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CSU Monterey Bay offers dozens of new Google tools to students and faculty

Posted by Greg Pool, Lead for Web Services, California State University, Monterey Bay

Editors note: California State University, Monterey Bay is a growing public institution that serves nearly 5,000 students. Today is the two year anniversary of CSU Monterey Bay’s deployment of Google Apps. Guest blogger Greg Pool, Lead for Web Services, shares CSU Monterey Bay’s experiences with opting into the new infrastructure for Google Apps early.

CSU Monterey Bay (CSUMB) considers itself a “pre-release” campus; we want the latest features. This isn't to prove "we're cool," but because we see an opportunity to meet our users’ needs. When we heard that Google was making more applications available to Google Apps users, we were excited because services such as Blogger fit with a number of internal initiatives we had planned for this school year. In our view, the transition to the new infrastructure represented an opportunity to get access to tools we wanted -- for less money and in a more integrated manner.

Our IT department supports 10,000 users representing distinct groups and needs (faculty, students, staff), so we decided to take the timeline into our own hands. To minimize disruption for our users we planned the transition to the new infrastructure around our academic calendar. We also chose to transition a pilot group of users from our IT staff before flipping the switch for everyone, which helped us understand exactly what our users would experience during the transition.

One issue we had to address before the full transition was conflicting accounts, which occur when a user links a personal Google account to their CSUMB email address. Using the transition wizard, we were able to reach out to the 500 conflicting accounts in our organization to educate them about the change. In the end, only one of these 500 users wanted us to walk through the changes with him personally. In early January we were ready to switch all of our users over. Everyone in our IT department is a "glutton for punishment," meaning we love to test new technology, poke around looking for bugs, and run through every possible scenario where a user might encounter a problem. With this project, our gluttony for punishment wasn’t satiated: we didn’t run into a single significant issue while testing. The transition turned out to be a total non-issue. It just worked. And it has continued to work. After the transition our help desk support volume didn’t increase at all, even though we’ve enabled almost all of the new services, including Blogger, Google Moderator and Google Reader.

Now all of CSUMB’s users can do the educational work with Google Apps that some were doing with their personal Google Accounts before. All that cool academic stuff can now be done in one place, and everyone has access to the same set of tools. We’re excited about the ways these new applications increase our users’ potential. For example, one of the applications that has seen a lot of use is Google Moderator. This tool allows students to ask questions, show due diligence, and participate in campus discussions, even if they aren’t physically present in the same place. When we made the decision to enable the new applications, some of them such as Google Moderator had clear uses for our users, but we are convinced that students and faculty will find creative ways to use these services that we never could have thought of. We are still early in our exploration of what we can do with all of these new tools and we're looking forward to tons of new possibilities.