Monday, 16 June 2014

Creating a school intranet using Google sites and Drive

Since Google has been continually revising and improving its Sites and +Google Drive  products, at the start of this school year we decided to move to a combination of Google sites and Drive for our school intranet. Earlier this year, I wrote a small amount about our intranet, and thought I would expand this with a little more detail now it has been running all year.

The process was relatively simple, although time consuming, but thanks to the ability to set complex permissions and easily embed +Google Drive  folders into sites, we now have a fully featured intranet for Staff, students and parents.


The first step was deciding on the structure. To plan a project this large is important - we needed to ensure what content was going on the site and also the levels of access for different users. This would ensure that the structure would not need to be amended later and make the creation of the site run much more smoothly. As we were working on this as a team, we decided to map out the structure of the site using +Lucidchart, which allowed ICT staff to work collaboratively on the site structure quickly and efficiently.

The Site

Once the planning was complete, it was on to the creation stage. Whilst the basic templates on offer within Google sites are pretty good, we decided that a Nexus theme was more appropriate for ensuring that this gave the right message to staff, students and parents. I took a template from the online library and edited this theme for our school. Once this was done, it was relatively easy to create the pages that were to be accessed.

The next step was an important one to get right, and needs a lot of thought to ensure the right people can access the right resources (or not). Setting permissions in Google sites is straightforward once you know how it works, and this links to the correct set up and thorough planning of your Google intranet and your Google domain. Ensuring that you have separate groups for staff, students, parents and other stakeholders is essential. If this is not done, then you have the onerous task of adding new users individually to the site (the wrong way!), rather than quickly adding them to your Google domain groups (the right way!).

Moving on, page-level permissions were set for the different groups so that our staff would have a privately accessibly intranet, but that other users could also access information through the same address (by mapping the Google site to a domain address). The way Google sites works is that your users who do not have permissions for a page do not see it on their list of links (and therefore don't keep requesting access!)

Google Drive

I really like the ability to embed +Google Drive folders in sites - it's a powerful feature that makes using Google Sites / Drive for an intranet even more effective. On our staff site, we wanted the ability for all important shared documents (policies, procedures, planning documents etc.) to be easily accessibly both inside and outside of school and also control who can do what with these documents. To do this, I set permissions on the Drive folder so that (by default):
  1. Management (e.g. Head of School) have Can edit access
  2. Staff have Can view access
The Google Drive folder is currently owned by myself (more on document ownership later), but as management have Can edit access they can drop in any important document that staff may need to see. The power of Google Drive for this is obvious, but being able to track old versions, view online etc. is really great for school / staff administration. The other obvious advantage is the further ability to have custom permissions on a folder or folders. For example:

  1. A Staff folder (e.g. Policies) may be Can view for All_staff, but may contain an Can edit folder that is only editable by Head_of_dept (e.g. for departmental policies)
  2. Staff folder (e.g. Planning) may be Can edit for All_staff, but may contain an Can view folder that is only editable by Management (e.g. an IB subject deadline schedule)

Document Ownership

An important consideration that is not necessarily linked to creating a school intranet, is ownership of documents. As our school moves forward and further embeds the use of Google Apps in our ecosystem, it is important to consider who owns the documents and how they can be migrated once staff leave. There are a few tutorials online about transferring ownership of files, but there are a few important things to consider:

  1. It might be worth having a +Google Drive account for all departments (e.g. Maths), that staff then transfer ownership of all their planning and policy documents with whenever they are created. This removes the need for sharing files at the end of the year (and any issues that arise if this is not done)
  2. Consider having a policy for when staff leave, covering:
    • What they must do when they leave
    • Who owns the files and what they can and cannot do with these files
    • A training session to help staff when they leave (and also smooth the handover to new staff)