Student email and digital collaboration at the University of Virginia will shift from the Google platform to Microsoft Office 365 in a transition that is expected to be completed by the start of the fall 2022 academic semester.
The shift is part of a larger, multi-year project to consolidate all UVA audiences and groups to Office 365 from the Google platform for the administration of email, calendars and files. Students are the final group for this conversion; faculty and staff members have been using Office 365 since 2017.
Not surprisingly, the pending shift has evoked some curiosity and anxiety as details about the transition begin to be shared with those who will experience the change in the months ahead.
UVA Today caught up with Virginia Evans, the University’s chief information officer, to address some of the basics of the transition as well as common questions already being asked by students.
Q. First things first: Does this mean student email addresses will change?
A. Every student will continue to have an email address built on the @virginia.edu email address suffix. This isn’t changing. An email account established for faculty, staff or a student appears as a normal UVA email (firstname.lastname@example.org, for example) on Office 365. The platform under those emails is what’s changing and that has no effect on the actual address.
Q. Will students now using the Google platform lose the emails now in their accounts?
A. No. The University plans to migrate all old emails and other documents to the Office 365 platform, so those will still be there on the new platform.
Q. Where will students see different looks and have to get used to something different?
A. First, we realize that many students (and others generally) have a comfort level with the services they’re accustomed to using. Google and its Gmail interface is a good example of that. Google Docs, a platform for sharing files and working on files with others, is another example.
After this transition, students will need to use the O365 applications to access their University email account and to share files. Although the look and feel will initially be different, the basic functionality is the same.
By making this transition over a period of months, and not just flipping a switch overnight, we hope to make it as easy as possible. Students already have access to many of the Office 365 applications (including Teams, OneDrive, SharePoint) today. Office 365 tools (except for email/calendaring) were activated for students during summer of 2020 and a number of faculty are already utilizing Microsoft Teams for class interactions and collaboration with students.
Q. Will the change make it more difficult to collaborate with faculty on things like shared documents or planning and coordinating through digital calendars?
A. An important goal of the transition is to make this kind of collaboration easier, actually, since all faculty already are on the O365 platform and moving students there will place everyone on the same, shared platform.
Q. Is this a way for the University to cut costs?
A. Costs are one consideration in this transition. Google is shifting from a no-cost, unlimited storage model for its educational licensees to a model that establishes quotas and includes charges. But the motivation is more than costs.
Having all faculty, staff and students on a common platform gives us an opportunity for a more-secure environment overall, better efficiency, and a way to introduce new tools and enhancements to the services that will benefit the entire organization.
Q. How will this transition be managed over the upcoming months?
A. A good place to keep up with the overall project status and steps is at the Office 365 for Students Project section of UVA’s Information Technology Services site. But here are a few key moments in this timeline:
- December 2021: New students incoming for fall 2022 will be set up on Office 365, as will any new academic faculty and staff.
- January 2022: Early transition of certain student groups from Google to Office 365 begins. These are groups that already expressed interest in making the transition.
- May-August 2022: Other current student accounts will begin transition from Google email/calendar/Drive to UVA Office 365 email/calendar/OneDrive.
Q. Are there any student groups who will not be making this change to Office 365?
A. Students who expect to finish degree requirements and graduate in the spring or summer of 2022 will not be transitioned. They will continue to use the Google platform through their time at UVA.
Q. What happens when a current (or future) student graduates, or leaves the University before graduating or having a degree conferred?
A. First, remember this does not apply to the students graduating in spring or summer of 2022. They are not part of the transition.
For other current students and those in future years, they will retain full Office 365 access for nine months after graduating. They’ll get another 15 months after that during which any emails sent to their UVA computing ID address will be routed to a personal alternate email that the student provides.
Students who don’t graduate will retain full Office 365 access for six months after leaving the University.
Q. Does this transition affect alumni in any way?
A. Current UVA alumni who have been using the Google platform for email will not be affected by the transition to Office 365. However, the changes that Google will be implementing will require us to review and analyze our Google storage utilization and to consider potential changes to the current UVA Google offering to former students and alumni.
Q. How is the University responding to student concerns about this transition?
A. We are actively listening and hearing the students’ concerns. We are reviewing all the comments and email responses that we’ve received and we’re considering all possible options for making the transition as smooth and seamless as possible.
While many of the posts have been about Google tool preferences/familiarity (and we appreciate the concerns associated with learning new tools), some specific, and potentially challenging, use cases have been identified and our project team is actively looking into those to determine what we can do to mitigate those concerns.
Q. How can I get other questions addressed?