McMaster to shift student emails and calendars to Microsoft 365 starting in May

C/O Maxim Ilyahov on Unsplash

On March 8, McMaster University announced that all student email platforms will be changed from Gmail to Microsoft 365 cloud in May 2021. 

On March 8, McMaster University announced that all student email platforms will be changed from Gmail to Microsoft 365 cloud in May 2021.

All faculty, staff, retirees, and medical students have already made this transition in 2020.  

“The feedback that we've had so far from staff, faculty and our medical students has been extremely positive,” said Gayleen Gray, chief technology officer at McMaster.

This change comes from the McMaster IT strategic plan that was launched in 2019 to improve the digital tools that the institution uses.

“There's a number of initiatives to bring the institution forward into what we call a 21st-century university,” said Gray.

These initiatives include more modern digital toolsets, collaboration tools and projects that will help McMaster work, learn and teach. The overall goal is for the university to work more creatively and collaboratively.

“There's a number of initiatives to bring the institution forward into what we call a 21st-century university,” said Gray.

Although students already have access to Microsoft 365 products, the conversion to Microsoft will streamline communication and online collaborative tools to one platform.

“[University Technology Services] also learned that when people have their email and calendaring integrated into the Microsoft suite of tools, they tend to be a lot more curious, a lot more interested in and more embedded in the opportunities that are available there,” said Gray.

The change was partially made to improve the accessibility of the email and calendar systems.  International students will have easier access to Microsoft than Gmail. According to the Office 365 Hub website, the university hopes to prepare students for professional environments through an early introduction to Microsoft 365, as the majority of workplaces utilize Microsoft services.

The email migration will occur in May 2021, after the winter 2021 semester is over. A communication plan and strategy will be announced in April 2021 to explain this process. The email migration will be managed by the project team and all existing emails, calendars and contacts will be copied to students’ Microsoft Exchange/Outlook account.

Students will have access to their Google Apps for Education environment, such as Google Drive, for both the fall 2021 and winter 2022 terms, according to Gray. Students will also be notified before their McMaster GSuite account is fully terminated in 2022, to allow them to manually back up and save any data they wish before this happens.

This change will allow the university to avoid the costs that they would have faced in 2022 due to the recent announcements of the changes to storage policy that would reduce the amount of storage available for institutions using Google for Education environments. The switch to Microsoft will allow McMaster to avoid costs in upgrading to additional storage

“We were looking at the opportunities and weighing them out and the reality is, it won't make sense for us to stay within that Google for Education environment, explained Gray.

Due to the high amount of data that students currently store, the transition was inevitable. Some McMaster students have expressed concerns anonymously on social media, while others have started a petition against this transition.

[#1131] mcmastsr switching from gmail to microsoft is a change no one asked for

Posted by Mac Confessions on Monday, March 8, 2021

This decision was made with the input of the IT student advisory committee and the multidisciplinary project steering committee. The project steering committee includes two undergraduate students, two graduate students, a faculty member, chief librarian, the McMaster Students Union president, along with the chief technology officer and a few other individuals.

“Our biggest goal is to ensure that this is as smooth a process as we possibly can make it. We're very interested in the feedback that we've been hearing because it's helping us to ensure that we're gearing the project to make it as smooth as possible,” said Gray.

[#1132] Wow. Genuinely angry that McMaster is switching to Microsoft 365. Gmail is just SO much better in my opinion. I...

Posted by Mac Confessions on Monday, March 8, 2021

“We've heard from students who had concerns and [who are] feeling uncertain about it . . . we're always happy to hear from students, we're taking that information and we'll use it to help us improve the way the project rolls out,” Gray explained.

For students that are unfamiliar with Microsoft 365 tools or want to learn more about them, training and one-on-one sessions will be held throughout the migration to provide support. These can be accessed through the Microsoft 365 Hub as the change occurs. They can also access the frequently asked questions list, which will be continually updated.

“We will have lots of time come the end of the semester to focus on this and to support students and answer all of their questions . . . rest easy and we've got your back,” said Gray.

The ultimate gift guide for the pandemic

I have always taken gift-giving very seriously. Even before I had money to spend on gifts, I was finding ways to celebrate my loved ones. I spend a lot of time thinking about what to get people and nothing makes me happier than seeing the look on someone’s face when a gift I’ve put a lot of time into makes them truly joyful.

