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Google Education Charms Universities

Against the trend, b-schools stick to their own email solutions

By  Ania Zymelka

Tue Dec 15 2009

Overflowing inboxes, complicated navigation and no interactive functions: for the vast majority of students, their university email solutions rarely win plaudits for use of cutting-edge technology.

Google’s new education software aims to bring the latest online tools to universities free of charge, in exchange for something priceless: their students.

Most in-house school systems, which were developed five to ten years ago, have generally not kept up with the latest standards of functionality and user friendliness: “Universities worldwide have been dealing with a lot of complaints from their students, but due to a lack of funds and expertise they were unable to up their standards appropriately,” says Luca Paderni, who heads marketing of Google Apps Education Edition worldwide.

In the last couple of years, an increasing number of colleges around the world have decided to ditch their internal systems, and are looking to outsource the services instead. According to the Campus Computing Survey 2008, almost three quarters of universities are currently considering a hosted solution for student email instead of relying on their own in-house versions.

Despite this trend, business schools seem reluctant to give up their internal email services. What may seem like a strange anomaly is actually quite easily explainable, says Paderni: business schools simply have less need to choose free software over their own systems: “Business Schools are the market leaders in education: they are therefore less driven by the savings argument than other schools.”

With the exception of Essec Business School in Paris and IMD in Switzerland, few b-schools have chosen to outsource their email services. “We have recently contacted London Business School and the London School of Economics, but most business schools prefer to stick to their own systems,” says Paderni.

But he’s keen to point out that Google’s Apps software has more to offer than just financial savings: “There are certain functions that in-house email services just don’t provide.”

With Google Apps, students and professors can share and work on virtual assignments online, including a function that allows professors to keep track of which student made what contributions to the task. Faculty members can upload videos of popular lectures or seminars, and the calendar can automatically send text message reminders before lectures or exams.

However, Google’s Education Edition is not just for academic learning, and is not trying to replace education management systems such as Moodle or Blackboard: “On the plus side, Google Apps is easier to use than these systems, so even staff members who are normally reluctant to use new technologies can learn to work with it quickly,” says Paderni.

All this is being offered free of charge by Google, and it makes you wonder about the catch. Paderni refers to the fact that Google’s founders developed their first search engine while studying at Stanford, and therefore have a genuine interest in investing in academia.

But despite Google’s apparent devotion to philanthropy, the new program is obviously driven by well-calculated self-interest: “Universities have some of the heaviest email users on the market, and graduates are likely to run companies in the future. So if students use Google Apps during their education, they learn that the system is robust enough to also be used for professional aims.”

With the internet providing tons of free apps and networking systems, companies are aiming for users to become so familiar with their software, that they will be reluctant to switch to other providers in the future: even if it means they start paying for it.