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A tale of two e-mail systems


In my first few days on the new job, I heard from several people "Please get rid of our district's two e-mail system!" And they cited the confusion, miscommunications, and time-consuming nature of the dual system. And over the past few days, I've learned to feel their pain.

When Gmail was introduced to the district a few years ago, the decision was made to keep Outlook/Exchange in place for "official communications." The reason I was given was that Gmail was not secure and could not be effectively archived. My hunch is that a lot of Outlook users (this is a PC district) did not want to lose the familiar and powerful desktop client for e-mail and calendaring. And I understand completely the reluctance of overworked people to learn a new system.

We'll do a short poll of staff next week asking if they would prefer one system or two for doing e-mail. Were I a betting man, I'd give odds on the one system preference being overwhelming. The trick will be choosing the system that will best suit the teaching and learning needs of both staff and students, making the transition as pain-free as possible, and assuring everyone of the security and reliablity of the new system.

In my professional opinion based on past experience and gazing into my crystal ball, the choice is clear - shut down Outlook/Exchange and move everyone to Gmail. Here's why:

  1. Computing is going cloud-based and Gmail offers a superior, platform neutral web-based e-mail and client system. The web-client for Outlook/Exchange is woefully under-powered. And for e-mail o be used in any location with any type of device, a good cloud-based client is critical. To take full advantage of e-mail or the calendar, staff and students shouldn't need a PC running Office at home, on personal devices, or on a school computer.
  2. E-mail and calendaring needs to work in hand with other online productivity tools. Yes, there is Office 365, but last I looked it was expensive, clunky, and not widely adopted by K-12 schools. (When is the last time you saw a "Using Office 365 in Your Classroom" session at a educational tech conference?) 
  3. The adoption of GoogleApps by all staff will help create a culture of sharing, collaboration, and cloud-based storage/access/productivity throughout the district. As administrators model the use, teachers will be more likely to adopt the practice in their own work - both collegially and with students.
  4. If we want to make our students "career and college ready", we should be using a system, the argument goes, that will be used once they leave K-12. This has been a popular argument with Microsoft proponents, but I think it has two problems. The first is that Gmail is used by a lot of post-secondary institutions and a growing number of businesses. (See quotes below.) Second, by the time any kid below 10th grade graduates, e-mail, calendars, and productivity will probably look very different regardless of program. We need to be teaching transferable skills, not programs. Period.
  5. We can lower out operating costs. Yes, we may need to pay for archiving (still looking for state/national laws on this) but by not supporting an in-house e-mail server and back-up, lower tech support time needed to maintain the system, not paying for Office licenses, using GoogleDrive for storage instead of internal servers, and being able to use Chromeboxes/Chromebooks instead of full-blown PCs, the cost savings will be significant, I predict. Less tech funds going to infrastructure and more going to getting kids access to equipment should be a goal of every school.
  6. Long-range training on GoogleApps is easier. Google's strategy of making small changes on an ongoing basis instead of doing huge major releases with major changes, helps users adjust and not need re-training when new versions come out.
  7. Google offers some powerful tools to aid the transition from Outlook to Gmail. Contacts, saved e-mail, calendar events, and such can be exported and re-imported into Gmail from Outlook.

 Since no one has yet made me tech czar, only tech director, this change will need finessing. If it proves unpopular, the next greeter you see at Wal-mart just might be me. 

If you've made this transformation, please share your experiences. Or tell me why a dual e-mail system should be continued. Thanks.


Image source 


Almost 1 out of 5 companies have deployed Google Apps in some form according to a study conducted by White Stratus.

66 of the Top 100 schools (according to US News & World Report ) are using Google Apps for Education.

... the entire state of Oregon has “gone Google” in K-12. Every school there is replacing traditional Microsoft applications with Google and the state is saving over $1.5 million a year in IT costs (no installations, no fees, no updates, etc…). If that isn’t enough the whole country of Malaysia just decided to do the same

Graph showing increase in Google usage by students

I recently came across this blog post that gives several more interesting stats (and a great infographic) on how rapidly Google Apps for Education are growing in the US and beyond. A few things that stood out:


  • Over 25 million (see graph – as of August 2013) students are using Google Apps for Education. This number has doubled in 2 years.
  • 72 of the top 100 universities are using Google Apps for Education
  • Oregon was the first state to offer GAFE to all K-12 students. More are jumping on board including Wisconsin, Colorado and Iowa. <>



Hundreds of millions of individuals worldwide are already using Google Apps products like Gmail, Docs and Calendar. Because students and teachers are familiar with the tools outside of school, using them in a school setting comes as second natureto many. This is especially true with email as the majority of students already use Gmail for personal use. This existing familiarity means that for the user, migrating to Google Apps is often not a migration at all. As a result, schools that switch to Google Apps for Education consistently experience a high rate of adoption with students, professors and administrators alike embracing the new tools.

For example, a case study revealed that when the University of Notre Dame in Indiana switched to Google Apps for Education, people increased their use of email, had 20% fewer questions for the Help Desk, and indicated a 36% increase in IT satisfaction since the migration to Google Apps. This high rate of adoption was further complemented by a cost savings of over $1.5 million to the university.

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Reader Comments (8)

I understand your pain. We were a Microsoft Exchange shop for years. About 5 years ago we switched to Live@EDU, now Office365. We also had a Google Apps for Education during that time. Over the past few years several of our staff started using Google Docs. They began asking why they could not use gmail. Over a year ago, after a lot of discussion and support from key staff using Google Docs, we moved our email to GAFE and dropped Office 365. We installed Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook. This allowed staff to continue using Outlook almost like before. I say almost because there are a few minor differences we had to work through. The biggest issue we had was with those staff members that organized emails inside of nested folder structures. The folder structure does not translate well when using the Gmail's web interface. The non-power users did not even noticed we had changed.

Overall, it has been a slow transition. We still have about 50% of staff using Outlook but that is down from the 90% that used it when we first switched over. I expect over time more will drop Outlook and that we will always a few Outlook users until they leave our organization. We are now only showing new hires the web interface and not configuring Outlook for them.

As far as archiving goes, like you I can not find any law that states you have to archive email. I think this is myth told to us by vendors. Now with that said, I know we have to keep records according to record retention policies. If the connect of an email is a record then it must be maintained. It is easier to just archive email than try to explain record retention to staff. We choose to go with Spanning Backup of Google Apps. It has worked well for us. I know Google also has vault which I believe gives you free backup of student data.

Good Luck and keep us posted what decision your new district makes. PS is you would like to talk just email me and I will send you my contact info.

August 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBigEd95

I've led the switch from MS products to Google products and in two districts and in both cases have experienced huge success. Your points are well made. Simplicity and cost savings sums in up well.

I always laugh when teachers make the case the we need to teach MS Office to our students so that we can prepare them for college. I try to reassure them that most students who can get into college can figure out differences between Google and Microsoft toolbars.

Best of luck. FWIW - archiving costs for GAFE really aren't that bad - especially when compared to running your own exchange server.

August 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterZach

I think it all depends on your organization and how they use the tools they have. I inherited, what I perceive to be, an ill advised switch to Gmail. Bottom line, the district lost system functionality they were using. In a past organization, who didn't use any of the system functionality, the move to Gmail is a no brainer.

Good luck with your decision on which one to keep Doug!

August 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Mielke

Amen, Doug. Just do it, you have my vote. Change to Gmail exclusively. I have been pushing for this since we started using GAFE, but I do not hold a position to make this change. My concern with some users is that they don't know what they don't know.

I think 2 big points, as you mentioned above are: 1) we use GAFE and are already logged into it. It makes it cumbersome to have to change over to something else to deal with email. 2) No need to deal with Outlook and having the app on each machine, we have access to a relatively robust mail/calendar platform from any browser/app that we already have on all our devices - even OS X/iOS. This will save on tech support.

Thanks for challenging the district's excuses. Regardless of what happens with this, at least you are taking the time to look at it.

August 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

This is a great compilation of thoughts and data Doug! My school in Kuwait has always been an Outlook campus. The owners are business minded and seem to think that Microsoft is the only option. When they recently chose to adopt Office 365, they didn't ask anyone's opinions. Now teachers are approaching me eager to use GAFE with their students. (I am a Technology Integration Coach.) The middle and high school principals have approved a pilot of GAFE in the vain of using the best tool for the job. Students of selected teachers will create Google accounts using their school (exchange) emails. We weren't approved to actually get a an education domain but at least it's a step in the right direction! For a for-profit school, you'd think that the free choice (GAFE) would be a no brainer!

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLissa

Thanks, Ed. I really appreciate the experience as well as the offer of future assistance.

In my former position, we made the transition from Exchange to Gmail as well without a lot of suffering. I do like the idea of GoogleSync for those Outlook diehards. I will be trying that out soon.


Thanks, Zach. I appreciate the encouraging words and info about archiving costs.


Thanks, Nathan. I sense that admins are using a lot of the features of Outlook's calendaring and e-mail system, but not the teachers. It will be admins and admin assistants we will really need to work with if we make this switch.


Thanks, Roger. I appreciate your support. My hope is that there will be a lot of support for this.

A salam a lakum, Lissa. I experienced some similar frustrations many years ago working for ARAMCO in the Dhahran area. Number Munchers needed the same software clearance from the company as did a new billing system!

Good luck with your transition. I would definitely not go too long before getting an official GAFE school domain for kids to use instead of personal Gmail accounts.


September 1, 2014 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I brought our district through the change 2 summers ago (2012). Fortunately I didn't have to fight Microsoft as we had a groupwise server that was catering. 95% of staff immediately fell in love with it being able to access anytime, anywhere, any device. My only 2 challenges were our now retired superintendent and her assistant (also retired). Her replacement immediately took to using GAFE especially the calendar.

2 years later, every staff member and 4-12 student has google accounts, another 400 chromebooks and we'll be 1:1 devices for our students in all K-12 grades. Students/staff fully embrace GAFE and we have our first classrooms going paperless this year.

Advantages - no mail servers to maintain, access anytime, anywhere, cost savings and more.

Challenges remaining: 1 business teacher at high school insisting students must learn MS Office - unfortunately she has a decent argument since our state university system has an intro to computers class that you demonstrate your knowledge by doing things in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Hopefully they will go to process instead of vendor specific tools.

For archiving - do check your state laws and regulations. In our state, our records retention laws are buried - technically I only need to archive the e-mails produced by "those individuals who set or enforce policy" - so no teachers, students, etc. but we do it anyway. And..... even if not a requirement, their are other times archiving could be beneficial for other reasons.

If possible - Just Do It.

September 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEverett

Thanks for the great story, Everett. I do plan to "just do it."


September 4, 2014 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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