Managing the G Suite Paradigm Shift


Nothing beats a face to face conversation.

I am reminded of this constantly as I work with teachers to help them incorporate our school’s relatively new G Suite (I still want to call it Google Apps) platform into their workflow. Every conversation gives me small insights into the unique frustrations each teacher and department struggle with, many of which I would never have known about if I had just stuck to emails and online tutorials.

This year I offer weekly G Suite training to teachers after school as part of my role as Digital Learning Coordinator. I don’t have a fancy presentation or handouts (mostly because I don’t have time to make them), instead I open up Google Drive and we work through it together answering questions as we go. As part of this process I have started to understand that the biggest barrier to adopting G Suite is not that the buttons are in different places (although I hear that a lot), but that working in the cloud is a paradigm shift that requires thinking about document production and file organisation in a different way. Almost invariably, when I have a chance to sit down with a G Suite ‘naysayer’ to find out why it is causing frustration, the root cause is usually somethings as simple as helping them figure out how to save a document in the correct folder when they make it.

Some of the most common frustrations (and solutions) I have come across include:

How do I save my Google Doc in the folder I want to save it in?

It took me a while to figure out why this one was so common. I eventually realised that the Microsoft Word workflow that most people use is to make the document first, and then decide where to save it (Save As). The Google Docs paradigm shift is that you need to decide where you want the document to be created first and go to that folder, then when you make the document it is automatically saved in that folder. As simple as this seems, it can be very difficult to change years of Microsoft habits and it seems to help to have this subtle difference spelled out clearly.

How do I make a copy of my documents?

For single documents, I usually tell teachers to open the document first, then use the File – Make a Copy option. It is possible to right-click files in Drive and make a copy, but I have had mixed results in directing Google to put the copy where I want it. When using the File – Make a Copy option in the document you are also given the option of renaming it and assigning it to a different folder, all in the same window. This can save a lot of unnecessary clicks and wasted time.

My conversations this year about the difficulty of copying files (even harder with folders – more on that later) in Google have been really interesting, and I have come to 2 conclusions:

  1. Ultimately, a lot of the stress teachers feel about not being able to easily make copies of documents in Google comes down to control. By making a copy of their work a teacher can share it with others, but still ensure that they own the original and that no one can mess with it. At my school teachers are asked to put a ‘copy’ of their schemes of work on a shared school drive. In a Windows environment, this is a pretty straight forward task. Just make a copy of the folder with your files in it and upload the copy to the school drive. But in a G Suite environment, this is not possible. Folders can be moved, but not copied, and asking a teacher to move work out of their Drive into a shared Drive is asking them to give up control of documents they have worked hard on. This had me stumped for a while until I came across a reference to the shift-Z command, which allows you to add a link to a Drive folder in another place. This allows Drive users to essentially ‘put’ their folder of docs in as many places as they need to. Caveat – I am still a little unclear on how this works with permissions, and think it is important to check the permissions your folder might inherit when you add it somewhere else in case you are giving others the ability to move or delete your work.
  2. If you have only ever worked in a Windows environment, the idea of there only ever being one document is very difficult to get your head around. I have drawn pictures, made animations, worked through how sharing works in detail and still, I am asked whether changes in the original document will show up in the ‘copy’. This is not meant to be a slight on teachers who struggle with this concept, but more of a ‘note to self’ to be patient with teachers as they struggle to re-orient a lifetime’s worth of mental models concerning how digital files are created and stored.

How do I find my documents?

I have some sympathy for this one. In Windows/Mac environments the Documents/Finder dialogue box is big and spacious and it is easy to see all the metadata associated with the files and folders. In Drive the folder structure is squeezed into a sidebar and can be quite cumbersome to navigate. One of the solutions Google provides is the Starred feature, and I suggest to teachers that they Star all the folders that they use regularly. These Starred folders show up as a separate option whenever you try to Move files around in Drive, which can help save a lot of clicks. My favourite solution, however, involves another paradigm shift (one that I am still making): all google docs and folders are just websites, and each has a distinct URL. This means we can leverage the Chrome Bookmark Bar to make it incredibly easy to navigate the Drive file structure. The key is to make sure teachers always log into Chrome with their school account, this way their bookmarks will sync across devices. Then they need to make folders for all the different documents they work with. It then takes no time at all to bookmark the parts of Drive that they use regularly. A quick video of how I use the Bookmarks bar is below.

Cloud image by FutUndBeidl on Flickr.

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