Information Technology Services’ (ITS) initiative to transfer students from University-run WebMail accounts to Gmail accounts has been largely successful since its implementation on Jan. 19.
Members of the WSA ITS Advisory Committee say they have received mostly positive feedback about the transition, especially concerning the dramatic increase in space available. Still, some students have raised concerns about difficulty transferring over e-mail addresses and other general transition questions.
“Traffic at the ITS Helpdesk has been pretty high, with people asking us to configure their Blackberrys, iPhones and computers to Gmail,” said Justin LaSelva ’09, a member of the WSA ITS Committee and a Helpdesk representative.
Cesar Medina ’09, co-chair of the WSA ITS Advisory Committee, insisted that such traffic is normal, especially at the beginning of the year when incoming freshmen are adjusting to the system.
This transition process began late last October, after the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) ITS Advisory Committee approved the plan.
“We proposed this move to Gmail in Fall 2007, and the primary reason was that we had noticed a significant number of students had forwarded their e-mail to another account.” said Ganesan Ravishanker, Associate Vice President of ITS. “We said why not take advantage of this offering from Google… if you use this system, you still use Gmail to access your mail, but you retain that ‘@wesleyan.edu.’”
Given the current economic recession, the new Gmail system, which is run by Google Apps for Education and provides free service to students, appealed to the budget-conscious University for financial reasons as well.
According to Medina, there had also been several concerns about spam, which the University has had difficulty controlling.
“More and more recently, we’ve been getting what are called ‘phishing attacks,’” Medina said. “Basically, you’ll receive an e-mail from what seems like a legitimate authority asking for your username and password. We’ve had various student accounts hacked that way.”
Previously, the University had purchased scrubbing services, which check for spam and phishing attacks, to protect student accounts. Such services run from $4-8 per user per year. Gmail provides scrubbing services free of charge.
“Students have also been demanding more space, since [WebMail’s] 100 MB was quite low.” Medina said. “Google apps was a good option for students because not only would it provide more space, but on top of that, it would have these scrubbing applications, and other applications such as the Calendar and Google Docs.”
Students who wished to keep their WebMail address could opt out of Gmail through their E-Portfolios.
“The vast majority of the student body didn’t have a problem with having their e-mail hosted by Google, but we [the WSA ITS Committee] did believe that there would be a number of students that would not want to have that, and it doesn’t take anything out of the University to still host those students locally if they wish,” Medina said.
He added that the number of students opting out was “higher than the low estimate.”
LaSelva was one of those who chose to opt out of Gmail.
“I opted out for privacy concerns, although I found out afterwards that we have a modified User License Agreement that supposedly protects Wesleyan students’ rights more than a regular Gmail user,” LaSelva said.
In preparation for the transition, the University had actually negotiated a different contract, as many institutions using Google Apps for Education had done.
“It is more sensitive to the security and privacy of the University than just a generic Gmail account,” said Karen Warren, Director of User and Technical Services. “Wesleyan’s data is our data, and I think that’s a significant difference.”
In the future, incoming students are expected to also have the freedom to opt out of Gmail. Those students who chose to opt out can also opt in later, should they change their minds.
“So far, we’ve had about 35 students opt out, but we’ve also had a couple wanting to opt back in,” said John Hammond, ITS Helpdesk Manager. “I’m not sure if that trend will continue, but we certainly do hope so.”
Additionally, even students who choose to opt out can request to have access to other Google apps.
Faculty and staff have also expressed an interest in also switching to Gmail, a service which is currently implemented only at the undergraduate level.
“There’s also been a lot of interest, with people coming in to try and figure out how to use certain things: how to sync their iCals to the Calendar, how to use Google Docs, things like that,” Medina said. “I think this is something we’re going to address in the near future by doing some training or video ‘how-to’s’ for Google Apps. A lot of those, though, are already accessible online.”
Other offices on campus have also consulted with the WSA ITS Committee about using Google Apps. The Career Resource Center (CRC) and the Freeman Athletic Center are both looking to create public calendars that students can access or subscribe to through Google.
“It’s little things like that—the collaborative component of Google apps—that I personally think will be really beneficial for students,” Medina said. “It provides a good way for students to receive information in a more timely fashion, especially information they’re interested in, as opposed to getting those daily e-mails.”