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Progressive Security Layers for Classrooms in Google Apps

When Google Apps for Education are introduced into a K-8 school, administration, staff – and especially parents – may have some concerns about security and protection for their children. With a little planning, there are ways to substantially partition off successive layers of access to email features within your school’s Google domain….

When Google Apps for Education are introduced into a K-8 school, administration, staff – and especially parents – may have some concerns about security and protection for their children. Some may not even want an ability for children to have an email account, while teachers may desire an email account for their student to facilitate usage of a particular application, or student-student, student-teacher, student-parent communication. What can be done?

I once thought this might be an all or nothing approach, but a recent session at a Google Apps for Education summit convinced me otherwise. While not a matter of a few clicks here and there to set this up, with a little planning, there are ways to substantially partition off successive layers of access to email features within your school’s Google domain. Here’s one way of tackling this:

  1. Create a suborganization for every graduating year possible for your school. For an initial setup, this would include the current graduating year, plus an additional 8 or more years to cover Kindergarten and JK. In this example, you would create suborganizations for 2013, 2014, 2015, and up. Think carefully about this – your users (students, staff, committee member, administrators) can only belong to one suborganization at a time. If you organize them here for other purposes, you will need to consider your main usage of suborganizations. The settings for creation of sub organizations and user assigment to these can be found under the <Users> section on the administrative app for your Google Apps site.
  2. Move your (users who are) students into the appropriate group for graduating year. This will rarely change. The idea behind this type of organization is that as the graduating year approaches, you can decide to progressively allow more email features to that graduating year group.
  3. Here’s where the fun and decisions can now be made for what you allow. These settings can all be found under the <Settings> menu on the top, then by selecting <Gmail> from the sidebar, selecting each suborganization by graduating year, and then modifying the settings found in the <Compliance> section.

Here’s what some of those settings control:

  • Append footers – You can set up outgoing email footer text for legal compliance, informational or promotional requirements. This might not be too relative to what is being discussed here.
  • Restrict delivery – here you can whitelist (include) or blacklist (omit) whichever email domains that you want allowed for delivery and receipt of emails. You could , for example, only allow delivery and sending of emails that belong to your school’s email domain…..and bypass it for internal-only messages.
  • Content compliance – this setting states what action to perform for messages based on predefined sets of words, phrases, text patterns, or numerical patterns. It scans messages for content that matches rules that you configure. Messages can be rejected or delivered with modifications.
  • Objectionable content – similar to above, inbound or outbound messages can be modified or rejected, based on content matching word lists that you define.
  • Attachment compliance – Attachments can be filtered based on their file type, name, or size.
  • Receiving and Sending routing – interesting options here – one capability is that any email sent from outside of the sub organization’s group to any member of the group can be routed to one person . You could, for example, force all emails sent to a group to go (only) to the teacher or principal.

Between all of these, one can see that you can force email communications within any one grade to only members of that grade, and / or include a teacher, parents, or others (another ‘partner’ school, for example). Couple this with the content filtering, and you have a quite impressive, albeit somewhat tedious-to-setup control on email usage for your Google-based organization.

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Improving Workflow in Google Apps for Education

If you are one of the schools (I know of more than a few) that are using Google Apps for Education (Google Docs), then you might be pleasantly surprised at the capabilities and power lurking just beneath the surface of those apps….

If you are one of the schools (I know of more than a few) that are using Google Apps for Education (Google Docs), then you might be pleasantly surprised at the capabilities and power lurking just beneath the surface of those apps. I recently attended a Google Apps for Education Summit in Kitchener, and there were many great sessions conducted that attested to the potential use of these tools within an educational environment.

The first I want to mention was at the end of the weekend (and thus freshest in my mind), entitled “Google Docs – The Ultimate Workflow Applications Suite”. The session was designed to illustrate features found in google docs that assist in the process of content creation, publication, and collaboration. Our very capable instructor (Ken Shelton) led us through 2 main parts:

Staying within the document while accessing external resources – How many times have you written a document – even within Google Docs – and gone out to your browser, searched for an image, downloaded or copied the image, and then pasted it back into your document? Google apps enable access to the search and embedding of an image all from within the menus and interface of the application. Talk about saving key strokes! Ken went on to show how to get easy ‘inline’ access to online references using the Tools, Research menu item. You can access and search through online dictionaries, article citations (with automatically generated footnotes!), maps, images, videos, quotations.

20 Slide Collaborative Presentation – from scratch – in 15 minutes – While I’ve seen multiple users in a classroom working on the same Google presentation – in of itself impressive – Ken notched this up by showing us how to do this on somewhat of a whim:

  • with little preparation (numbering off participants as 1, 2, 3… )
  • no requirement for participant login, no requirement for a google account
    (Share > Who has access > change > anyone with the link > Access > Anyone, no sign-in required)
  • how to get past looooong URLs when sharing the location of the presentation and more (using the Google URL shortener.) Great stuff for when your instructional time is limited.

These few items alone can go a long way in increasing the speed and utility of Google Docs within your class environment. Give them a try!

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