This year, there are several people who I would normally buy holiday gifts for that I will not get to see. As we continue to hold birthdays and other celebrations in the pandemic and as we go into a holiday season where you might find yourself distanced from those you normally celebrate with, here are some gifts you can send through email that aren’t e-transfers.

GIFT CARDS

I couldn’t write a list of gifts to give faraway loved ones without including gift cards, even though sometimes they can be boring gifts. However, depending on the gift card, your recipient will really enjoy it. Find a gift card that helps them buy an item that they’re saving up for or get them a gift card to cover their Spotify subscription, groceries, or other bills for a little while.

 

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A post shared by WaySpa | Spa Gift Card (@wayspa)

Also consider finding a gift card that pays for your recipient’s splurges. Do they regularly get facials? See if their favourite spa is on Wayspa. Do they typically spend too much money on concert or sports tickets? Gift them a Ticketmaster or StubHub gift card so they can be the first in line when venues open back up. Are they always ordering takeout? Get them a gift card to their favourite restaurant. Or, pick a gift card to their signature stores or stores that sell products only they would buy.

But it is the most entertaining as a gift-giver to surprise them with an out-of-the-box gift card. Consider options such as gift cards to businesses that sell photobooks and other personalized goods. Is there a store your friend loves, but they can’t afford their products? Give them a gift card that makes it easier for them to get that item they’ve been wanting. Are they looking for a particular product? Find a small business that sells what your friend is looking for and get them a gift card from there.

You can find local small businesses at sites and Instagram pages such as Not-Amazon, Hamilton Supports Local and Blk Owned Hamont. You can also give Etsy gift cards, which allows your recipient to pick the item they want from a small business that’s local to them.

 

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A post shared by BLK OWNED Hamont (@blkownedhamont)

Lastly, never underestimate the power of an I owe you gift certificate. Especially with the cancellations and changes caused by the pandemic, their perfect gift may be something you can’t give them now but want to promise to get them in the future. You could also gift free items — a hug for when COVID-19 is over or a regularly scheduled Zoom call with them.

PRINTABLES

Printables are paper products that your recipient can print out themselves. You can find several gift-worthy printable items for free or you can buy one from a small business. Many printables are also easy to DIY.

 

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A post shared by The Witch’s Fix (@thewitchsfix)

Book lovers may enjoy printable bookmarks, such as these ones from Hamilton-based shop The Witch’s Fix or printable reading journals such as these I found on Etsy. For the cook in your life, you can get printable recipe cards like these ones from The Witch’s Fix.

Consider sending crossword and sudoku puzzles to those in your life who like a challenge or a personalized calendar to those who like to keep track of things. You can also grab art lovers a print or poster, which several small businesses also create custom.

SUBSCRIPTIONS AND MEMBERSHIPS

There is truly a subscription box for everyone, from fitness to escape room lovers. For both the cooks and kitchen hazards in your life, consider a short-term meal kit subscription. For the readers in your life, consider book subscription boxes like Raven Reads, which ships Indigenous literature both in Canada and abroad.

Know someone who is always hunting for the best beauty products? Try a subscription box like Curls & Confidence, which sends a quarterly hair regime for curly hair. Hoping to get a loved one to slow down and take some time for themselves? Try a self-care subscription box like Pampered Post.

 

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A post shared by Raven Reads (@raven_reads)

Many subscription boxes are pricey — or at least add up quickly — but don’t think that there isn’t a subscription-based service in your price range. Treat your loved ones to a short-term subscription (or gift card) to a streaming service that they’d love but don’t have yet, like Disney+ or Crave TV (the new home of Friends).

For the audiobook and podcast listeners you know, consider getting a subscription for services such as Audible. Know a theatre lover? The Stratford Festival is selling Stratfest at Home subscriptions to their digital content, which includes the films of their classic productions. Know someone who loves to make things? Check out Hamilton-based design studio Okay Shoe’s digital portal on Patreon. If they follow creators with Patreon accounts, consider getting them a membership so they can enjoy bonus content.

Another interesting avenue is discount-related subscriptions and memberships. For the person you know who’s always ordering out, check out Uber Eats’ Eats Pass, which gives subscribers free delivery over $15. Know someone who is obsessed with buying books? Get them an Indigo Plum Plus Card, which gives them an extra 10% off and free shipping. Know an avid shopper? You could purchase or sign them up for an SPC or other discount card for them.

