Wave is Here- What’s Next?

Hane, Johanna. “Google Wave and Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning: Impact on Higher Education” (Research Bulletin 13, 2010). Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, 2010, available from http://www.educause.edu/ecar.

Article Review

Despite the article’s title, Hane’s research bulletin does not spell out what exactly Google Wave’s impact on higher education could be so much as it makes a case for why Google Wave has the potential to make any impact at all. The bulletin reads as a call-to-arms of sorts, a reasoned case for why educators should not just experiment with the tool but make their voices heard on how future iterations of the service (as Hane refers to it, though I think “tool” is more dynamic) can best suit learning. Drawing on the theory of social constructivism and Etienne Wenger‘s work on social learning, Hane sees Wave as capable of meeting the practical needs of higher education (e.g. delivering distance ed, working with large groups, assessing collaborative work) as well as of staging a–revolution?–in Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL).

In order to contextualize the current state of CSCL (and the advances Wave is poised to make), Hane turns to a theoretical tradition extending back to John Dewey that has advocated social learning as the best or most authentic learning process. Dialogue is essential to this tradition, as are debate and and the creation of “mediating artifacts.” Similarly, the design of learning environments should strike a balance between “participation” and “reification.” In other words, Hane views the social learning process as a negotiation between people and between people and the objects their thought produces. Google Wave satisfies both these criteria- users can discuss, debate, edit or reflect with one another, in real-time or otherwise, just as they can track the entire evolution of a discussion, brainstorming session, or document.  In Wave, all waves (the operative noun for an individual session, thread, etc.) save every edit and addition and include a “playback” feature.  More innovative, Hane notes, is that Wave allows users to customize the structure of their wave, which need not only be linear. These features enable users to observe and negotiate the thought process of collaborators.

The bulletin succeeds in making a convincing case for why Wave’s arrival merits the excitement of educators and advances  a tradition of social learning. What was left wanting, however, is how Wave might in fact have cracked the code on CSCL. Though only a research bulletin, and not a full-scale study, a survey of other major developments in the field or theory on the learning ecology of the web would have better illustrated the point that the internet has become a place to build, rather than consume, knowledge. Asserting the primacy of “the conversation” in learning, as Hane does, no more heralds Wave than it does support the Socratic dialogue of a college seminar. On a more local level, Hane’s question about how Wave might complement or compete with learning management systems is a good one, but could have been accompanied by a brief description of how Wave’s features do or not allow for customization in managing learning environments.

Connection to the EdLab

Hane’s expository piece could inform the way someone may craft a study around experimentation with Wave, more so with respect to references and theory than with methodology or design. As to how the EdLab could choose to put Wave to the test, there are several functions for which Wave might operate as an alternative to platforms currently used. Experimenting with Wave for team projects could yield another spot at a conference on e-learning in the workplace. Hosting a course on Wave may yield insight into how users learn or behave differently than with Moodle or the Teaching and Learning Network. While Wave does not replicate the function of any of the current platforms, it does in ways incorporate bits and pieces from each.