IT services offer transition to gmail for students

Around a year and a half ago, Information Technologies (IT) Services began searching for options to the student webmail system now in use. Google fanatics will be happy to hear that IT has decided to outsource student e-mails to Gmail.

Gmail is available to students through an opt-in service, and as of Oct. 20, 240 students had already switched to take advantage of the new features the service offers. Every two weeks, IT will send out an advertisement to encourage an early switch. Students who do not switch their mailbox by the Spring 2011 semester will automatically be switched.

There are a total of 19,000 student webmail accounts, according to IT Services.

All students will get a new mail domain. Instead of [email protected] the domain will be [email protected] Even though students will be assigned a new domain they will still retain their old alias. Thus, colleagues and friends do not have to learn a new address. Additionally, if a student already uses Gmail and wishes to consolidate his or her accounts IT can help them do so.

Two major reasons why Gmail was chosen over other internal or outsourced webmail services is because UAF already adopted the service and because USUAA suggested the service when IT included student government in the decision process, stated UAA Chief Information Officer and Vice Provost for IT Services Dr. Rich Whitney.

There is one more logical explanation for the choice.

“One of the things we looked at in the original planning is… how many (students) are forwarding messages, and of those that are, where are they forwarding to,” Whitney said. “The largest single category of forwarding was to Gmail.”

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IT views the switch as a major improvement. Students’ current inbox capacity is set to a limit of 10MB while Gmail offers 7GB of storage. In addition, Gmail offers its users Google Apps, which includes a wide range of applications, such as Google Docs and Google Sites.

Angus Bromaghin, mechanical engineering major, likes some of the features of the old webmail but dislikes others.

‘What I like the most about it is how you can go on Blackboard and e-mail classmates for projects and things like that. It makes it easier to keep in contact with other students,” Bromaghin said. “I dislike that it’s an older system. It’s harder for me find settings I want to change.”

UAA webmail is largely used for school related matters, stated nursing major Susana Rodriguez.

“It’s fine. I don’t really bother unless it’s for school,” she said.

Improved security is another aspect Gmail will provide to students. The University has a commitment from Google which states that students will not have advertisements pushed on them or their mail mined for personal information. The mail service has tools in place to control spam. This combined with the commitment not to push advertise to students should make security a little easier, stated Whitney.

“We expect to use the next three or four years in this contract with Google to better evaluate that. If we believe that it is not in the best interest of our students we will definitely make a decision to move away from Google,” Whitney said.

UAA will not be outsourcing employee e-mails, however. Information shared among faculty and staff are protected by acts, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Security requirements for UAA employees are more stringent than the security that students require, stated Whitney.

A number of universities around the nation have been switching their e-mail services to Gmail only to move out at later time. MIT and the University of California Davis are among schools that recently moved all their employee e-mail to Gmail but moved it back out because of concerns for information security and privacy for employees.