 

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A post shared by Okay Shoe (@okayshoe)

Several discount cards and memberships don’t cost money. Make a new email account for them and sign them up for the reward program at their favourite store or restaurant. Also, check what services are offered through your library and sign them up for free audiobooks or a language learning program.

VIRTUAL EXPERIENCES

Just like subscription boxes, there’s a virtual experience for everyone. These gifts are particularly special because you may be able to do the activity with your loved one. You could do virtual paint nights, plant nights, cooking classes or exercise classes. Many of the places that originally offered these events have moved them online in the wake of the pandemic.

Airbnb is also offering many virtual experiences with hosts around the world, from history and nature tours to concerts and dance classes. Also check out local businesses and creators for virtual events, such as Goodbodyfeel’s virtual yoga classes or Hamilton tarot reader, Clairandean Humphrey’s virtual tarot readings. If you have any skills you’d love to share with others, you could also gift an event led by you.

 

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A post shared by CLAIRandean (@clairitytarot)

Another unique virtual experience is Cameo, where everyone from TikTok creators to legendary athletes to cute animals make personalized videos that can be gifted to adoring loved ones. You can also book live chats. While these can be extremely expensive, if you know someone who’d love a message from Santa or was obsessed with a one-off character in an old teen drama, this could make a great and inexpensive gift.

DONATIONS

Donate money to organizations on their behalf. Pick an organization that is involved in a cause they truly care about or donate to an organization that they’ve supported for a while. Also, don’t forget to include individuals as possible avenues, be it a creator whose work they love or a stranger in need that you know they would love to help.

 

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A post shared by GivingTuesday Canada (@givingtuesdayca)

DIGITAL FREEBIES

Gifts don’t have to cost money! As I’ve mentioned with some of the free options above, you can use your skills and creativity to craft free meaningful gifts. Piece together your memories with them in a slideshow or video.

Write them a poem or a story. Share with them your favourite memories of them or things you love about them. Ask their close friends and relatives to write them a letter or an email with their best wishes or a special memory. You could also get their loved ones to send videos with personalized messages.

 

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A post shared by Greetings Island (@greetingsisland)

If they love cat videos or pictures of dogs, send them a compilation that they can scroll through when they’re down. You could do a similar thing with anything that makes them happy, be it inspirational quotes or watching all the best episodes of Insecure.

Make them a playlist of music or podcasts or audiobooks that they can reference throughout 2021. Put together a list of things that happened on that day in history or, especially for the birthdays of the seniors in your life, a list of things that happened the year they were born.

And last but not least, send an e-card (my personal favourite site is Greetings Island). It’s an awesome feeling to know that people are thinking of you and wishing you well. So show your loved ones that they’re on your mind as they celebrate holidays and milestones. You can do that with any of the gifts above or you could simply send an e-card.

Rachel Faber
The Silhouette

The recent popularity of cloud email systems has some Canadian universities concerned about the level of security of their email servers.

Discourse suggests that with these U.S. based companies, the U.S. government or NSA may be able to gain access to secure information and intellectual property through American cloud services such as those offered by Google and Microsoft.

Richard Godsmark, the senior manager of Security, Technology and Risk at McMaster University pointed out that this is a security concern, however it is a difficult issue to address due to a lack of information on the subject.

To improve customer service, Google is attempting to sue the U.S. government, to ensure that they will have to go through actual court proceedings before accessing information. However, in order to really address Internet security, Godsmark believes that it will require a global policy on the matter.

Godsmark believes that unauthorized monitoring is always going to be a concern.

“[Information] crosses borders without any kind of passport, and so traffic is always going to end up in other countries,” said Godsmark.

However, there are a lot of policies in place to ensure that people are not violating privacy for unnecessary reasons.

It is highly unlikely that the NSA would look into a person unless they were considered a real threat, such as suspicion of terrorism. In this instance, it would not matter if you were a U.S. citizen or not. The U.S, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Britain are all members of the “Five Eyes.” This is an intelligence agreement meaning that each state has agreed to release information that is considered dangerous.

There are, of course, benefits for universities being on larger cloud email systems. This allows people from different universities to collaborate with one another. If each school had a different system, this would become more difficult to do.

