Student email accounts to transition to outlook starting next week
OIT plans to provide resources and support for students
Students accustomed to checking their American University-sponsored Gmail accounts for emails must soon adjust to using Outlook. Starting Aug. 1, the Google accounts will be decommissioned and emails will be delivered directly to Outlook.
Outlook is available through Microsoft Office 365. Faculty and staff emails are already serviced through Outlook, but the decision to move student accounts came as a result of Gmail delivery issues that emerged in spring 2022.
The existing delivery system requires all messages sent to an @american.edu address be rerouted through Office 365 to Gmail. However, emails sent to @student.american.edu are delivered directly to Gmail via the existing delivery system.
“That flow basically creates the illusion of somebody maybe impersonating,” said Vice President and Chief Information Officer Steve Munson. “When Gmail gets it they say, ‘Oh, it didn’t come to me directly, I have this setting that tells me I should reject it because it's a high risk of impersonation.’”
Grace Steger, a rising junior in the School of International Service, said she has not experienced this specific problem but has had spam-related issues and trouble organizing her Gmail inbox.
With 91 percent of undergraduates completing at least one internship before graduation, according to the Career Center’s website, many students use their school Gmail accounts to communicate with employers. Steger said students should be able to network through their AU email without worrying that messages from other organizations are being incorrectly sent to spam or going undelivered.
“I know AU students really rely on getting emails from different organizations for job-related things in particular,” Steger said. “That’s part of the reason we chose AU, you know, to have that network, and so to not be able to be in contact with different organizations or different departments I think is nerve-racking for students.”
While Munson said emails regarding the change have already been sent out by the Office of Information Technology (OIT), many students remain confused as to what the move to Outlook actually entails.
“They definitely should have communicated better,” said John Freed, a rising junior in the School of Public Affairs.
Freed said he sees the switch as another in a long line of decisions made by AU with little explanation offered to the student body, such as the inconsistent masking policy.
“I’m personally annoyed by it just because, like when it comes to a user interface, Google is just so much better,” Freed said.
Munson acknowledged the lack of student awareness and said OIT encourages feedback from students to improve its reach. An initial email notification was sent to students around the time of graduation in the spring and the frequency of messages will increase as the official transition date approaches. According to Munson, OIT has partnered with the Office of Campus Life on social media to spread the news.
“That’s always a challenge, and a concern for us is what is the best way to reach out to students,” Munson said. “We really want to make sure that the students know that this is coming and are prepared, so any suggestions are welcome to us, you know, to get the word out and supplement our existing strategy.”
Office 365 allows users to create custom folders to organize their emails and has greater administrative management tools, such as email scheduling and built-in appointment booking, making it popular in professional spheres. But Freed said he feels these benefits are not applicable to AU students and do not outweigh the simplicity or familiarity of Google Workspace.
“At the end of the day, AU is a liberal arts college, it’s probably better to give us a better user interface than to give us some more professional software that most people did not grow up on,” Freed said.
Although Steger also sees room for improvement in the University’s communication, she said her experience using Outlook for work is positive and thinks it will be more beneficial for students than Gmail. She found Outlook more comprehensible, cleaner and easier to organize.
“It’s just been a little bit easier to sort through and even just looking at it from like an aesthetic perspective,” Steger said. “I know that seems a little weird but you know, when we’re in college and we’re really stressed, even that matters.”
The University’s subscription includes Microsoft’s suite of applications, such as Word, Powerpoint, Excel and OneDrive. Most of these are comparable to those available on Google Workspace. For instance, OneDrive functions similarly to Google Drive, which students will still be able to access after Aug. 1.
Despite the similarities, transitioning between one interface and another will likely be an adjustment for many students. Munson said OIT plans to provide multiple avenues of support for students, including online resource pages, tutorials and virtual office hours.
This support will be advertised through emails, the myAU Portal and the Help and Services website. There will be a mix of resources provided by Microsoft on LinkedIn Learning and content created by OIT, according to Munson.
Steger said that while she thinks it is fairly easy to adapt to the different platform, it is the University’s responsibility to aid students along a potential learning curve.
“There’s really not that much to learn,” Steger said. “I just don’t think students should be kind of dropped in the deep end when it comes to it and I don’t think they should be assumed to understand the layout because it is different.”