Using Google Apps for School Website

Our daughter enters standard two this year. During the PIBG (Parent-Teacher Association) Annual Meeting, my wife and I were lucky (or unlucky) enough to be elected into the association. Since then, we have had three monthly meetings already. One of the initiatives we want to do is to finally have the website portal for the school. Since I am too familiar already with services provided by Google, I proposed to evaluate what Google Apps has to offer. I signed up for Google Apps, tried it out and presented my findings at the third PIBG monthly meeting recently.

The neat thing about Google Apps is, off course, that it’s free. The only cost is for acquiring a domain name, which costs USD10/year when purchased from one of Google’s domain registration partners. This cost translates to about RM32/year. Once you have signed up, as a start, you are allowed to create up to 200 accounts for your Google Apps domain. You may request Google for more if you start to run out of user accounts.

The main applications for a school website provided by Google Apps are Google Pages and Google Sites. Although these two applications are similar, I believe Google Pages should be limited to “official”, i.e., highly controlled, web pages for the school while Google Sites can be used as collaborative pages, like wiki pages, for the various groups in the school. To allow someone to edit a Google Page page, she has to be the domain administrator which is a rather crude way of dealing with access control. As long as domain administrators are limited to a small group of “responsible” people, I guess this should be okay. But a more flexible access control mechanism would have been preferable. Pages on Google Sites are organized into, well, sites. There could be different collaborators for each sites. So, various groups in the school can be allocated different sites.

Other applications in the Google Apps suite are Google Calendar, GMail, Google Docs and personalizable Start Page, in order of importance to a school portal. Google Calendar is great in publishing school events. One or more calendars can be embedded easily into Google Pages or Google Sites. GMail is, of course, the most simple-looking and yet the most powerful web mail on Earth. Google Docs is great in creating quick shareable documents, spreadsheets and presentations. I don’t like the personalizable Start Page that much in the context of a school website.

One thing glaringly missing from Google Apps is discussion forum application. It’s not too hard to use Google Groups to provide discussion forums for the school but it would’ve been nice if it is integrated with Google Apps. That way, accounts (and other assets) created in the Google Apps domain can be readily used in Google Groups.

After my presentation on Google Apps, we seemed to get everybody’s agreement on Google Apps being a viable solution for the school website. A few days after the meeting, I signed up for another Google Apps and registered the domain name for the school. And, thus, the first hints of the school website has now materialized. It is still not in a presentable form yet, but we have got Google Calendar and Google Groups integrated with the website, which is hosted by Google Pages.