Q. about sharing and editing Google Docs

I teach at a university.

I have a university email address that i use for corresponding with my colleagues and my students. I have a regular old Gmail account that i use for my personal email. I keep these two addresses separate. I don’t use my work email for personal email, and i don’t use my Gmail for work.

Students sometimes send me drafts of their papers, so i can help them improve their analysis and their writing. I ask them to do this by sending a file attachment, any one of a variety of file types (.docx, .pdf, .odt, .rtf, .txt).

Some of them, of course, fail to read the instructions and instead send me a Google Docs link. The email comes to my university (.edu) email address. In each case, there is a button in the email that says “Open in Docs.” When i click on the button, however, i can’t see the document. The Google Docs page that opens tells me “You need permission” and that i should either request access or use an account that has permission.

I’ve used Google Docs a few times, but never to share. What’s going on here? Are the students doing something wrong in the sharing process?

As i said, they’re supposed to send me attachment files directly anyway, but what would we have to do for me to see the documents if i was willing to accept them? Would they have to send them to my Gmail address? Is that the only way to share Google Docs?

One of the colleges I teach at uses Gmail. I have it set to forward to my personal Gmail address; I very rarely sign into my college Gmail account. When a student sends me a link to Google Docs, I have to sign into my college Gmail account to view it. I’m guessing this means you do need access through a Gmail account, but I don’t know that for sure.

I find it easier to just reply to their email, telling them to follow directions and send an attachment.

So what’s likely happening is that the students are sharing it to one email address, probably your gmail account. But then maybe you’re either checking your email from another account (forwarding?) or you’re not logged in to the gmail account they sent it to. To fix it, just click “request permission” from whatever account you ARE logged into and they’ll get an email notifying them that you need permission.

Realistically, you have two choices:

  1. The asshole way: make it so that anybody who doesn’t send you a file attachment just doesn’t get graded or credit for that assignment.

  2. Spend 2 minutes at the beginning of class (or maybe two or three classes, for those who missed it) to explain how sharing works.

Basically, they can choose to either share with:

  • a specific email address
  • your whole organization or sub-organization (such as their particular program / college, if set up by your google admins)
  • anyone with a secret link, no sign-in required
  • everyone in the world

of these, the easiest would be either having them share with your correct account (whatever you use on a daily basis while you’re on the computer) or share you the URL with no sign-in required.

more instructions here:

edit: also, you might want to give Google Classroom a try:

or ask your university IT people if they have moodle or blackboard, etc. there’s an entire industry trying to make your life a bit easier so you don’t have to sort through a thousand emails a day.

Where I work we have access to Google docs through our standard single-sign-on login. So when I click on a shared Google docs link, I’m asked for username/password, and I use my standard work information.

I personally would just send an email back to the student reminding them of the attachment rule and telling them to save the document from Google Docs in an acceptable file format, and then attach it as a reply.

Maybe you can later work to add sharing via Google Docs on the acceptance list, but I would not do so now.

If they share it with an e-mail address, then you have to have a Google account associated with that e-mail address. You can set up a Google account with a non-Gmail address, but it’s a little less streamlined. But it might be worth it anyway; Google Drive is very useful in a classroom setting.

Of course, it’s always possible that the students aren’t sharing it right, and that nothing you do would enable you to read it.