EliApps for Education
In the past few months, most students and some faculty members received invitations to leave behind the old central webmail and its infamous horde interface to transition to the new EliApps system which is based on the Google Apps for Education platform. More than an email system, however, EliApps offers an expanding suite of tools to students and faculty, and Loriann Seluga, Adam Bray, and Laura Tomas of the Yale Student Technology Collaborative (STC), along with Ken Panko of Yale’s Instructional Technology Group (ITG) came to TwTT this Tuesday to give Yale’s first public presentation on the educational applications of EliApps.
What is EliApps, and How do I get an account?
Rather than thinking of EliApps as any one application it is better to conceive of the platform as a modular collection of applications offered by Google that can be turned on or off individually for the Yale network. The core of the current package comprises five apps: Mail, Docs, Calendar, Sites, and Groups. The Maps, Books, and Bookmarks services have also been enabled, and more applications are being examined for deployment at Yale, particularly Google Moderator.
Google Apps for Education users experience some benefits over regular commercial accounts. The mailbox capacity of an EliApps account is 25GB,much larger than the 7.5GB limit of commercial GMail. Docs users will also enjoy 1GB of cloud storage space. These changes come to an interface that most users will recognize from commercial Google products, that is, EliApps Mail will look like GMail with the exception of the EliApps logo that appears in the top left corner of the page instead of the Google logo.
EliApps is slowly being rolled out to the entire central campus, with students and faculty making the switch first, while other staff members may have to wait a bit to make the change. Essentially, if you use a pantheon mail account you are eligible to transfer to EliApps. If you use Connect or Exchange to access your mail, you are not eligible to make the transition yet. The single largest exception will be staff that handles confidential electronic health information – the students, faculty, and staff of the medical campus. Since this information has different legal requirements associated with its transmission and storage, there will be no transition to EliApps for these accounts into the foreseeable future. For now, however, eligible faculty interested in switching to EliApps should contact faculty support, and students should follow the instructions they received in an email invitation to make the transition.
How do I Use EliApps for Email?
EliApps will eventually take the place of pantheon services, most notably email, group mailing lists (panlists and mailman lists), and department email accounts. The platform will also extend new services to users, particularly shared calendaring and document sharing. In order to improve service, however, the format and interfaces of existing services will change during the transition to EliApps.
One of the most common group collaboration tools currently used is the Mailman service, which allows users to send content to mailing lists. This service will be replaced in the coming year by the Google Groups tool. Although not completely live yet, Groups will be available by April 1st, and introduces some new features to campus mailing lists – improving the control list owners have over content. The Groups tool will allow a number of different preset configurations, including “team” which restricts the group to members only, “public” which allows anybody to send an email to the mailing list, and “announcement only” which can be used for a list where only the owner will be allowed to send mail. Group owners will also be able to manually set privacy and distribution restrictions, and can take advantage of the new archive feature, where all the messages sent to the group are stored and threaded to create a timeline of list activity. Groups can also be used to contact people outside of Yale, although non EliApps users will not be able to take list ownership.
While some departments may choose to use Groups to handle shared inboxes or departmental email addresses, others will probably choose to use a feature known as “shared accounts.” This feature is built into the Mail app, and allows a department to make an email account (e.g., Yale.Library@yale.edu), and then assign privileges to other individual users to access the inbox. These users can then switch between their personal inbox and the department inbox from a drop-down menu. This has the benefit of allowing actions taken on messages to be seen in real time by all users of the mailbox.
How will EliApps fit into Work and Teaching?
While Groups and the shared mailbox feature of Mail allow users to replicate services offered under the previous mail system, the greatest strength of EliApps is that it not only extends previous services, but also introduces new ones. With the introduction of Calendar, Docs, Moderator, Sites, and other apps and tools not yet activated, the applications of EliApps in work and teaching are limited only by user creativity.
