Cloud Conversion | Feature

Delaware District Leads State in Cloud Conversion

Adopting Microsoft's Live@edu has eliminated the cyberspace-ate-my-homework excuse for students at a Delaware school district, which recently conducted a yearlong test of the cloud computing service.

When an electronic document goes missing, lost in "cyber space" can be a convenient excuse. But it's also disruptive to the education process and that's one reason why the state of Delaware is changing its entire e-mail system. Timely and effective electronic communication is essential for teachers and students as well as administrators, according to Ron Usilton, manager of information systems for the Lake Forest School District in Felton, DE.

The pilot site for the state-wide deployment of Microsoft's Live@edu, Lake Forest recently conducted a year-long test of the cloud computing service, which provides each user with web-accessible versions of the Office Suite, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook with a 10 GB inbox in addition to 25 GB of online storage via SkyDrive.

"We started out looking at just changing our e-mail," Usilton said, "but, as we got into it, we saw there was so much more. We were already teaching Microsoft Office applications. Now, if students are at home and they get on the Internet, they can access all that. They can save their work on SkyDrive and access it at home, or they can work at home and submit it to the school. It makes a conduit."

So, with the Lake Forest pilot deemed a success, full implementation has begun for the entire state, and will be even more ambitious than originally planned. State officials said they merely wanted to improve e-mail service and functionality. Instead, the plan is to provide even greater resources--larger e-mail boxes, more online storage per individual, calendaring, and web apps for Office Suite are among the highlights.

The cost-free service is the most obvious benefit to cash-strapped schools facing ever-shrinking resources. However, the need to stay current with 21st century technology is something that can't be sacrificed to budget cuts. William Hickox, chief operating officer for the Delaware Department of Technology and Information, said the choice was simple.

"When you get into the cost-benefit analysis and you figure the amount of hardware, software, maintenance, licensing, everything that you have to purchase … and you compare it to an offering like Microsoft Live@edu, it became very apparent very quickly that this is going to not only enhance functionality, but it's going to be significantly less expensive to operate," Hickox said.

Using the example that IT staffers don't manage the infrastructure of the Internet--they focus on content, filtering and user interface--Hickox said he believes the entire computing industry will eventually operate in the same way. He believes Live@edu is the beginning of the future and he's excited about the educational advantage this gives Delaware students.

"Many students today have smart phones and have the ability to get e-mail regardless of where they are," Hickox said. "So to be able to communicate with the students directly after hours, in addition to the parents, really provides a better educational experience."

About the Author

Margo Pierce is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer.