Are Google Apps the tool of the future for higher ed?

My colleague, Ken Kochien, has been blogging about the impact of web services on the slow to change behemoth of higher education. While he was talking specifically about the integrated suite of apps we presently utilize such as our Student Information System (SIS), Learning Management System, portal solution, email solutions, he wondered about the potential impact of new web services such as Microsoft’s Live.

In an interesting bit of timing, the buzz in my blogosphere today has been about Google’s new suite of apps. As I was perusing their site, I came across a link which targeted higher ed institutions specifically: Google Apps for Education. Google apps is the convergence of Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar and Google Page Creator with the intent to construct a collaborative environment that does not require place-based apps. The higher ed model is slightly different than the business model in that it eliminates the Google Page Creator and adds an Administration Console which enables the institution to brand its environment and manage student accounts.

And yet I wonder whether any of these types of suites will ever fully be accepted in this day and age where a good majority of our future students are already fully jacked in to the ‘Net and have already created their own collaborative environments. Will Microsoft Live and Google Apps ever truly be adopted by this generation that has its own way of staying in touch through social networking arenas such as Facebook and mySpace?

What could higher ed gain if it were found that it was unnecessary for institutions to replicate the services already being used by these digital natives? What might be lost?

Should higher ed be taking the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach? Instead of competing with and recreating artificial environments that mimic Facebook, should we instead be looking to see how we might be able to partner with and extend the capabilities of these already near-ubiquitous services?

These are the questions that higher education will be required to answer over the next few years.

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