NYC ePals/Live@Edu deployment a template for education in the cloud

NYC announced today that it would be rolling out ePals SchoolMail (powered by Microsoft's Live@Edu educational communications platform) to all 2 million students, parents, and teachers in the district. Wow.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

In a major coup for Microsoft's cloud-based services for education, Live@Edu, the New York City Public Schools announced today that it would be offering email and collaborative services via ePals and their newly-integrated Live@Edu services. Back in April, I called the ePals/Live@Edu partnership a K12 game changer and the largest school district in the country has certainly validated its importance.

I had a chance to talk today with Ed Fish, President of ePals, and Anthony Salcito, Microsoft's Worldwide Education VP, about the rollout which, in their view, serves as both a template for strong integration of technology in and out of the classroom and a model for very large deployments of cloud-based services at state, national, and educational ministry levels worldwide.

The deployment, which will ultimately be available to all 2 million students, parents, and teachers in the district, will include ePals SchoolMail, the ePals Global Community ("the World's Largest K-12 Learning Network" consisting of partnered schools and classes worldwide), the Live@Edu platform (which now drives SchoolMail), and, optionally, the ePals Learning Space.

According to the ePals press release,

With this e-mail technology, NYC schools will be able to:

  • Collaborate online with other students studying languages, history, science and other subjects and improve writing and digital literacy skills;
  • Communicate online regularly with parents, set up digital projects for students, post and update calendars of school events and communicate with other teachers worldwide; and
  • Provide translations in 58 languages, an important feature given that more than 40 percent of New York City’s students report speaking a language other than English at home.

It's worth noting that the ePals/Live@Edu solution was chosen through a competitive bid process, the RFP for which described a district-wide communications and collaboration solution. Teachers were largely already using on-premise Microsoft solutions for their email and these on-premise services will be integrated with cloud services for students and parents through this project. The choice of ePals is expected to save the district $5 million per year over other solutions for student/parent/teacher communications.

Most importantly, though, is the emphasis on learning throughout the deployment. Rather than simply providing teachers with a new (and albeit powerful) means of communicating with students and teachers, classroom integration is being taught and modeled at all levels. Teachers will receive "robust online training" as well as on-premise training focused on the use of email and the ePals global community with clear integration into the curriculum. According to Ed Fish, the training will include examples at elementary, middle, and high school levels of how these technologies can enable authentic learning experiences anytime, anywhere. Unlike all too many new initiatives in schools, this takes a "thoughtful and holistic approach to training."

The new communications platform is also being integrated with existing efforts and initiatives at the schools, from broadband deployments to ongoing 21st century skills training.

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