ePals, creator of the world's largest learning network, has partnered with Dell to add its newly announced SchoolMail365 and its LearningSpace communication and collaboration solutions to Dell's Connected Classroom hardware, software, and services stack. The two companies are announcing the partnership today at the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) conference in Austin today.
Dell's Connected Classroom is almost more of a philosophy than any particular set of products (although it includes everything from netbooks to interactive projectors). Company reps have explained, quite rightly, that you simply can't drop off hardware anymore. Schools with stretched budgets, limited time, and limited internal expertise need a trusted partner who can assess their needs and provide customized solutions for them.
Those solutions can now include ePals' free email/document collaboration offerings as well as their social learning tools. Schoolmail365 is a secure, monitored email system wrapped around Microsoft's Exchange Online service as implemented in Live@Edu (soon to be Office 365 for Education). Other Live@Edu functionality is being layered into the LearningSpace cloud-based social learning application from ePals.
According to the ePals press release,
Dell will offer SchoolMail365, the next generation of cloud-based email for schools and districts, and ePals LearningSpace™, the award-winning social learning platform for K-12 collaboration and community. This is in addition to the work the two companies announced in September to provide an advanced caching solution for real-time access to ePals LearningSpace from any location at anytime.
The real power of ePals' hosted communications solutions comes from their own role- and policy-based controls over communications between all of the constituencies in their users. These roles and policies leverage the underlying Microsoft technologies which themselves allow for very fine tuning of Exchange Online (in Schoolmail365) and SharePoint Online (ultimately in LearningSpace). At the same time, these roles and policies can filter up from on-premise Microsoft Active Directory deployments.
This has become apparent at extraordinary scale in New York City, where the ePals deployment already has 2.5 million users provisioned. The system automatically determines and updates family relationships and resulting communications policies based on weekly data dumps from New York's student information system (SIS). For example, if a student has a parent identified in the SIS and that same student is taking a class from a given teacher, then the parent's contacts are automatically populated with his/her student's teachers (but they are prevented from contacting teachers with which they have no student relationship). Family management is burdensome in small school districts, but leveraging these business intelligence capabilities, ePals and the underlying Exchange architecture automate the process in a truly robust and innovative way.
At the same time, designated teachers are empowered to monitor and moderate student communications, while built-in "SchoolSafe" filters automatically flag potentially objectionable content. As a result, Dell is able to provide a complete end-to-end, CIPA/FERPA/COPPA-compliant, customizable communications and computing platform for school districts. From servers to drive the back end to netbooks for 1:1 computing to hosted email and social learning applications, Dell has launched itself back to the forefront of educational computing after seeming to lose its ed tech mojo for a few years. Even Dell's acquisition of Perot Systems positions them very well to provide additional hosted applications for schools in a very cost-effective manner.
I called New York City public schools' ePals/Live@Edu rollout a "a template for education in the cloud." It appears that ePals has done it again, this time with Dell, in creating a template for delivery of integrated best-of-breed solutions to schools. No one company needs to do it all. Dell would be hard pressed to create their own system like SchoolMail365 and ePals is no hardware vendor. However, schools can benefit in really transformational ways from this sort of partnership.