In terms of McMaster’s email system, it is just as secure as any email system. Godsmark suggests that if you have really confidential information or academic property, not to be sending it in email format, but instead have it password protected.

“Email in general shouldn’t be considered a really secure medium, because as soon as you send out that email you lose control of the information in that email, “ he said.

Godsmark is more concerned with Internet criminals than the government. This is because Internet criminals impact a larger number of people at a personal level, stealing identities or credit card information.

At McMaster, University Technology Services is focusing more on these types of Internet crimes as they are more prevalent and present a higher risk.

 

For the MSU, paper balloting is a thing of the past.

It’s been that way since 2011, and the students union intends to keep using Simply Voting, a digital balloting software that the MSU used in the last presidential election.

“We’ve seen an increase in voter turnout over the past couple of years,” said Steven Thompson, chief returning officer for the MSU’s elections department. “Online voting helps with that. It’s more convenient since there are no crazy line-ups. It also saves [the MSU] money and is more secure.”

Voter turnout at McMaster was at an all-time low in 2009. Only about 13 per cent of the student body casted ballots that year. The number nearly doubled the following year, reaching 22 per cent.

Voter apathy among students has been a long-standing challenge in universities across the country. At the University of Manitoba, voter turnout has averaged about 10 per cent. Queen’s University, with some of the higher turnouts in Ontario, has had more than 30 per cent of its student body vote in each of the past five years.

The MSU hoped to engage more students when it introduced online voting in its 2011 election, using UTS’s MacVote software. They switched to Simply Voting last year, and turnout rose to 33.4 per cent – the highest in a decade.

But online voting doesn’t always run smoothly.

Some McMaster students didn’t receive e-mails with voting passwords last election, even with multiple emails sent.

“I believe there were about a couple hundred e-mails that bounced last year,” said Thompson. “We re-sent e-mails to those who may not have received them, but some people just had full inboxes.”

Although 200 people doesn’t seem like a huge number, it’s worth noting that David Campbell, who’s running again this year, lost by only 47 votes to Siobhan Stewart in 2012.

That election took place before the mass Mac email system switchover from MUSS to Gmail. Thompson explained that limited storage space was the main cause of some technical glitches, adding that the MSU doesn’t anticipate any this year.

A more serious online voting malfunction happened earlier this week at the University of British Columbia, whose students union also use Simply Voting.

An overloaded e-mail server on the voting system resulted in 1,171 students not being able to vote for their board of governors and senate for more than 24 hours. A makeup ballot has since been made available.

At McMaster, online polling will open on Jan. 29 at 9 a.m., about three hours before the all-candidates debate hosted by the MSU.

While there will be no voting booths, laptops will be stationed in the Student Centre from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Jan. 29 to 31.

Katija Bonin

The Silhouette

 

On Thursday, March 1, a phishing email was sent to the general population of McMaster. Purporting to be from University Technology Services (UTS), the email asked email users to go to a non-McMaster website and provide log in credentials. Failure to do so would allegedly result in termination of one’s email account.

As stated by Julia Kraveca, manager of Client Services for UTS, “such attacks happen every so often.” Out of all incoming e-mail messages that McMaster receives, approximately 22 per cent are legitimate e-mails. The remaining e-mails are types of spam that may be caught by filters, and just like catching fish with a net, it is to be expected that one may fall through.

The main difference is that senders of phishing e-mails are aware of the different security mechanisms, and swim around them in order to be the one that lands in student inboxes.

In such circumstance, when the unauthentic email was not prevented, UTS used defensive measures in order to control its effects, noted Kraveca.

The phishing note was reported to UTS at 2 p.m. on March 1, and by 2:30 p.m. UTS had blocked on-campus access to the website noted in the e-mail, and had published a cautionary note through the McMaster University website.

After careful evaluation, it was determined that only two per cent of the targetted population received the spam email, and only 0.05 per cent actually visited the website. However, it is unknown out of this percentile how many email users actually responded to the request in the phishing e-mail. Additionally, a campus-wide notice was released the following morning.

Although the sender is unknown, “it is evident that their intent in sending the e-mail was malicious, and was sent with the purpose of collecting private information that could somehow be misused,” said Kraveca.

Based on the available statistical data, it appears that the phishing e-mail was caught before it was able to travel too far, making its impact quite insignificant. UTS interpreted the given data as affirmation to having successfully educated the McMaster community on protecting themselves from fraudulent emails.

