Brockenhurst College wanted to upgrade its e-mail service to provide online tools that students could use beyond the classroom. Microsoft® Live@edu fit the needs of students and the organisation by offering functionality that reflects the way students interact online but is appropriate for an educational setting. Now, almost every student in the college uses the e-mail system every day.
Brockenhurst College is a Further Education institution in Hampshire, England. Awarded the coveted Beacon Status in 2004, by the United Kingdom (U.K.) Learning and Skills Council, the college has maintained a high level of academic excellence. In 2008, the college was again rated outstanding by the U.K. Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted).
||Providing technology that reflects what students use socially increases their perception of the college as a modern educational institution.
Head of Information and Systems Development
The college started providing an e-mail service to students in 2002—well ahead of many other Further Education institutions—but administrators limited the student e-mail system to sending and receiving messages on campus only, to decrease the risk of viruses and spam. Limited access combined with low storage capability discouraged students from using the college e-mail system. Robin Gadd, Head of Information and Systems Development, Brockenhurst College, says: “Students quickly found that their mailboxes would get full, and they couldn’t send e-mail externally, so why bother using the college system?”
It became clear that the e-mail system wasn’t supporting the needs of the students or the college. Students couldn’t use their college identity for official communications, such as their online applications for university places through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), while such low level of use meant administrators couldn’t be sure if students were receiving important information—it was clear that the college needed to upgrade the e-mail system.
“We decided that if we were going to provide e-mail services we should do it properly,” says Dr. Gadd. But with 3,000 sixth-form students and 9,000 adult learners, the college’s existing IT infrastructure didn’t have the capacity to provide individual e-mail accounts for everyone. Dr. Gadd says: “The Further Education sector struggles to find sufficient resources to invest in IT. We want to provide the very best services to our students, so it was clear we needed to look beyond systems that we would manage ourselves.”
Microsoft already provided much of the IT infrastructure at Brockenhurst College. Administrators were impressed by the level of service they received so they were eager to see what the company could provide in the way of e-mail systems delivered over the Internet. Microsoft Live@edu, including the SkyDrive storage solution, provided all the features students needed, and more. The system incorporates the tools—such as instant messaging, collaboration, and online storage—students already use outside college. “When a company such as Microsoft offers a service of this kind of calibre—free—it would be foolhardy to turn it away,” says Dr. Gadd.
Working with the Microsoft Exchange team and Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Salford Software, Dr. Gadd and his team implemented the e-mail and collaboration solution, using Microsoft Identity Lifecycle Manager 2007 as a provisioning technology. The project was completed within two weeks. “We decided to implement Live@edu quite late in the planning cycle for the following term, but, even so, we managed to get the system up and running the weekend before term started in September,” says Dr. Gadd.
This was not an easy task given the time pressure of enrolling new students once GCSE exam results are published in August. By integrating Live@edu with the college’s student records system, as soon as students are registered all of their IT services including Live@edu are automatically provisioned, making the ongoing management of the service straightforward.
The account gives students immediate access to a 10-gigabyte (GB) e-mail mailbox, 25 GB of online storage and collaboration tools that are accessible from any computer with an Internet connection. The ability to connect with the system by mobile phone gives students a great deal more flexibility than they had before.
With the launch of the new service, lecturers and tutors were sent notices in the staff bulletin announcing the Live@edu service and encouraging them to start using e-mail more to communicate with students.
Students needed little, if any training. Posters and publicity materials placed around the college inform students of the e-mail system when they arrive on campus. Some high-level explanation of the service is included in the student induction and administrators have published basic “how to” guidelines on the college’s portal, built on Microsoft Office SharePoint® Server 2007.
Providing a service that meets the needs of students has increased student e-mail use from almost none to well over 70 per cent. “We often talk about meeting student expectations, but students that have come through the U.K. school system don’t always have very high expectations of what they’re going to get when they start college,” says Dr. Gadd. “We’re exceeding their experience at school with services that reflect the way they interact online.”
• Anytime, anywhere access. Students can use the e-mail system from any machine with an Internet connection, on and off campus.
• Easy-to-use interface requires little training. The familiar look and feel of Live@edu was easy for students to start using immediately. Administrators posted a few basic “how to” guidelines on the college’s portal, but no additional training is needed.
• Resilient storage provides much-needed tool for students. Before the implementation of Live@edu, students kept their work on easily misplaced memory sticks. Now they can upload their work onto SkyDrive and access it anywhere. “We’ve seen an interesting reduction in the pleas sent around campus from students who’ve lost their flash drives, and consequently all of their course work,” says Dr. Gadd.
• Wider use of e-mail promotes collaboration. Increased student use opens new channels of communication between students, staff, and alumni.
• Fits the student lifestyle. Many students at Brockenhurst are used to having good access to e-mail and social networking at home. They’re regular instant messaging users and most prospective students put an e-mail address on their college applications. “Providing technology that reflects what students use socially increases their perception of the college as a modern educational institution,” says Dr. Gadd.
• More features for less money. Implementing Live@edu provides all students with a robust and easy-to-use e-mail system at no cost to the college. In addition, the college saves several thousand pounds a year that was spent on hardware and support for past e-mail systems.
• E-mail for life creates links with alumni. E-mail addresses that stay with students after graduation maintain their identity with their college.
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