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Google Apps for collaboration

Google Drive

What is Google Drive?

At its simplest, Google Drive is a cloud-based file storage system. But there is more to it than just storage space:

It can be used to create a range of online documents

Integrated within Google Drive are the core Google Apps:

Other document formats can be uploaded to Google Drive (eg Word, PDF), and may be converted to the Drive equivalent where such an equivalent exists; non-native file types count towards total storage, whereas Google file-types do not. Non-native documents must usually be downloaded for further editing, else converted to their Google equivalent.

It can also be used to manage and share files

Items on Drive (be they uploaded files, documents from the native Google Apps, or whole folders) can be shared with individuals and Google Groups.

Like all aspects of the Google Suite, Drive is accessed using your University of York email address and password. Because the University has its own instance of Google Drive, sharing permissions within it are able to recognise who is or is not a member of the domain: in other words, you can restrict access of a document to within the University.

Key points

  • Drive is more than simply an online filestore
  • The Google applications are a suite of tools: one of the main strengths is the interaction that can occur between them
  • While you can use Drive, Docs, Mail, Calendar etc in the same way as you'd use Windows file manager and Microsoft Office, the best results can be achieved by going beyond this model and taking advantage of the 'cloud' approach.

As with all elements of the Google suite, Drive challenges us to take a fresh look at our way of working and discover new approaches that exploit the strengths of the new models.

Google Apps

All students and staff accounts at the University of York include access to Google Apps for Education. The University uses Google Mail for email, and Google Drive for online storage. Use the links below to find out more about the range of Google Apps available.

Making sense of Drive (select to expand)


Google's most famous product is, of course, a search engine. They've applied the same approach to Google Drive.

Don't expect Drive to look tidy. It won't. By its very nature there's no real structure to Google Drive: it's just a big pot of files. Yes, you could impose some order by adding files to folders, but this does not actually change the underlying structure. Every file has a unique ID which forms part of its web address, and (unlike with a Windows filepath) this address remains the same regardless of any folder location you may try to impose. Indeed, because the documents you see in your Drive are essentially just web links; it makes it possible for files to be linked to from multiple folders. In other words, the same file can appear in more than one location simultaneously.

Alternatively, a file could sit in no folder at all. It would still be discoverable via its web address, and via the search box.

Finding documents

Given the fluid nature of Drive, there will be times when you are not sure where a document is located. Files may appear in multiple locations, or no location at all. Don't rely on a folder location to tell you what a file is. Even if you can see a folder structure, other people may have access to the file without having access to the folders. File names are therefore particularly important if people are to be able to find files via the search box.

Some tips

Make it easier to find documents you are currently working on by adding a Star


Find recently edited documents in the Recent list


Use the search options dialogue (accessed via the toggle to the right of the search box) to search by file-type, date, owner, and more:

Search options
Top tip

Use sensible names for files to make them easier to locate by searching!

Managing documents in Drive (select to expand)


Every file and folder must have one owner, and this owner cannot be a Google Group. The person who created the file or folder will initially be the owner. Ownership can be given away by the owner, but not taken by anyone else - the onus is on the owner to transfer ownership. The owner can also decide whether to restrict the ability of others with edit permission from being able to change sharing attributes.

Drive does not use the term delete but instead chooses remove. If you own a file/folder, remove will move the items to your bin, but if you are not the owner it will simply remove it from your Drive view (but if it's in a shared folder, it will disappear for others too!).

When an account is suspended, all resources owned by that user will cease to be available, irrespective of location, and so it is essential that ownership of shared documents is transferred to an appropriate individual when someone leaves. The University's Google administrators have the facility to transfer ownership en masse to another user, but cannot currently transfer specific folders/files to several new owners.


You can delegate access to the files you create in or upload to Drive.

When you share a file/folder, you first have the choice of leaving it visible only to the defined list (default) or making it more generally available. You can also set the permission level in each case. The richest options are to be found by "Advanced" on the sharing dialogue.

The visibility options are:
  • Public on the web - Anyone, anywhere can access it - no Google account needed to view
  • Anyone with the link - Those who have the link to it can access it - no Google account needed to view
  • The University of York - Anyone signed in with a account can access it
  • People at UoY with the link - Anyone signed in with a account and in possession of a link to the document can access it
  • Specific people (default) - Only accessible to users/groups listed in the share settings. If you choose to restrict to a specified list of users and/or groups, you must also add their Google email address to the list and assign permissions
The permission options are:
  • View - Can see it but not make any changes. By default, copying and printing are possible, but this can be disabled on a file-by-file basis
  • Comment - Can see it, add comments and ‘make suggestions’ in text documents (similar to ‘Track Changes’); can't change content permanently
  • Edit - Can make any changes to content and comments. By default can also add/remove sharing and change visibility, but the owner can remove this on a file-by-file basis

Permissions can be set to expire after a period of time - either after several days or on a specified date

Folder management

Predicting the outcome of moving files and folders is not always easy, as it will depend on ownership and share permissions; there are too many possible permutations to describe each possibility.

General points:
  • If you have edit permissions in a shared folder, any rearranging you do will affect other people too - so be careful
  • Read the messages on dialogue boxes - these tell you what is happening
  • If a folder is shared with you, add it to your drive for easy access
  • Re-check sharing and permissions after any rearrangement

Always remember: Only the owner can delete (remove to bin) a document or folder.

Collaboration case study (select to expand)

Useful links

Forthcoming training sessions

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Let's get IT together: digital tools for collaboration

The G Suite applications enable you to work collaborative on documents, slides and sheets. This introduction provides an overview of some of the Google applications on offer that you can use for group work, such as writing your final report or presentation, organising meetings and sharing your findings. Make your group projects more efficient by tapping into the functionally offered using Google apps for collaboration.

Example scenarios

Example scenarios

I create a document and want to share it for editing with one or two other people

  • Create a new document on your Drive with default visibility (Specific people)
  • Add the people to the list, giving them Edit permissions
  • Encourage them to use Comments, Suggestions and Chat to discuss updates
  • Use History to revert changes if you change your mind

A new project I am leading is starting and we will be working as a project team with several shared documents

  • First create a Google Group for the team
  • Create a project folder on your Drive and share it with the Group
  • Create sub-folders within this project folder as necessary - they automatically inherit the share permissions
  • Get each team member to add the project folder to their Drive (essential for easy management)
  • Make sure the team get the habit of creating new documents inside the project folder (or move inside) - they will automatically inherit share permissions

Some of the documents in the project need to be shared more widely for view/comment

  • Share documents (or a sub-folder) with View or Comment permissions with other specified users or groups

All the documents in one sub-folder need to be shared with another team for editing

  • Add the second team's Google Group to the share permissions, but just for the sub-folder
  • In this scenario full Edit permissions would allow them to move documents out of the folder - make sure they know what they're doing

An existing Word document needs to be collaboratively updated by the project team; the finished document needs to be in Word format

  • Upload the Word document into the shared folder structure, choosing to convert to a Google document
  • The team can now edit as normal, use comments, suggestions and chat
  • When editing is complete, download it as a Word document. You will need to do a final tidy up and reformatting of the Word document