Has Google developed the next wave of online education?

Complaints persist about the lack of Wave invitations and the program’s speed, according to the Google Wave Blog, a company site updated with the latest Wave developments. Users also have complained that Google doesn’t notify them when they receive a request to join a new wave, according to the blog.

“We’re also thinking about how to integrate with existing communication and collaboration tools,” Aaron Cheang, a Google user experience researcher, wrote in a Nov. 27 blog post. “And since we all know that fast is better than slow, a large portion of the team is working to make Google Wave faster.”

Universities to wave good-bye to CMS programs?

Some higher-education technology administrators said Google Wave could replace interactive online classrooms available through expensive proprietary course-management systems such as Blackboard.

The officials—who did not want their names printed because their campuses have long-standing relationships with Blackboard—said Wave could make expensive CMS software obsolete if it’s as good as advertised.

One IT director said her school would “make do with what we have” until Wave is open to everyone.

Tracy Stewart, vice president of information technology at Regent University in Virginia Beach, said sending a document between several students and their professors can leave students confused about which version of the assignment is most up to date.

“You never really know who has the latest version,” said Stewart, who added that Regent’s online courses will use Google Wave when it’s available to the public. “With Wave, you can see the changes everyone is making. … It’s clearly a very powerful tool.”

She added: “We have pent-up demand. When [Google] is ready, we need it.”

Group work via Wave also will be a boon for campus administration, said Menachem Wecker, an editor and writer for George Washington University’s daily web-based newsletter, called George Washington Today.

Articles that require editing and approval from several university staff members, Wecker said, are usually eMailed as Microsoft Word documents. But using Wave, an author can post the text and watch as editors tweak words and punctuation.

“We’ve found that it’s really much faster,” Wecker said. “There’s something very convenient about seeing those changes being made [in real time].”

James Wolf, an assistant professor at Illinois State University’s School of Information Technology, said Wave will one day let his graduate students work on major projects remotely instead of arranging a meeting time and place.

“Finding a time when everyone can meet outside of class can be a real challenge,” Wolf said.

Some in education remain skeptical

Wave’s myriad of enhanced features could prove too advanced for college educators not considered among their school’s most technology savvy, said Nic Nelson, a professor at Hope International University in Fullerton, Calif.

Nelson said Wave is a pliable format for faculty members who can manipulate the program, while for-profit companies such as eCollege give users a design and layout “that’s already been made for you.”

“Google Wave definitely feels, from the get-go, more like a huge lump of modeling clay than a Lego set [that] I can assemble in thirty minutes,” Nelson said. “It demands a significant investment of time, energy, and creativity. Meanwhile, for a fee, [paying for a web meeting space] can give you a basic online classroom with a lot of functionality in 30 minutes.”

Nelson said he would continue using eCollege for his courses but would also dabble in the more malleable Google Wave.

“Google Wave is intriguing, but a far cry from the regular online delivery tools we already use,” he said.

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