. The new platform will also allow students access to the database of internal BC emails that was previously accessible only through BC webmail. In addition, seniors will still have the option, upon graduation, of forwarding their BC email for life-but will only have access to Google Apps for Education while matriculated at BC.
For now, only students’ email will be moving to Google Apps. Cann said that, while the possibility had not been ruled out, there were no current plans to move the accounts of faculty members and administrators.