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Google Wave – First Impressions for Schools

Well you can’t have missed the fact that Google has finally unleashed Google Wave to 100,000 lucky testers, and with it a tsunami of hype.  I was lucky enough to be one of the 100,000 first wave.  Enough of the puns, if you want a bytesize explanation of what Wave is then this video is the best start:

I have been playing around with Wave for a few days and would like to share my first impressions.

First of all, Wave is a massive work in progress.  It is worth noting that when you log in at present there is a small ‘alpha’ next to the Wave logo, and this feels like pre-Beta software, it can be laggy, it can crash.  Secondly, it can seem a confusing mess at first.  Within hours of the invites going out there was a Wave called ‘Wave to all the Educators‘ where we all got chatting.  And as people replied to messages in a traditional Instant Messaging style the Wave became a mess of blips (a blip is an individual message in a wave) and nested replies.  But some good came from it, a map appeared and people realised they could all edit it (well at first multiple maps appeared until we tidied it onto one).  We started realising you could edit other people’s blips, just like a wiki.  And suddenly the etiquette started to develop: Should I delete the multiple maps? Can I tidy up people’s contact details into one list? Will people be offended if I delete off-topic talk?

I decided to set up a new Wave, with a format for details and instructions to edit the one map and the one blip, the Educators Wave Directory was born.  I wrote some instructions, and Steve Dembo quickly rephrased them for me, we were collaborating in real time and it was all quite exciting.  With clear instructions at the top of a wave, people came over and left their details in one lovely neat blip.  Entertainingly when the second wave of invites went out, people came in and started filling the directory with chatter which I’ve now deleted.

That’s going to be key for waves with numerous editors or indeed any made public: a clear plan from the outset and someone to do the ‘gardening’.

Those first two waves have played out like a forum followed by a wiki or Google Doc.  Google envisaged this as a replacement for email and I’ve not really used it as such yet.  However I’ve been having email conversations with multiple staff at work and found myself wishing they were in Wave.  As various people are invited into a particular conversation about a pupil it would have been great for them to be able to play the wave back using the time-line function.  Instead we’ve been forwarding earlier messages in all directions.  This would have been great, but I wonder at what point it will be an option.  Wave is complex and I don’t know how long it will take before staff are confident to use it in place of email.

So what about the opportunities in the classroom?  I think that there is a wealth of exciting possibilities, and that we educators could be on the cutting edge of turning this tool towards jobs the developers never even thought of.  I’m certainly much more positive about it than Robert Scoble!

Stuart Ridout is coordinating a wave where we are brainstorming ideas, so I’ll wait until that comes to fruition before I list the potential outlets with pupils that we have come up with.  However I think the key to my excitement revolves to a large degree around the ‘bots’ and the ‘extensions’.

Bots in a wave are just that, robot participants.  The most exciting one is not working right now, a bot that automatically translates your typing into another language.  Another great one uses Wolfram Alpha to calculate anything you put in a blip, great for Maths homework!  An other bot in the pipeline will automatically publish your wave to a blog.  I think that we will see some really exciting and innovative bots in the near future.  I’d like to see one that automatically colours people’s text differently like you find in Etherpad.

Extensions are like widgets that you embed in your wave.  They include Google Maps, a video chat widget, trip planner and others.  Again, I’m sure there will be a wealth of these available soon, just look at all the plugins and widgets available for iGoogle and WordPress.

So it’s early days, and not without it’s problems, but I think the ingenuity of the coders of extensions and bots combined with that of the educators using it mean that this could be an exciting new tool for collaboration and communication on the Web.

There’s some good further reading here:

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