Over the past 5 years using Google Apps for Education at the Collaborative, I have slowly learned through experimentation and loads of frustration (my own and that of other people) that Google provides the tools you should be using to simplify your collaboration and communication. The challenge is understanding the ways in which these tools work together and how to use them effectively (i.e. as Google wants you to use them).
Take, for example, using Google Groups. For a long time, I only used Google Groups as a listserv. It is only in recent months that I have realized that Groups is a powerful tool for being proactive about sharing and communicating. In many ways, using Groups is a gift to your future self. Your future self will be grateful to your present self and couldn’t we all benefit from more kindness and gratitude?
Before I get to the full recommendations, let me tell you a story. It’s a sad story of wasted time, much confusion, and tedium.
Once upon a time, there was a team (Queen and her village) who did everything in Google Drive. They had many collaborators within their team and beyond. They built an elaborate structure of myriad folders and subfolders (castle), each shared folder and document with different permissions and individual email addresses (keys made by the royal locksmith). This worked fine until they hired a new person (Prince).
Imagine a castle with hundreds of rooms, each with its own key. The royal locksmith made keys to each room at the Queen’s request. For many years, this system worked well. The royal locksmith appreciated the job security and found infrequent occasion to make a new key or pick a lock for someone who needed access to the room. One day, the Queen decided to adopt a child. The bright and curious Prince was thrilled to move in to the castle and immediately started exploring. He was anxious to learn the history of his Queen and her village. As the Prince began exploring the castle, he found many locked doors. Some doors had a window he could peek through, but others were made of steel. At dinner that evening, the Prince complained to his Queen that he needed to know what the rooms held so that he could learn about the village he would someday rule (benevolently). She summoned the royal locksmith and listed dozens of rooms to which the Prince needed keys. The royal locksmith quickly set to work and returned the next evening exhausted from working all night with many rings jangling with keys. Elated, the Prince resumed his exploration of the castle. Though he learned much in each room, there was still more he needed to know and there were still many locked doors. Each night at dinner the pattern continued. The Prince complained, the Queen summoned the locksmith, the locksmith worked tirelessly. After weeks of this, the weary locksmith heard rumors that the Queen would be adopting a daughter. Fearing that this would all begin again, he got creative.
The Royal Locksmith went to the Queen with a proposal. He wanted to create special locks for each door so that she could open all of them, that her children the Prince and (soon-to-be) Princess could open some and that others in the castle could only open those rooms they needed to access. Each lock would have a single key that opened only for its holder. The Queen, being a reasonable and caring woman, heard the weary Locksmith and agreed to his proposal. Together, they visited each room and the Queen decided who among her village should have access. Though it took weeks, the Locksmith refitted each door with its new locks and gave each person their new key. The Queen, her Prince, and everyone in the village were delighted to exchange their heavy, jangling key rings for their single key.
From that day forward, the Royal Locksmith enjoyed peaceful nights with his family. As people from other villages learned of this forward-thinking Queen who welcomed ideas from her villagers and truly listened to them, many began trading in the markets of the castle and many moved in. As the Queen welcomed the growing markets and new villagers, she built more rooms and towers on the castle. When new rooms and towers once meant endless tedium for the Royal Locksmith, now they were simple to manage. Giving each new villager or trade partner access to all the rooms they needed was a simple task. He just needed to know which key they needed.
Now to the logistics. When it comes to sharing through Drive, Calendar, and Sites – Groups are the only way to go.
If you have (or will have) more than 10 people in your organization, then create Groups in your Google App account that are specifically for file sharing. Then share the folders to Groups, and not to individual people. This strategy will make life way easier when you add or remove staff.
Note: When Jane starts with your organization you would add her account to the appropriate Groups. However, this doesn’t cause any communication to go to Jane.
This way when someone joins or leaves the group, a manager need only update the group membership to change access across all three Apps, rather than having to manually update each calendar, Drive folder / file, and Site / page.
Recommendations for using Google Groups in your domain
Let’s start by defining the types of Groups available to you in Google.
- Organizational Units: These are designed to be used for administration of GAFE roles & permissions.
- Domain administrator created & maintained Google Groups
- User created & maintained Google Groups
- User created & maintained Google Contact groups User created & maintained
- Membership is NOT visible to group members
- Only personal contact group owner can send mail to the group
- Contact list is shareable to another user through Delegation Settings
Why should you be using Google Groups?
- Can send emails and share Drive resources with a list rather than individual people…
- Groups will most commonly be used like a listserv for:
- communicating across school & district administration
- All faculty & staff in a school
- (less frequently) administration pushing messages to students (if students have email)
- (rarely) by teachers to manage students (because there are better tools for that! e.g. Google Classroom)
- communicating across school & district administration
- Can create an email address that when mail is received, it is automatically sent to all Group members. This can be good for posting a public email on a website or when you want multiple people to receive correspondence about a specific topic.
- For example, any time someone notices a typo on the school website, they might send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Because Typos is a group, any emails sent to that address would automatically go to: the web administrator, the tech director, and the school secretary.
How should you name your Groups?
For domain administrator created & maintained groups – [groupname]@[domain].org
- In the group name (not the group email address) include a hashtag as the first character. Doing this for the group name of domain administrator created & maintained groups does a few things:
- Reduces errors – people are less likely to send to these groups by mistake
- Increases autofill – when users type “#” they will see the full list of groups available to them
- Clarifies who to contact – when it becomes known that someone is erroneously included on or missing from a list, users know to notify the domain administrator
For user created & maintained groups – auto add suffix to [groupname]suffix@[domain].org
Enable the auto-add suffix feature. Doing this has the following benefits:
- Shows that a user created the group
- Indicates to users that they need to log in to Google Groups to see the list of members
- Indicates to users that they can view the full history of messages by logging in to the Google Group
What Groups should YOU create for your district?
Each domain will have their own needs around domain groups, and should plan accordingly. The lists below are designed to provide a starting point from which users would develop their own list.
- All District Staff
- All District Faculty
- All District Faculty Grade Level
- All District Content-Specific
- All District Non-Instructional Staff
- All District Students
- All District Students by Grade Level
- All School Staff
- All School Faculty
- All School Faculty Grade Level
- All School Content-Specific
- All School Non-Instructional Staff
- All School Students
- All School Students by Grade
- All School Students by Classroom
What Groups should USERS create for your district?
At the district level, users may want job-alike groups such as:
- Library Media Specialists
- Tech staff
At the school level, users may want Groups that are specific to an activity, community, or team such as:
- Extracurricular activities
- Classroom-level projects and activities
- Faculty collaboration