Google Wave has great potential for education

Google Inc. later this year will unveil Google Wave, a new species of eMail and instant messaging that lets people communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, and videos–and it could have broad implications for how students use and develop collaborative skills.

The company says the free feature is “a new model for communication and collaboration on the web.” Google Wave runs in a web browser and combines elements of eMail, instant messaging, wikis, and photo sharing in an attempt to make online communication more dynamic.

“We started out by saying to ourselves, ‘What might eMail look like if it had been invented today?'” said Lars Rasmussen, who worked on Wave in Australia with his brother Jens and three other Google employees. The Rasmussens contend that eMail hasn’t changed that much since its invention during the 1960s.

Wave is designed to make it easier to converse over eMail by providing tools to highlight particular parts of the written conversation. In instant messages, participants can see what everyone else is writing as they type, unless the writer chooses a privacy control. Photos and other online applications also can be transplanted into the service.

Users create a “Wave” and add other people to it. Everyone on that Wave can see what a user adds to it and can insert his or her own replies or edit the Wave. The Wave’s content is updated almost instantly when changes are made or when new material is added. A playback feature lets users view the Wave’s history to see how it has evolved and what other users contributed.

Google’s announcement has the education blogosphere buzzing with ideas about how this new application could possibly shake up the way educators approach teaching and collaboration.

In an blog post, Joe Corbett, online community manager for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), discussed Google Wave and traded blog comments about the application’s potential with other educators.

“I’m happy to put myself on record as having said that all of you who are reading this will use this product in some way, whether it is to conduct classes, arrange social events, or manage your digital footprint,” Corbett wrote.

“… I think having many users collaborating on the same project/document at the same time in multiple languages across multiple platforms opens the door for some amazing cross-cultural learning,” he wrote in a reply to other comments.

“Teaching about France? Plug Google Wave into your wiki and invite French students to work with your students in real time with translations on the fly for both groups. [I’m] sure that can be done now, but not as close to real time as this is and not without a tremendous amount of preliminary communication. It will be easy to jump into collaborative learning sessions anywhere you find them … the possibilities are endless.”

Corbett’s post also appears on Classroom2.0, and one reader commented that Google Wave “might help to give online education more disruptive momentum.”

“This will change the way we communicate and educate,” commented Andrew Marcinek, an educator who maintains a blog titled iTeach.

Attendees at Google’s annual conference–largely for software developers who build programs on top of its services–got a sneak peek at the program. Google distributed login names for all conference-goers in the hope that independent programmers will find new ways to use the service.

Among other things, Google is counting on outsiders to figure out how to weave Wave into the popular internet communications service Twitter, social networks such as Facebook, and existing web-based eMail services, said Rasmussen.

“Wave starts out with the definition of a conversation–a lightweight structure of messages and a set of users,” Rasmussen said. “Instead of thinking of messages being sent back and forth, we think of [Wave] as a shared object being hosted on a server.”

And Wave has the potential to have “lots more functionality than eMail today offers,” he said.

Users can leave their replies, be away from their computers for a while, and upon their return they will see responses left by others on their Wave. It’s akin to how bulletin boards work, Rasmussen added.

For instance, an online teacher could add his or her students to a class Wave, update class information and assignments, hold discussions with students, and view the Wave’s history to see which students contribute to class discussions the most and which students might need extra help.

Instead of receiving 25 separate eMail messages from students, a teacher could use a class Wave to answer common questions or to hold weekly question-and-answer sessions.

A blogging feature will publish all content from a Wave onto a blog; the blog embeds the Wave, so users can still respond to the Wave. But students who might not use Google or who might be unable to participate in a Wave can still see and participate in class discussions through the blog

Google Wave accommodates attachments, and users can drag and drop in items from their desktop, although programmers said this feature still needs a bit of support at this stage.

“We think this combination of collaborative editing and inline discussion makes for a very powerful collaboration tool,” Rasmussen said. “It could be a great tool for researchers and students, too.”


Google Wave preview

Joe Corbett’s ISTEConnects Blog Post

Corbett’s Classroom 2.0 Blog Post

Andrew Marcinek’s iTeach Blog

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