Google groups, organization units and subdomains – explainer

Apr 20, 2014 | Leadership

Technology directors and facilitators new to the Google Suite game must master a new vernacular. When managing a Google Suite domain, three things you must quickly learn about are groups, organization units (OU’s), and subdomains. Each has a host of different applications, some overlapping, and can be used to assist a school system with data maintenance and customization.


Google groups are structures that associate a group of users together. Once enrolled in a group, a user can access discussion forums associated with the group, and send and receive emails that are addressed to the specific Google Group email address for that group; example, Groups can be created and managed by any user in a domain. They can, of course, also be managed (including deletion) by the super admin for the domain.

Hapara uses Google Groups to assign/confirm roles within the Dashboard. You can set up a special Google Group for non-teachers, like coaches and counselors so they can access Hapara.

Organization Units (OU’s)

OU’s are an underutilized organizational tool with very useful applications in G Suite that make tech directors’ lives much better. OU’s are associations visible only to the administrators of a domain. The OU is a way to associate a group of users (or Chromebooks) in the domain so as to differentiate permissions in Google Suite. OU’s are also a great way to identify a selection of users for sunsetting – something that usually happens to the accounts of graduating students.

One way to use the OU to give different permissions to different associations of users and also prepare them for later sunsetting is to place students into OU’s by graduation year. There are several reasons to do this. First, Gmail, Google Plus, and Blogger commenting permissions tend to be determined by age or grade. Using the graduation year instead of the grade level as the OU identifier means that you will not have to change every student’s OU association every year; only the outliers. When the graduating class reaches graduation, you can process their accounts by OU; sunsetting or migrating them en masse.


Subdomains are structures within a Google Apps domain that give users an entirely different email address from those in the primary domain. Sometimes the addresses are similar to those created in the primary domain. For example, could be a subdomain of, but could also be a subdomain of It can all get rather confusing.

Subdomain use can be more hassle than it is worth in the G Suite setting. The presence of subdomains can force tech directors to redundantly perform maintenance tasks on the domain.

In some cases, providing students with account addresses that are distinct from the teacher and administrator accounts is preferred. This can be accomplished with subdomains. However, if what you hope to accomplish is differential permissioning of users, check out the OU’s first.


Jack West


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