Emory University will be switching to Microsoft Office 365 for University-wide email and calendar services but will be keeping LearnLink for conference use only in fall 2012, according to Manager of Centers for Educational Technology Kim Braxton.
According to Braxton, the University has been using LearnLink for almost 15 years and has been searching for LearnLink’s successor for about three years. Braxton described Microsoft 365 as a cloud-based service that provides email, shared calendars, instant messaging and storage including a common address book and presence awareness, or the ability to see who is online. The program also has greater email storage compared to LearnLink: Microsoft 365 offers 25 gigabytes per student as opposed to the 250 megabytes LearnLink offers.
Braxton said that there have been ongoing requests from the Student Government Association (SGA), College Council (CC) and Graduate Student Government Association (GSGA) to better integrate the student communication service at Emory.
“That means one mail system and one calendaring system,” Braxton said. “The majority of graduate students moved to Exchange over the past year, so we are finally on the cusp of having one [online community at] Emory.”
The University chose this software because it fully integrates with Emory’s existing Exchange environment while also providing enhanced features and true mobility, Braxton said.
Microsoft 365 is a completely web-based email and calendar client that will be accessible on any computer with Internet and all smartphones. In addition to email and calendar features, Microsoft 365 will also offer its users an instant messaging feature called Lync.
Director of Academic Technologies Alan Cattier said that Lync will create a messaging environment for the community and will be similar to the instant messaging service on LearnLink.
Lync will also provide a web conference tool that will allow students to work together on PowerPoint presentations or other documents together online, according to Cattier.
Braxton said that Microsoft 365 will also offer light online versions of Microsoft Excel, Word and PowerPoint that students and faculty can access and use while logged into their accounts.
Cattier said the new program is particularly exciting because for the first time in the University’s history, there will be one email and calendar system for everyone at the school.
Braxton feels that students will appreciate being fully connected with the rest of campus, particularly with the shared calendars and messaging services.
“The biggest win, though, will be the fact that you can access these services from anywhere and from almost any device,” Braxton said.
Both Cattier and Braxton said that learning to use the new software will be very intuitive, especially to anybody who is familiar with email services similar to Gmail.
Cattier stressed that while the University is switching platforms for email and calendaring, LearnLink will stay untouched for all conference use.
“Conferences are a unique and valuable part of LearnLink,” Cattier said. “The conferences will be left intact and untouched. None of that is going away.”
University Technology Services (UTS) is also looking into finding the successor to LearnLink for conference-like services.
“We want to make sure that what we move to is as valuable to what we will leave,” Cattier said.
Cattier also said that for conferences, UTS is considering using a program called GoingOn, which will offer similar services as LearnLink.
The University is currently running a trial phase among faculty of Microsoft 365 and will continue to do so during the summer.
Once an official date has been announced, the Office for Information Technology will be hosting hands-on help sessions in the Cox Computing Center throughout the fall semester to help students get acquainted with the new service and set their email and calendars up on their smartphones.
— Contact Nicholas Sommariva.