How to Teach With Google Wave

If you’re wondering what use Google’s new Wave tool might have for teaching, one online-learning leader has an answer: combining classes from different colleges.

Think of it like bringing in a guest speaker. But with Wave, which is like e-mail but live and jazzed up with multimedia features, you can build online communities that link entire classrooms for a week or two. And you can do it without the administrative headaches of booking rooms or adjusting class schedules.

Ray Schroeder gave it a try last semester at the University of Illinois at Springfield, one of the first colleges to use Wave for online teaching since the preview version came out in September. For about two weeks in December, he joined his “Internet in American Life” course with a class on energy studies at the Institute of Technology at Sligo, in Ireland. They created a “wave” to discuss the impact of the Internet on energy sustainability.

But what if you merged a biology class and a philosophy class? You could have them evaluate a bioethics case study, suggests Mr. Schroeder, director of the university’s Center for Online Learning, Research, and Service. Or what about a class on Asian history? You could use Wave’s translation tool and hook up with a group of Chinese students.

It’s different than a proprietary learning-management system, Mr. Schroeder says, “where licensing restrictions limit these kinds of inter-institutional projects.” Already, some college professors and administrators are excited about Wave’s potential to be a course-management-system killer. 

Plenty of other technologies already enable online collaboration, like wikis and Web conferencing. The difference is that Google Wave dumps everything into a one-stop Web 2.0 sandbox of audio and video and text. Also, it’s free. And it has a “playback” feature that lets you watch the history of each posting in a kind of time-lapse animation.

So if a student comes to you whining about how she should get an “A” because she did all the work in a group project, Mr. Schroeder says, you can check exactly who did what.

But you’ll have to be patient. While students liked the Wave collaboration, they also complained about technical glitches such as the system’s slow speed, Mr. Schroeder says.


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