However, UTS did not want to undermine the impact the email had for the 0.05 per cent whose world was turned upside down as a result of the leaked spam.

The hope is that such an incident does not happen again, however, it is not entirely preventable, explained Kraveca. Students and faculty are therefore strongly urged to exercise caution in order to protect themselves from duplicitous emails.

In the event that such an occurrence does repeat, students and faculty are urged to report the potential phishing scam to the UTS Service Desk as soon as possible.

Suggested protective measures may include refraining from opening e-mails if the source is unknown or appears suspicious. Often phishing schemes are designed to imitate legitimate companies or institutions, thus users are encouraged to acknowledge the use of distorted logos and misspelt words, which are telltale signs that the sources are not genuine.

Lastly, one must resist clicking embedded links or verifying confidential information, as these are often connected with fraudulent online activity.

UTS is actively involved around the clock in the prevention, detection and investigation of potential electronic fraud within the University. On any given day UTS processes 1.4 million e-mail messages.

Dina Fanara

Assistant News Editor

 

McMaster students and staff will finally be seeing a new and more reliable email system by the end of next month.

In October of 2010, over 3,500 McMaster students took part in a referendum vote to determine which email system provider, with a choice between Google, Microsoft, or the current MUSS system, students would like to see implemented.

With immense frustration mounting quickly with the current email system that is often unreliable and has an extremely limited capacity, the need for a new email system has been immenent for a long time. This issue began gaining momentum in the later half of 2010

The push for a new email system gained substantial headway in February of 2010 with efforts from current McMaster Student Union (MSU) president, Matthew Dillon-Leitch, and SRA  (Student Representive Assembly) Commisioner of External Affairs, Huzaifa Saeed.

After months of legal negotiation between Google and the University to ensure that the appropraiate standards for privacy are implemented, a contract was signed and finalized at the end of December.

Large-scale implementation will take place for all McMaster students and faculty during reading week, from Feb. 19 to 25.

University Technology Services (UTS) in in the process of launching a pilot project, in which a small portion of students were asked to test the new system between December and January of the fall semester, in order to allow UTS to work out any issues with the system before all students and faculty are to migrate to the new email system.

According to Dillon-Leitch, one of the most significant changes is the great increase in space available on the email systems themselves.  The MUSS (McMaster Undergraduate Student Services) system allowed users to store 15 MB of space, whereas the new Gmail system provides 25 GB of space available for each user.

McMaster is one of few institutions to have university administration gather student input and consider their needs and interests when making a decision of this nature.

According to Dillon-Leitch, the successful push for the Gmail product can be largely attributed to the student support behind the initiative, objectively demonstrated through the overwhelming vote in favour of Gmail as the email service of choice for students. It’s about “asking students the right questions at the right time,” he noted.

Gathering student input in this manner was also adopted by the University of Washington when deciding on a new email service provider. As was the case at McMaster, students at the University fo Washington were also given a choice between Google and Microsoft.

Students voted for Microsoft, which was implemented soon after the vote.  The result was not quite as positive as expected, however. The students at the University of Washington largely regretted choosing the Microsoft product, due to inadequacy of the software, and in fact, many chose to forward their email to other accounts.

Although it serves as a source of frustration for many, the MUSS email service will still remain availbale for those who do not wish to switch to the new system.

An “opt out” system in place “for students who don’t feel comfortable with the new system,” said Dillon-Leitch.

Students had the option to remain with the traditional MUSS email system through the opt-out available between Dec. 19, 2011 and Jan. 8, 2012.

He would also like to emphasize that “there is no cost whatsoever” for students and faculty who choose to be transferred to the new system in February.

Students will use the same Mac ID login to access their new accounts as of Feb. 27, and no emails will be lost in the cross over process: all emails will be migrated to the new system.

Dillon-Leitch believes that the next step would be to look toward alumni and the possibility of offering all McMaster alumni an @mcmaster.ca email address to keep even after they have graduated.

Currently, McMaster University alumni can only access their McMaster University email account until six months following graduation. According to Dillon-Leitch, “when you graduate, you should have access to a McMaster account for the rest of your life.”

Dillon-Leitch would further hope to see a collaborative calendar feature through the new email system, where students can not only keep track of personal events, but also share their calendars or subscribe to calendar updates form other users or University services.

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