Among the new tools, many consider Calendar to be one of the most exciting. Calendar allows users to not only create and maintain separate schedules for personal events, classes, activities and other regular happenings, but more importantly to selectively share calendars with other EliApps and Google Calendar users. The applications of shared calendaring in the classroom are manifold. Class sessions, office hour sign-ups, relevant campus events, or anything else can be instantly shared with all members of a particular group or course. The link to the calendar can be sent out using Groups, and the invitation itself can be restricted so that people have different levels of access to the calendar you are sharing. At the most private level, other people can only see when an event is happening (time marked as busy) without being able to see titles, descriptions or locations. At the highest level of sharing, other users can not only make changes to the calendar but also share it with other people. This level of integration allows both peer to peer communication and instructor student collaboration to happen much more efficiently since meetings can be scheduled without email or telephone tag, and event sharing is instant.
Some people will notice that some of the features of EliApps, including office hour sign-ups, already exist through Classes*v2. Although this is true in some cases, many more features are new, and those that are duplicated are implemented in a fully integrated way not possible through Classes*v2 alone. The schedule feature is an excellent example. Although faculty could previously set up a class schedule in Classes, it was fully independent from students’ personal schedules. In EliApps, however, when an event is scheduled by the professor, it will instantly appear on the calendars of all students subscribing to that class. Other features like Docs simply don’t exist in Classes*v2, but have obvious applications for instruction and may be integrated into Classes*v2 in the future, ensuring that the systems will coexist rather than compete.
Although EliApps tools have not yet been integrated with Classes*v2, instructors may still find EliApps useful in their teaching. The collaborative editing features and web integration found in Docs can give instructors more feedback about students’ writing process than a document left in a drop-box, and can also make peer editing much simpler. Unlike most word processors, Docs tracks changes to documents across time and allows multiple users to work on a document at once. This has the obvious benefit of allowing students to work together on editing a paper, or students to see instantly where revisions have been made by instructors. Another benefit, however, is that if a student writes an assignment in Docs the instructor can look back over the revision history and see how the paper took shape – giving him or her insight into the student’s writing process and where he or she may be having problems. Beyond word processing, Docs offers other office-suite tools, including powerful presentation and spreadsheet applications. Since Docs lives in the cloud, it can leverage web connectivity in ways not possible for standard desktop office applications. One example is the “importHTML” feature. This allows users to pull data directly from websites, updating the spreadsheet as internet data is updated. Information can then be presented in the form of charts and graphs, including a novel form of three dimensional chart that has a slider allowing the chart to show change over time. Yet another feature of docs with great classroom potential is the “form” tool. This allows the creation of web based surveys and forms that automatically populate a spreadsheet as people fill them out. This can be for everything from collecting student suggestions to carrying out surveys for class projects.
While students can obviously work together using Docs, some may choose to create a more involved collaboration space using Sites. This service is a very simple web publishing app open to anyone with an EliApps account. Although not an environment where custom HTML pages can be uploaded, Sites allows a website to be created and published in minutes. Sites can also be access restricted, creating closed collaboration spaces. This service could be of particular use for a laboratory class, where students are working in short-term temporary groups. Each group can quickly create a site and upload all data to that site instead of passing it between each other using flash drives or email. It should be noted, however, that Sites is intended for small and temporary sites – permanent labs or recurring classes should still use the university’s commons, Drupal, and WordPress services.
As use of EliApps expands, faculty can suggest the activation of other Google services on the platform. Google+ integration may be enabled if there is interest. Google Moderator is another service that will likely be flipped on in the near future. Moderator is a service that runs as a lecture is going on, and allows people to ask questions and then vote on them – essentially giving real time feedback on the understanding of the audience and where problems may be emerging, allowing the lecturer to know what he or she needs to review or present in more depth.
The final shape and role of EliApps is not yet certain, and for now, staff members using Connect or Exchange for email and Sharepoint for collaboration will not see too many changes. Students and faculty, however, can begin taking advantage of the new EliApps services immediately, and as semesters pass, new uses for EliApps in teaching, learning, and collaboration are sure to be discovered.
For full coverage of this session, please click the video below
(note a slight delay upon initial playback):