General Bankstreet News

Teaching, Learning, & 25.6 Gigs: Bank Street Goes Google

Posted by Nick Gray on December 08, 2011

Gmail logo

Over the past year, Bank Street has been diving headlong into new technology projects that support the teaching, learning, and productivity of students, faculty, and staff. The College has seen the creation of a new website, the addition of an online learning system and an expanding selection of online courses, and the installation of interactive eno whiteboards in classrooms.

On Friday, December 2, faculty and staff received an additional tech boost: 25.6 gigs of email storage (roughly 85 times that of the previous system), plus a suite of “cloud-based” apps designed to promote collaboration and creativity—two ideals that are central to everything that happens at Bank Street. 

That boost comes courtesy of Bank Street’s Information Technology department, in collaboration with a little tech company called Google. And the Google Apps for Education suite, including Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Calendar, will be available for students as well by mid-January.

Identifying a Need

In September 2010, Bank Street IT surveyed faculty and staff to learn how people were using their existing email system, and to see what they really wanted. The results confirmed what they expected: that it was time for a change.

First, IT discovered that a significant percentage of users frequently hit their mailbox limit, and productivity was taking a hit while individuals worked to create space in their inboxes.

The survey also showed that personal use of systems like Gmail has changed expectations of what technology can and should offer. Many users are becoming more mobile, for example, and rely on their phones and other devices to connect to email—a function that Gmail does seamlessly, and with no cost to Bank Street.

Marvin Cohen, a graduate faculty member focused on math leadership, has been using his personal Gmail account and Google Apps at home and at work for years. He says:

I love never having to worry about file size, and how easy and intuitive the interface has been. Even if I have to get help, the solutions are sensible and usually open up possibilities I had not yet thought of previously.

After comparing options and reviewing possible solutions with the College’s senior staff (the President’s Cabinet), Gmail emerged as the clear winner: it would save Bank Street thousands of dollars, and, more importantly, provide users with significantly better tools to support their work.

Making it Happen

Art Weinstock helps the Family Center's Cashima Pondt with her Gmail account

Results in hand, Christina D’Aiello (Interim Director of Information Technology) and IT staff commenced a year-long effort to plan the migration of nearly 600 people to Gmail.

Internally, D’Aiello’s team included Gregory Russell and Arthur Weinstock, who provided systems administration support; Jeannie Crowley, who reviewed Google Apps from an instructional technology perspective to make sure any new tools supported the needs of a diverse community of learners; and Devindra Jagmohan, who manned the Help Desk. IT also partnered with a consultant, Ltech, to expedite the process by utilizing existing tools that made the process more efficient.

Training is an important piece of any transition. From the start, IT paid much attention to helping a diverse user community to understand the benefits of the switch and to feel comfortable using the programs. They provided regular training and drop-in sessions, and worked with a cadre of “Google Guides”—early adopters among the faculty and staff who volunteered to train their colleagues in learning how to work with the new applications.

Now that faculty and staff have gone Google, students in the Graduate School are also eager for the upgrade. Leigh Anne Keichline, President of Bank Street’s Council of Students, notes:

The appearance and ease of use of the email service will be like night and day from our previous system. Google Calendar and Google Docs are terrific. Google Docs in particular is becoming more and more indispensable—particularly for collaboration between students.

In the end, the switch to Gmail and its associated Apps—designed to facilitate collaboration—just makes sense for an institution devoted to teaching and learning.