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Catching the Google Wave

After a couple of weeks of extensive use of Google Wave, I can state unequivocally that I have NO idea how I'm going to use it going forward, but can see the promise of it and its potential in education.  

If you haven't heard about Google Wave, it's "a personal communication and collaboration tool" announced by Google at the Google I/O conference in May of this year. It's intended to bring together email, wikis, instant messaging, and other collaborative technologies but, it must be noted, it's still a "preview" release and certainly not ready for most people, save for those technoweenies out there like me.

For those of you who've heard about this "reinvention of email" software, it's likely you don't yet have an invitation so I'll try to describe what it does and why there are so many people quite curious yet puzzled by it, how most are uncertain as to how they'll use it going forward, and why there is so much excitement about something that seems so benign when you finally begin to use it. 

Nearly every tech person I know watched the Google Wave introduction video at the Google I/O conference and buzzed about it like crazy (I'm not going to embed the video here since it's an hour and twenty minutes long, but I and many others watched the entire thing upon its release).

The buzz was about how cool Wave appeared to be and that it was being delivered by Google, a company that has proven they can deliver globally scalable computing architectures and web applications millions of us use daily.


I was fortunate enough to get an invite recently and subsequently joined several Wave's and started a few of my own. As you can see from the screenshot above, this Google Wave "container" functions as a sort of outliner, a threaded discussion, and is a place in which a user can embed such things as maps, videos, and other gadgets (but to date, only a few are available or working). 

It's a bit spooky to use it while seeing others typing in real-time...backspacing to correct mistakes or self-editing what they're writing. There is a draft mode, but people don't seem to use it and a couple of times I've seen people type something they'd certainly have regretted had it been published!

One thing shown in that video from Google I/O is the ability to embed a Wave within a blog post, on a web page or possibly inside a widget. I was incredibly intrigued by that since a collaborative publishing platform is inherently interesting since it's not easy to do that in any other way. 

The educational uses of this aren't self-evident, but many of my colleagues, peers and I have been discussing use-cases for Wave and, specifically, educational ones. I was pleased to see one of my favorite bloggers, Richard MacManus at ReadWriteWeb write this post about just such a use-case:

After searching some public 'waves,' we came across an educational wave. Entitled 'Wave in Class,' this wave was started by Loren Baum (a self-described "collaborative learning enthusiast" and graduate student at Ben Gurion University) and Sam Boland (a Politics student and "Tech Enthusiast" at Occidental College, Los Angeles).

The wave was started to explore concepts like "Collaborative Note Taking" and "Wave as a Debate Host." Nearly 100 people are included in the wave, ranging from teachers to PhD students to IT professionals to high school students.

This particular wave was framed at the start as being "a set of collaborative documents, supported by a chat."

It was the responses after using Wave for this collaborative note-taking that were most interesting:

A few users enthused later in the wave that "Google Wave combines a lot of the best features from different applications" - but with a real-time twist. It was noted that while Google Docs can be used to share notes and collaborate on assignments, with Google Wave students can collaborate in real-time. This could be important in education for things like notetaking, asking questions (a.k.a. a backchannel) and collaborative projects.


Much of the promise of Wave is being able to collect and aggregate digital assets and functionality (and links) within a topic-centric or themed Wave. Virtually none of that has been implemented yet and for good reason: when Google launches an web application it has to be able to scale-up for millions of users simultaneously, so they'll likely be judicious as they release high load capabilities over time.

The biggest challenge with Wave is not enough experimentation has occurred yet and protocols, moderation and other administrative sorts of learnings aren't apparent to even the most accomplished technoweenie, though there are inklings as to the possibilities.

One Wave I joined saw the person who started it creating a "ping" (or "section" of the Wave) as an explanation "Here is what this Wave is set for blah-blah-blah" with some recommended uses and behaviors expected by the group. 

Another I joined with a few academics saw them discussing the possibility of performing calculations within a 'ping' and they were arguing as to the best approach and whether or not real-time writing would suffice for "showing your work" (an interesting premise, especially since a Wave can be "played back" and you can watch the real-time creation, editing and building of the Wave as it unfolds, ensuring a student was actually creating it in real-time).

One fun Wave I joined was a "virtual cocktail party" that was open and closed by the moderator one Thursday evening. At one point he typed, "Tell us your favorite limerick." Though I can't even show you a screenshot of the Wave due to the handful of inappropriate ones people typed in (some from a 58 year old woman who must've had a naughty limericks book by her side!), there were some that were so humorous I found myself bursting out laughing and my wife said, "WHAT is so funny?" 

When I described it for her -- and told her how I could visualize Wave being suited for storytelling, poetry and even comedy -- she chuckled and said, "Oh honey, you're such a geek" and yes, I wear that badge proudly!

Frivolity and limericks aside, one thing is for certain: It's tools like this that are smack-dab-in-the-middle of the sweet spot for the participation culture that's already emerged on the internet as all of us increase our connectedness through it. For that reason alone it bears watching and considering how it might be used in a classroom environment or perhaps for homework submissions.


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Accelerating Change are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.