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"Penn Live" Provides Integrated Online Experiences for Students


Today’s college students rely on e-mail more than ever: to share notes with one another, to communicate with their professors, to stay in touch with friends and family while they’re away at school. Students need a way to be able to store and maintain increasing amounts of e-mail, and richer, easier methods by which to manage related tasks, such as calendars, contacts and file sharing.

The University of Pennsylvania -- known familiarly as Penn -- heard those needs, and has responded by partnering with Microsoft to enhance the communications platform the school offers to its students. With “Penn Live,” students of Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences and the Wharton School -- which combined represent 13,000 of the university’s 20,000 students -- will have the option to use a customized version of Windows Live to access a full suite of communications services, including e-mail, starting this fall.

“This is really all about our students,” says Ramin Sedehi, Vice Dean for Finance and Administration at Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences. “We listened to what they had to say, and we were guided in our decisions by a student advisory board that evaluated different options. We’re excited that now we have identified a partner who can help us deliver on our vision for a state-of-the-art communications platform.”

Windows Live @ edu

“Penn Live” will provide Penn students with 2 gigabytes of e-mail storage space and includes support for both mobile and offline capability, as well as other features such as blogging, contacts management and photo sharing. It was developed through Microsoft’s Windows Live @ edu program, which provides institutions of higher education with a set of hosted communications services for students, alumni and applicants at no charge.

Included in a Windows Live @ edu package is a hosted e-mail service -- Windows Live Hotmail, which also provides anti-spam and anti-virus protection. Microsoft hosts the e-mail, but the educational institutions maintain control, creating, deleting and storing .edu e-mail addresses for their constituents, just as they do today.

“We currently run a Microsoft Exchange environment and people love it, but we wanted to also offer a more integrated online solution to our students, because that’s what they were asking for,” explains Deirdre Woods, CIO and associate dean at the Wharton School. “Now, current students will have the option for more e-mail storage space, alumni can have continuity with an e-mail address that lasts for life, and all undergraduates at Penn will be able to collaborate on the same platform.”

With Penn Live, students will be able to access their e-mail on cell phones or PDAs with wireless data access, and will have offline access to their e-mail from Windows PCs using the beta version of Windows Live Mail Desktop. Live Mail Desktop also allows access to multiple e-mail accounts -- including Gmail and AOL mail -- and can include RSS feeds to favorite blogs and news sources. Students will also be able to use POP (post office protocol) to access their Windows Live Hotmail with other e-mail clients.

“We are tremendously excited to have the opportunity to provide Windows Live messaging and collaboration services to Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences and Wharton,” says Walter Harp, Microsoft group product manager, Windows Live @ edu.

Web-Based Calendar, IM, File-Sharing and Windows Live Spaces

Penn undergraduates and many of Penn’s graduate and professional students, will be able to do more than e-mail with Penn Live. They will also be able to take advantage of: a Web-based calendar that enables students to see when their friends and classmates are available and to schedule appointments; Windows Live Messenger instant messaging and file sharing, including multi-way instant messaging features to communicate in real-time and share files; Windows Live Spaces, where students can establish a personal Web presence, including blogs, photo sharing and other Web-publishing features.

Penn senior Amy Rublin, a member of the student advisory board that took part in the selection of Windows Live, says that she was impressed by Microsoft’s willingness to “go the extra mile” to give the University what it was looking for. “They are so responsive,” she says. “If there is student demand for something, it seems like they will work hard to accommodate us.” Rublin thinks that the new services will have an especially great impact on the way student organizations operate. “The calendaring and file-sharing features are going to make a big difference in how student groups communicate and make things so much more efficient. The only negative thing about it for me is that I won’t be here next year to take advantage of it.”

Penn students can keep their e-mail accounts for as long as they wish, even after graduation. They will simply need to log in at least once every 365 days (after that, the contents of the inbox will be deleted, but the account itself will remain, and the inbox will generate anew on the account owner’s next authentication). Penn Live users won’t have to worry about their information disappearing, or having to move it somewhere else to archive, just because they graduate.

“Penn wanted to be innovative in this space, and appreciated the flexibility that Microsoft offered,” says Woods. “They understood, having had experience working with higher education institutions for years, that universities are different from regular businesses. I believe that the type of online collaboration provided by Windows Live @ edu will be the platform for education and communication in the 21st century, and the university is very excited to be part of that.”

Penn Live is the result of a comprehensive discussion involving critical input from Penn students, university administration, and representatives of Microsoft. Moving forward, Microsoft intends to use the feedback the company receives from programs like Penn Live to continually improve and expand the Windows Live @ edu offerings.

“Penn administration and students invested a great deal of time and effort performing extensive and sophisticated due diligence on our offer,” says Microsoft’s Harp. “We now have the obligation to provide Penn a return on that investment. We are eager to collect feedback from Penn to help inform the Windows Live @ edu roadmap, and we are looking forward to introducing additional Windows Live services as part of the program in the near future.”


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