Google Apps and the New American University

By Adrian Sannier, Arizona State University

This month Arizona State University (ASU) and Google made the first large-scale deployment of Google Apps for Education, to the ASU student community. In just under two weeks, ASU and Google managed to:

  • Integrate ASU’s single sign-on, allowing students to use their existing ASURite UserID to log in to Gmail for ASU
  • Modify the EMMA client to allow student users to convert to Gmail for ASU with a single click
  • Create a staggering 65,000 new Gmail for ASU accounts
  • Create clear messaging to communicate the news to the ASU community and to the world
Adrian Sannier

Adrian Sannier

This was a story of speed. On the day of our announcement at EDUCAUSE, students were converting to Gmail for ASU at the rate of 300 per hour. But in addition to providing an exciting new service for students, ASU’s University Technology Office was using the Google alliance as a way to demonstrate the agility of the “New American University.”

University President Michael Crow is reshaping Arizona State into a new kind of institution; a New American University that uniquely combines academic excellence, access, and impact. The New American University is a reconception of the 20th century research university intended to meet new challenges and capitalize on the new opportunities presented by the 21 st century. At its core, the New American University will define itself not by who it excludes, but by who it includes. It will distinguish itself by the quality of its output, rather than the quality of its input.

The United States has many excellent universities that in many ways represent the highest expression of higher education. But these institutions at the very pinnacle of academic excellence serve only the relative few, and this is by design. Central to their strategy for continued excellence is extreme selectivity in the students they serve.

The United States also has many colleges and universities that strive to provide access to higher education, struggling to make the experience affordable and valuable to the masses not served by the nation’s elite schools. As demand for higher education grows and the gap between excellent and “adequate” widens, the tiered approach will not suffice.

At ASU we believe that to serve the American people’s growing need for higher education excellence, a new way must be found; one that combines academic excellence and access in a single institution. But to attain this goal – to reach out to twice as many students, to support the success of a diverse student population of uneven preparation, all the while maintaining academic excellence – will require new ways of thinking, new ways of teaching, and new ways of supporting and guiding learners that will yield better results at comparable cost. Many of these new approaches will be based on a continual infusion of emerging technologies, skillfully applied to speed the advancement of teaching and research.

The feat that Google and ASU achieved displayed a nimbleness that rivals the best of what Silicon Valley can do. Building a reputation for agility is critical to the success of our technology alliance strategy, and we made a big stride the week of our deployment. But perhaps more importantly, by partnering with Google, ASU was able to dramatically accelerate its technology development curve, a move that will be central to achieving the New American University Vision. The exploding potential of information technology is the most promising and hopeful development of our age. Each day capability expands, and each day it becomes more affordable. Such powerful gifts have been rare in the history of the human race.

To realize the full potential of this technological “golden goose” in higher education, we all have a long way to go. You don’t have to take my word for it. In his book the Creation of the Future, Dr. Frank Rhodes, president emeritus of Cornell University (NY), points out that:

“…in the basic business of teaching resident students, universities have not diverged much from the methods of Socrates, except that most faculty members have now moved inside…[P]aradoxically, the research universities, which created and developed much of the new communications technology, have been slow to apply it to their mainstream activities. Most instruction is still a cottage industry, little influenced as yet by the benefits and support of modern technology. It is as though an industry had computerized its business and management activities, but left its manufacturing operations and sales distribution essentially unchanged and unimproved.”

At ASU we have recognized that the pace of technological change is outstripping the development capacity of internal university IT organizations. The cottage industry phase of the information revolution is rapidly approaching its end. If we are to realize the potential of rapidly evolving technology, our internal IT organizations must somehow leave behind the provisioning of individual services and climb the value chain to focus on the application and integration of rapidly emerging capabilities to continuously improve the university’s core activities.

This is why we are so excited by our alliance with Google. The Google alliance not only provides a vastly superior capability for our students; on the day we unwrapped the box it placed ASU on Google’s exponential technology development trajectory.

The range of technology solutions that Google is putting forward, at the speed and scale that they have proven they can deliver them, is sparking nothing short of a revolution in the IT business, completely changing the paradigm for how hardware/software solutions are created and delivered. Allying with Google gives ASU access not only to today’s innovative Google Apps suite – an order of magnitude better than what ASU could field on its own – but it also puts the university on a technology trajectory that is capable of keeping pace with the leaders in the field.

ASU’s new challenge – at least in this applications segment – switched overnight from the provisioning of e-mail, IM, and calendaring service to the intelligent integration of Google’s rapidly evolving collaboration and communications suite into the academic enterprise as fast as our legs can carry us.

We hope that Google Apps for Education is the tip of the iceberg and look forward to working with the Google Apps team – and other parts of the Google enterprise – to help us harness their unprecedented technology engine in the service of higher education.

Adrian Sannier is the University Technology Officer at Arizona State University. For more on this topic see Sannier’s blog or the Arizona State University Technology Office home page.

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