Less than 3 months ago, New York City Public Schools, ePals, and Microsoft announced that a Live@Edu-driven ePals would be the educational collaboration platform of choice for the 2 million students, parents, and teachers in the district. Today, in an interesting turn of events, Google announced that New York State will be making Google Apps for Education available to districts statewide as an email and groupware solution. So is there a winner here? It's hard to say whether Microsoft or Google comes out on top in New York, but clearly the students win in terms of access to state of the art web-based collaboration software.
New York now follows Oregon, Iowa, Colorado, and Maryland in providing Google Apps to districts throughout the state. In a blog post by Jaime Casap, Google Apps Education Manager, it's clear that, as with the ePals rollout in New York City, professional development and best practices were at the forefront of this effort:
Today, New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), in partnership with the New York State Teacher Centers and associated Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), the New York State teacher unions and New York State professional organizations, will offer Google Apps access, training and support to 697 public school districts, as well as all non-public and charter schools, across New York.
This is where these sorts of large-scale efforts really shine. Although countless individual school districts have gone Google (or gone Microsoft, for lack of a better catchphrase), projects with support and buy-in from major stakeholders that can touch hundreds of thousands or even millions of students can flourish in ways that the average tech director or intrepid media specialist will struggle to attain.
So why the disconnect between New York State and New York City? New York City, given its size and resources, went through a separate RFP process and specifically looked to be able to leverage existing on-premise Microsoft architectures. Their RFP also included requirements for language translation that went beyond the capabilities of Google Translate and were already part of what ePals offered, given their emphasis on international classroom connections. That being said, the several hundred districts throughout the state, like many other smaller and/or rural districts across the country, lack large systems in which considerable resources have already been invested, making it easier for them to implement any solution, including that provided by Google. While no districts in the state are required to use Google Apps, the training and professional development resources available through NYIT make Apps a fairly easy choice.
It's worth noting that Google has powerful tools for migration from Microsoft Exchange. The tools are mature and work very well. However, the integration between on-premise Microsoft Active Directory and Exchange Server and Live@Edu (now the underpinnings of ePals' SchoolMail) are hard to ignore for schools heavily vested in Microsoft ecosystems.
In any case, all students and staff in New York will soon have access to cutting edge communication and collaboration platforms, whether they are in the City using ePals/Live@Edu, in other districts that have already moved to Live@Edu, or are in districts that will be leveraging Google Apps for Education through the statewide initiative.