Google Wave: Begging for a classroom

I got my Google Wave invitation Saturday night and, as much as I wanted to race home, log in, and see what all the fuss was about, I decided instead to relish the rest of my 3-day weekend. Now, however, the weekend is essentially over, the sham of a holiday we call Columbus Day is passed, and I'm sitting with my laptop in front of a fire, digging into Google's latest hype-machine.

I got my Google Wave invitation Saturday night and, as much as I wanted to race home, log in, and see what all the fuss was about, I decided instead to relish the rest of my 3-day weekend. Now, however, the weekend is essentially over, the sham of a holiday we call Columbus Day is passed, and I'm sitting with my laptop in front of a fire, digging into Google's latest hype-machine.

And you know what? It's awesome. Not that regular readers would expect anything else from ZDNet's resident Google fanboy, right? I'm not even sure that fellow blogger, Garett Rogers, is quite as enamored of Google's products as I am. Certainly, my district's successful move to Google Apps has reinforced my really positive impressions of the GOOG, even with a clear understanding of just how much they know about me.

That being said, I couldn't agree more with another fellow ZDNet blogger, Dion Hinchcliffe, who recently gave Wave a brief review:

Wave’s complex interface and open-ended feature set provides an unexpectedly steep learning curve, particularly from a company that is famous for simple, powerful user experiences

Wave is, in fact, a bit overwhelming. There are a number of videos that Google has posted on YouTube describing the various features, giving basic how-to's, and orienting users to the service, but it definitely takes some getting used to. The following video only touches on highlights.

So if it's overwhelming, has a steep learning curve, and is only in limited preview, why am I so excited? Wave is overwhelming for 2 reasons:

  1. It has a fairly rich interface with new, unfamiliar components when the Gmail interface (and webmail in general) is so easily recognized by so many people.
  2. More importantly, Wave represents a paradigm shift in group communications.

There, I said it: paradigm shift. I'm sorry, I tried not to, but it's hard not to use Wave and think those two horribly overused words. Wave dispenses with email as we know it and moves to what Google calls a "hosted conversation." I won't belabor the features of this conversation. It's been well-reviewed elsewhere. What strikes me about Wave, though, and makes me so willing to climb that learning curve (and drag my users up the slope with me) is its potential.

If you use Wave by yourself, it's an interesting exercise in user interface and building documents with interactive components. However, add some collaborators and things change very quickly. Google's Jeff Keltner reports that some organizations are using Wave in preview, but that this is fairly limited at the moment. Once Wave is more universally integrated in Edu Apps, imagine the possibilities: Each class meeting could have a wave (remember that a "wave" is a conversation hosted in the cloud with access to a variety of Google and third-party tools ranging from flowcharts to Wolfram Alpha). Waves could be used for single days, or extend through multiple meetings and could continue to take contributions after class. Students and teachers can contribute text, video, documents, files from their local computers (Wave supports drag and drop), and can communicate in real time. Waves can interact with blogs and Twitter as well, making the contents of a wave available to a wider audience. The waves can serve as both a record of conversations and notes in the class, but also a platform for groups to generate and review content.

It's different. Different enough that any adoption will require demonstration, training, coaching, and modeling of use cases, many of which don't even exist yet. It's also interactive, engaging, and transformational enough to justify the extra work. We've seen what teachers can do with Web 2.0 tools, videoconferencing, Moodle and other learning management systems, and even vanilla Google Apps. What happens when we give teachers an entirely new platform for sharing with their students and encouraging students to share with each other? I can't wait to find out.