Brown University goes Google

Brown may have gone Google, but it was not an easy choice over Live@Edu.

John Hay went to Brown University 155 years ago. He went on to do all sorts of important things, but today, he is best known on campus as the statue whose nose students rub for good luck before exams.  Maybe Microsoft should have rubbed his nose before pitching Live@Edu to Brown, since they just announced that they "went Google" this week.

Joining the ranks of schools who have had to choose between Microsoft's Live@Edu and Google Apps for Education as they deploy a hosted email solution, Brown University announced Monday that it had "Gone Google." I had a chance to talk with their CIO today and he revealed that the choice was not an easy one.  Both companies, it seems, have really compelling products, but in the end, project timelines, rather than John Hay's shiny nose, gave Google the upper hand.

Brown had already deployed Google Apps for its students about a year ago and the product has been very well-received by students. Brown's CIO, Michael Pickett, told me that student adoption of shared documents and the collaborative features in Google Apps has been quite rapid. In fact, he felt that it really supported Brown's recently updated curriculum that encourages students to self-design a major and course of study, noting that students were rapidly engaging faculty via Google Docs (and, in fact teaching them to use the tools).

Now, with the help of Appirio, a third-party Google partner, for conversion and training, faculty and staff have come on board as well. Mr. Pickett noted that Google's native Exchange conversion tools were so effective, though, that Appirio has focused far more on training Brown users to utilize a new email and calendar tool, as well as to think of ways to better leverage the collaborative tools like Docs and Sites.

There's that E-word, though, and it's worth mentioning here. Mr. Picket explained that the school would have actually preferred to stick with a Microsoft solution. Their Live products (including Live@Edu) were "not an inappropriate solution," he said, but the features they needed weren't going to be available soon enough to meet Brown's needs. He noted that "The Microsoft option will be a very competitive product." When I asked him if he was willing to specify which features pushed them towards Google, he declined to answer, suggesting instead that it was better to move forward than look back. He was also quick to note that both Google's and Microsoft's solutions in this space were quite good and he recommended that universities evaluate both to see which might meet their needs better.

We finished our discussion of what he characterized as a very smooth and successful deployment with a few words about learning management systems. He and other CIOs are watching the evolution of learning/course management systems carefully, particularly in the context of tools like Google Apps, which could, in some cases, mitigate the need for a full-fledged LMS. He wondered whether at some point a provider like Google might simply make modules available within Apps that would leverage the existing collaborative platform and provide LMS/CMS functionality. That is an angle worth watching.


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