Handling Google Accounts when Staff and Students Leave

posted Jul 27, 2011, 10:11 PM by Eric Curts   [ updated Aug 4, 2011, 4:48 PM ]
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Although the old saying “You can’t take it with you” is meant to apply to money and death, it could just a well apply to Google Apps accounts.  Because Google Apps for Education accounts are tied to your school district, when a staff member or student leaves, they are not able to take their school issued Google account with them.

My school district has just finished our first full year with Google Apps, so we had to consider this issue this summer.  Over time, staff and students may create and collect a large number of valuable documents, presentations, spreadsheets, emails, sites, and more.  What should we do when a staff member retires or resigns?  What should be done when a student graduates or moves away?

When I attended the Google Apps conference in Columbus, Ohio this past spring, I heard Jaime Casap (Google Education Senior Evangelist) say that he hopes a time will come when Google Apps accounts can be easily transferable and the identity that a student or staff member creates will be able to continue on outside of the Apps for Ed system.  I agree that it would be very helpful for Google to find a way to link the multiple Google accounts that a person might create from all their areas of life.

In the meantime we need to provide our staff and students with some options.  Below are some ideas we have pulled together as we have been working through this issue.

In general, when a staff member or student permanently leaves our school district, they have three options for the data and files they have collected through our various systems:
  1. They can move some data and files to other colleagues in our system who may be able to use them.
  2. They can move some data and files out of our system to keep on their own.
  3. They can leave some data and files for us to delete.

Option #1 - Transferring data and files to other users:

One option in this approach is for the user to share and transfer ownership of certain files to other users.  Simply sharing the files is not enough, or else when the original account is deleted, the files will be deleted as well.  The basic steps would be:
  1. First, share the documents or files with another user as you normally would.
  2. Next go into the sharing settings for each item, locate the person you shared with, and switch their edit options from “Can Edit” to “Is Owner”
  3. Now that person is the owner of that item.
Another option is for the Google Apps administrator to transfer all of a users documents to another user.  The new user could be another staff member in that department or could simply be a generic catch-all account to hold the documents for later processing.  To do this a Google Apps admin does the following:
  1. Log into the Google Apps control panel
  2. Click the “Advanced tools” tab
  3. Scroll to the bottom to the section titled “Document ownership transfer”
  4. Enter the “From” user and the “To” user
  5. Finally click “Transfer documents”
For more details, see Google’s help article at: http://www.google.com/support/a/bin/answer.py?answer=1247799

Option #2 - Moving data and files out of Google Apps for the user to personally keep

As easy as it is to import and create content in Google Apps, Google also makes sure you can export your data if you wish.  To that end, Google has set up a site amusingly called the Data Liberation Front at http://www.dataliberation.org/

At that site Google has instructions and/or links to instructions on how to export your data from about 30 different Google services.  Below are some ideas from the Data Liberation site and other resources concerning the most common Google services.

Gmail contacts

To export your Gmail contacts do the following:
  1. Go to your Contacts screen in Gmail.
  2. Click the “More Options” button at the top
  3. Choose “Export...” from the drop down menu
  4. Choose the format you would like for your exported contacts, and then click “Export”
  5. You will now need to use your new email program or service to import your contacts from this file you have just saved.

Google Documents, Presentations, and Spreadsheets

To save a copy of your Google Docs files you can either export them one at a time, or you can select multiple files and export them in bulk.

To export a single file from Google Docs:
  1. Open the document, spreadsheet, or presentation as usual in Google Docs
  2. Click “File” in the top menu bar
  3. Hover your mouse over the “Download as...” link in the drop-down menu
  4. Choose the format you want to save your document as
  5. Your file will now download to your computer
To export multiple files at once:
  1. Open your main Google Docs screen where all your files are listed.
  2. Check the checkbox in front of all the files you want to download.
  3. Once they are checked, click the “Actions” link at the top of the screen.
  4. Choose “Download...” from the pop-up menu.
  5. For each type of file you have chosen, pick the file format you want to download it in.
  6. Click the “Download” button.
  7. Your files will now be downloaded in one zipped file.
  8. You can normally just double-click on the zipped file once it is downloaded to unzip it and get to all the individual files you downloaded.

Google Sites

Entire Google Sites can be downloaded using a free tool available on the Google Sites Liberation Project Page.  For more details see: http://www.dataliberation.org/google/sites/

As an example, below is a link to the first version of the letter we are giving our leaving staff this summer about what to do with their Google Apps data.  It has some directions that are specific to our district, but it still may have useful as a reference.

As another (very nice) example, here is a link to a document created and shared by Vinnie Vrotny from North Shore Country Day School.  It has his excellent directions (with pictures) to help his users that are leaving to move their data out of Google Apps:

For another example, Terry Korte of Edmonton Public Schools shares this website they use to share instructions with students and staff who leave:

So what are other school districts doing when students and staff leave?  It would be great to hear what ideas you have, what has worked well so far, what to watch out for, or what you plan to try.