Understanding Google Meet Permissions for Education

With the increase in distance learning Google G Suite for Education has recently also added many important features to its video conferencing tool Google Meet. Over the last year the role of meeting host became more and more important, as it allows - among many other things - to kick or mute other participants which is a big invitation for mischief if a student get the host role in an online class.

Google Meet only lets a single user be the meeting host and it can be confusing to understand who happens to be meeting host. Furthermore, Meet does not support assigning other users with the host role, a feature that most other video conferencing tools support for a long time. As a result it is very important to keep control of the meeting host role and to ensure that the person who runs the meeting actually gets the meeting host permission in the video call.

This infographics serves as a summary to help understand how Google Meet assigns the meeting host role. Click on it to download the PDF version where you can also click on the links to the Google Meet documentation. The original Google Drawing is also available in case you want to modify or translate it.

Due to some missing features in Google Meet, there is a big problem with nicknamed Meets, where students end up having host control. In this article I go into the details of Meet concerning this problem. Jump ahead to the workarounds and practical advice section at the end if you want to skip the details and want to know a solution.

Google Meet for Education

Google introduced special features in Google Meet that are enabled only if your G Suite (or Google Workplace) domain is on an Education or even Enterprise for Education contract. The following is focused on the behavior of Google Meet with Education domains, please note that with non-Education domains some details will be different.

As I don't have access to a commercial G Suite domain I can't really compare the features and behavior. If you want to contribute the information for non-Education domains then please reach out to me.

Three Types of Meetings

The main concept to understand is that there are actually three different types of Google Meets:

  1. Meets based on calendar entries
  2. Meets started manually by a user
  3. Meets based on a nickname

These Three Meets behave different with regard to their host privileges:

  1. Meets based on calendar entries know who created them and who is invited. For Meets based on a calendar entry that is in a primary calendar of a user, that user will have host privileges — after moving the calendar entry to another users' primary calendar that user will be owner of the Meet. If the calendar entry is in a secondary or resource calendar, then the user who added the Meet link will be the owner of the Meet.

    The owner of the Meet always has host control, regardless of the joining order. If the owner doesn't join the Meet then nobody has host control, which can be a problem if external participants need to be admitted. With Education domains only the owner can approve external join requests unlike with regular domains where every domain member can approve join requests.

  2. Meets started manually via meet.google.com have an owner — the user who started the Meet. Giving a nickname is a special case where the user is creating a nicknamed Meet and joining it at the same time, therefore the user is also the owner of the Meet.

    Depending on wether a nickname is given the Meet is either like a calendar-based Meet or like a nicknamed Meet. But in both cases the user who starts the Meet is the owner because he joins the Meet immediately. We can therefore ignore this type of Meets because they do not pose a problem with regard to Meet host control.

  3. Meets based on a nickname are defined either within a Google Classroom class or via a constructed URL like https://g.co/meet/<NICKNAME> or https://meet.google.com/lookup/<NICKNAME>. The nicknames are scoped to the G Suite domain, so that multiple users on multiple domains can use the same nicknames.

    With nicknamed Meets the first user to arrive at the Meet, who is allowed to start a Meet, becomes the owner of the Meet. "Arrive" means that a user sees the screen where you can check your camera setup and click on the green "Join" button.

The Problem for Schools

This behavior of Google Meet creates a fundamental problem for schools: If students are allowed to create their own Meets, e.g. for pair working, then students can also become the Meet host for any nicknamed Meet that they happen to join first. In real life, this happens a lot as teachers are very busy and don't have the time or the ability to join the next meet much in advance of a lesson.

Google actually suggests to restrict students from starting their own Meets and to let only teachers start Meets. I think that this is not good advice because it prevents the students from using Google Meet for themselves. Since a school doesn't exercise total control over the student's computer use the students will simply use other services for their personal video meeting needs. Those other services will be outside of school control and therefore also outside of the protection of the school. This approach also completely defeats the purpose of introducing a tool like Google G Suite, which is to enable all users with modern IT tools governed by the school.

Google doubtlessly gives this suggestion to enable using Google Classroom with the integrated Meet link feature. Those Meet links are nicknamed and therefore suffer from the "first joined user is host" problem. With the intended use of Classroom this problem suddenly starts to be a major issue if the majority of Meets are not owned by the teacher but by a student.

The Root Cause?

