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Office 365 Tenant Migration: Universities and Remote Learning

Jun 29, 2020 by Mike Weaver

Perhaps one of my best experiences was teaching night courses in IT and SQL, part time at College Level. As a student, I always enjoyed the balance that professionally qualified teachers brought to the academic experience.

As I look at all the changes coming to university systems with the adoption of remote learning, I see many challenges, most notably with the need to perform Office 365 tenant to tenant migrations to facilitate student-teacher collaboration.

Many universities have recently contacted us for help in combining their tenants, so let’s dive into how we got here, the challenges of operating multiple tenants, and what your options are going forward.

How We Got Here

Universities have great incentives from Microsoft to allow students access to a wide variety of services at very competitive pricing, and in some cases for free. This attractive proposition has allowed most in higher education to adopt Office 365 technology.

However, when it came to establishing their tenants, many universities opted to keep Student accounts separate from Faculty. In some cases, Faculty and Staff were segmented into separate systems as well. This was done in a bid to simplify security, allowing loose policies in Student environments, and locked down policies for Faculty and Staff, who commonly hold protected information.

Furthermore, many institutes moved Students into Office 365 first, and only migrated Faculty and Staff when they felt comfortable, maintaining the separation.

Although Faculty and Students could still enjoy some of the Office 365 collaboration features, many still did most of their work in a separate Learning Management System. Students downloaded and uploaded assignments using this system, and worked among themselves in the Student tenant. This was common practice, whether learning remotely or on-the-ground.

Remote Learning Has Been Common for Years – What Changed?

Perhaps one of the major shifts in remote learning isn’t the remote part but the live interaction part. It comes down to Asynchronous and Synchronous Learning. For years, we operated remotely for Asynchronous Learning, either for entire courses or to supplement our classroom hours. As a Professor, I create my lecture, pop it up in the Learning Management System, and students consume it when they are ready.

However, this is not the case with the rapid change for the COVID-19 pandemic. Our remote learning is trying to mimic our traditional classrooms, matching Synchronous Learning. This means that as a Professor, I still am holding classes live with my students on a regular basis, not just occasional office hours. As a result, I don’t want to post documents into the LMS; I want to put them directly into my Microsoft Teams meeting during the meeting.

Enter the Two Tenant Challenge

This is where the separate tenant model breaks down. For most universities, all stakeholders are now using Teams, but on different tenants. This creates a poor user experience and is something many people struggle with.  It will work, eventually, but the learning curve is steep. I don’t want to continue any stereotypes of Professors, but it is an audience that has a reputation for being a difficult group to support. (Apologies to my Mother, Dr. Weaver, who does not reflect this statement.)

In a time where the term Student and Customer is interchangeable, we must provide high-quality options for students to keep them engaged on their academic journey. Quite simply, we need our Faculty and Students to be in the same tenant so they can easily collaborate in our new classroom environment. Any hurdle that can be avoided, needs to be avoided.

Forward Paths

When we placed Students and Faculty in separate tenants, we did so with purpose and good reason.  Many did this in the early days of Office 365, when the controls were simply not robust enough to protect sensitive content.

With rapid corporate adoption of Office 365, even default configurations provide good base-level security, meaning Faculty and Students can now easily coexist in the same tenant.

Office 365 Tenant Migration Issues

Migrating Students has some similarities to migrating business users, particularly first-line workers. There is one major difference and that is the volume of accounts, not the volume of data. Here at Quadrotech, we are known for the migration throughput we can achieve, sustaining 1 TB/hour speeds for Exchange Online data.

However, universities typically have a large volume of accounts without a lot of data. Many require students to use their student account for college communications, but the use of other personal solutions for files and email is common, reducing data storage.

We have been able to make changes to accommodate this, allowing us to move several large university tenants in tight timelines. including one example of migrating 100,000 students in a matter of days rather than weeks.

Challenges

This change to remote learning will impact our Faculty and Student interactions. Our file storage and classroom are now going to be the same place, in solutions like Microsoft Teams. Storing files in the LMS and using Microsoft Teams is going to be a conflict.

For years, we wanted rapid adoption and leveraging of the LMS. It’s unclear how the Asynchronous remote learning shift will impact this. However, migrating Faculty and Students together to the same system is a requirement for successful collaboration.

If you need to merge your Office 365 tenants quickly and efficiently before the new academic year, please contact our specialist team for help.