An Open Letter to Google about Team Drive

Google has brought many wonderful things to education. Providing Google Docs and Google Drive for free for every student certainly is a great benefit for schools. This saves districts a lot of money that can be used for other things. It certainly empowers students as they don’t have to purchase software to complete assignments. I clearly remember the days of “which file format did you save this in”? I remember looking for a computer that could open a wide variety of formats (that was usually a Mac). (To this day, I still don’t understand why MicroSoft Word couldn’t open MicroSoft Works documents.)

Google has also created the Chromebook environment. Again, creating devices that can be purchased at a couple hundred dollars allowed schools to bring in many, many more devices than was previously possible. This has helped schools tremendously.

Google also allows us to buy reasonably priced management licenses for Chromebooks. The ability to monitor and control devices in schools is wonderful.

Any yet. Google frequently gets things really wrong with schools. As one example, the ability to change the language for the keyboard. Currently, Google allows the user to set this as a persistent device setting. Thus, if a student changes the keyboard language to Arabic, and then logs out, the device will continue to use Arabic for the keyboard. As a system administrator who works with real kids in the real world, I would much rather this be a user setting. If a student wants to set the keyboard to Arabic (or any language) great. As long as it doesn’t impact the next student. Let that first student come back to the Chromebook and fix the language (or learn the language).

Google is very much user centered. This is a real mind shift for a lot of users. No longer does one need the computer on which the file was created, but rather, one needs to be able to provide credentials to access the information. This is a truly big shift for many users in education.

Google also helped create a culture of sharing. Since information no longer was locked down to a specific device, and the working metaphor is a web based metaphor, sharing became possible. More and more in education, teachers and students are collaborating and sharing information.

However, education has a problem. Since files and information is person based, it became a challenge to create, share and save information that was more position or place based than person based. For example, school improvement plans don’t belong to an individual, they belong to the entire school. Trying to keep track of who “owns” which documents and what should happen to those documents when that person left or moved to a new position was impossible.

Educators are a resourceful bunch. We created generic accounts to handle ownership of files. For example, we created a “Curriculum” account to save all of the curriculum documents that we created. However, this meant that everyone who created curriculum had to go back into the document and change the ownership of the document to the “Curriculum” account. This is rife with errors. Teachers are busy and they just forget.

Google just announced Team Drives. Team Drives are more like traditional shared drives in that they aren’t owned by an individual. Rather, these can be collaborated on by many different people. These are essentially owned by the school district and not tied specifically to one person. Great! This will be a great boon to educators and school systems.

There is however, one small issue coming. An this is where Google needs some educator input. As of January 1st, 2018, team drives will be available to every single user. Team Drives are a boon for the staff, school administrators and teachers. However, some real issues could come up with student usage. Google is apparently not going to allow us to control this by OU (Organizational Unit). (OU’s are how we manage just about everything. Access to YouTube is controlled by OU. Teachers get full access, students get restricted access.)

Having students create Team Drives that will persist beyond their school attendance will create a bunch of extra cruft and potential issues. At the very least, this should be a school decision that is carefully thought out. Students can and should share folders and documents. When the student moves on, the information should go with them. Not everything needs to live forever.

So here is my plea to Google. Please let school administrators manage their environment. Let them spend time focusing on how to help students learn, grow and be successful. Allow us to limit the time, energy and focus on dealing with bad decisions by students because those decisions were too easy to make. Let us spend our time and energy helping students. Give us the ability to manage Team Drives like we manage everything else in Google, through OU’s.