There is no official information about this topic and when it will be fixed. I believe the root cause to be a missing feature within Google Meet: Dynamically assigning Meet host privileges. With such a feature the following behavior would become possible:

  • Assign (give away) host control to another participant
  • Assign host control to the "highest ranking" participant, e.g. initially when only students are in a meet then the first student who joined has host control (or nobody). As soon as a teacher (or member of a predefined group) joins the Meet, then host control automatically goes to that user.
  • Automatically assign on host control to the "highest ranking" (based on a group) or longest connected participant in a Meet when the owner leaves the Meet. If the owner comes back host control could automatically revert back to him. That way a Meet never stays without host control.

It remains only to hope that Google will eventually add support for changing host control in running Meets like other tools already can do. 

Another feature that in my opinion is missing from Google Calendar is the ability to add nicknamed Meets to calendar entries, so that these Meets would also show up in the overview that Google Meet shows on its homepage.

Both features would go a long way towards making Google Meet more useful for schools. While we wait for that to happen, we Meet users have to resort to workarounds to get our jobs done.

Workarounds and Practical Advice

The first question that an organization must answer is the question if students should be allowed to start their own Google Meet video conferences. If the answer is no, then nicknamed Meets are no problem and no further workarounds are necessary. The school should however answer the question how students are supposed to do pair working from home in a compliant fashion.

If on the other hand — and I strongly recommend this — students should be able to use Google Meet for themselves, then nicknamed meetings are a problem and should be avoided. Instead, all regular Meets should be scheduled from a shared calendar. Impromptu Meets can be started as usual from meet.google.com, e.g. start a Meet and share the link with all participants via Classroom, Chat or Email.

The solution outlined here has an additional benefit: Students can easily join the Meet for the next (or current) lesson by visiting meet.google.com where the correct lesson will be offered for joining! With nicknamed Meets this is not possible because nicknamed Meets cannot be added to a calendar entry.

Requirements

As a preparation:

  1. Remove the Meet links from your Classroom classes, if you used that before.
  2. Create a group for all teachers or for every class a group of this classes teachers.
  3. Create a group for every class or study group which has all the students of that class.

Setup

To facilitate scheduling all regular Meets, e.g. for every lesson, via calendar I suggest to create a resource calendar for every class or group of students where the teachers (either of that class or all the teachers) have write permissions and the students have read permissions.

If you have many classes then you could use automation tools like GAMADV-XT3 to automate the creation and permission assignment for those class resource calendars.

Usage

Teachers should then go ahead and schedule their own lessons in this resource calendar and add themselves and the group of their students as participants. If you have a Google Meet hardware device in a classroom or a smartboard/computer with a dedicated user then that should also be added to the calendar entry. Google calendar will automatically add Meet links as it does for every calendar entry with multiple participants.

This needs to be done once for every lesson by every teacher on the students schedule, use event recurrence to make sure that the event happens every week or bi-weekly as needed. The result can look like this example:

Example Calendar Entry

The teacher who created the calendar entry and added the Meet link will be the owner of the Meets for his lessons.

If another teacher needs to substitute, then he can edit the calendar entry of the substitute lesson (or all of them if he will substitute till the end of term)

  1. remove the Meet link
  2. save the entry
  3. open it again
  4. add a new Meet link
  5. save it

The result of this change is that now the calendar entry has a Meet link where the new teacher is the owner, so that he will be Meet host in his lessons.

For students the change between teachers was either invisible or they got calendar updates for the changed entries. I advise users to disable calendar notifications and to keep an eye on the calendar instead. If people use the calendar as their personal planning tool then the notifications are not necessary, it is enough to see what is next on the calendar. To illustrate, here is an example of the calendars of a student, a teacher and the smartboard hanging in a room:

In general, students (and teachers too) will be encouraged to live more by their Google calendar as everybody will find their personal schedule in their personal calendar. Teachers will be able to see which is the next lesson with which class and students will be able to see what is their next lesson, too.

Additionally, Google Meet will always show the current or next lesson and offer to join that Meet with a single click, which is much more convenient than using Google Classroom where everybody first has to open the corresponding class.

Outlook

I hope that this article will help you to cope with the Google Meet deficiencies in a school setting. Please let me know how this works for you, I'll be very happy to update this article with further details. If you want to support this topic then please go to the CCC and create or upvote a feature request there.

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