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October 7, 2009, 08:27 AM ET

Could Google Wave Replace Course-Management Systems?

Google argues that its new Google Wave system could replace e-mail by blending instant messaging, wikis, and image and document sharing into one seamless communication interface. But some college professors and administrators are more excited about Wave's potential to be a course-management-system killer.

"Just from the initial look I think it will have all the features (and then some) for an all-in-one software platform for the classroom and beyond," wrote Steve Bragaw, a professor of American politics at Sweet Briar College, on his blog last week. 

Mr. Bragaw admits he hasn't used Google Wave himself -- so far the company has only granted about 100,000 beta testers access to the system. Each of those users is allowed to invite about eight friends (who can each invite eight more), so the party is slowly growing louder while many are left outside waiting behind a virtual velvet rope. But Google has posted an hour-long video demonstration of the system that drew quite a buzz when it was unveiled in May. That has sparked speculation of how Wave might be used.

Greg Smith, chief technology officer at George Fox University, did manage to snag an invitation to try Wave, and he too says it could become a kind of online classroom.

That probably won't happen anytime soon, though. "Wave is truly a pilot right now, and it's probably a year away from being ready for prime time," he said, noting that Wave eats up bandwidth while it is running. Google will probably take its time letting everyone in, he said, so that it can work out the kinks.

And even if some professors eventually use Wave to collaborate with students, colleges will likely continue to install course-management systems so they know they have core systems they can count on, said Mr. Smith.

Then again, hundreds of colleges already rely on Google for campus e-mail and collaborative tools, through a free service the company offers called Google Apps Education Edition. Could a move to Google as course-management system provider be next?




1. scoffie - October 07, 2009 at 05:20 pm

Course Management Systems have evolved into Learning Management Systems with hooks into many other campus administrative and instructional systems. SIS, licensed databases, publisher provided content systems, transaction systems, etc. It would be a challenge to integrate all those moving parts into a Wave environment and then be able replicate it quarter after quarter. If nothing else, the LMS serves as a central hub to officially connect the institution and its processes and resources to the virtual teaching and learning environment. I think Wave may provide a superior set of tools for the VLE but will not be able to handle the administrative and management requirements. So, "course management system killer", I don't think so. My preference would be for Google to acquire an LMS company and re-invent it from the inside out... BlackGoo anyone? :)

2. mhward - October 07, 2009 at 07:21 pm

As scoffie says, existing LMSs are often closely integrated with other university administrative systems for enrolment, access, assessment, grading, quality and other issues. It's hard to see how Google Wave would be able to match this integration in a way that would be efficient for staff and useful for students.

3. gmphap1 - October 07, 2009 at 07:56 pm

I think we limit our vision by attempting to take current LMS and say Wave fits well into that. Have a listen to Bill Gates at Carnegie Mellon (on YouTube) and understand the future of LMS is much bigger and autonomic or self-teaching systems are what we need. An example would be student studying algebra, if the LMS "say" the student was struggling with rational numbers, it would offer more explanation or training and help that student.

The combo of Google Wave and Video Chat has the potential to serve as one-on-one or one-on-many virtual classrooms, but our LMS must go farther than this!

4. dunkertim - October 08, 2009 at 01:05 pm

Many forget when there was a time when LMS systems were not integrated with ERP and other 3rd party applications. It too them time to hook into other campus applications, and given time, Wave may provide the same capability.

5. w3geolearners - October 08, 2009 at 01:19 pm

Replacement? More than likely not for the reasons others have previously stated. ALSO with federal privacy laws such as FERPA, you bet we'll stay behind an Institution-provided password security system.

6. usctel - October 08, 2009 at 01:25 pm

Data integration into student enrollment system, ERP, and other enterprise systems are necessary, as said. And a mechanism to connect WAVE interactions in a gradebook is needed. Perhaps the most critical piece is the institutional (federated?) identity management (IdM) system compatibility that might allow instructors, students, and the institution to harvest data based on that individual's/ entity's permissions. This is what is needed for an 'eportfolio' that represents interactions and accumulated digital assets / works associated with the individual as they move across courses (that depend upon an 'LMS') that are offered at an institution or set of institutions. Might not a federated IdM such as Shibboleth or SAML or OpenID or combination thereof be critical?

7. abbiatti - October 08, 2009 at 01:34 pm

Certainly the integration of the "student owned LMS"(aka Google Wave or other 2.0 apps) is a challenge. However, the opportunity to reach such a wide range of learners using the tools they bring with them to the classroom, while leveraging the opportunity to reinvest the cost savings for teaching/learning is very compelling. I am sure we have the expertise to solve the data integration issues, if we wanted to do so. usctel has started the process.

8. nilspeterson - October 09, 2009 at 01:26 pm

@scoffie I'm with gmphap1, calling Google Wave an LMS is taking it in the wrong direction. Calling it a personal learning environment might be better. Maybe, just maybe, as the Learning 2.0 environment emerges, linking to all those central systems will be overrated. Perhaps the merger is Google and a university to create GooU. We have been exploring what collaborative learning communities might look like and how those models relate to traditional brick & mortal, MIT open courseware and Western Governors U model. See http://wsuctlt.wordpress.com/2009/03/31/shifting-faculty-roles-for-new-learning-environments/ and especially the Four Strategies document at the bottom

9. ratbiscuit - October 09, 2009 at 04:54 pm

I agree with Nils Peterson that calling Google Wave a personal learning environment (PLE) would be more accurate, but this sidesteps critical value added instructional features of high level LMS such as Desire2Learn, Blackboard, etc. It makes LMS products seemed more constrained to "one size fits all" than they actually are. One such feature is a robust and flexible, fully configurable roles/rights/instructional tool-activity framework that recognizes that teachers, teaching assistants, peer preceptors, etc. need differential acccess/rights to access/use/view things like gradebooks, threaded discussion tools, quiz tools, survey tools, collaborative workgroup configurations, - the list is too long to describe here. The key thing is the user's level of access depends on the user's instructional role(s) with respect to very specific instructional support tools. Web 2.0 tools sets may appear to be more flexible or multifunctional because schools tend to standardize their rollouts of these tools becuase of the need to limit technical support costs, but in my experience few faculty even realize how configurable LMS tool sets actually are. And made-to=purpose tools like quiz and gradebook tools are powerful time savers when integrated with campus information system AND them make using student learning outcomes assessment a real part of evidence-based decision making such as program and course review as well as student advisement - especially in large institutions where the cost of datagathering is otherwise prohibitive.

Of course (or hopefully) a wide range of dedicated and innovative instructional "widgets" and tools will emerge within any new "learning 2.0" frameworks, but as anyone who works in a large institution will learn it's hard enough to provide just the technical support faculty need to cope with one robust toolset never minde the moving targets imposed by ever advancing technology. but it is even harder to support faculty to make pedagogically impactful use of a single environment such as an LMS without scaling up to support an infinite supply of tools.

Another advantage of the LMS, is the ability to leverage scarce staff resources by providing in depth support to a set of tools with similar user interfaces. As faculty acquire expertise, they learn how to link to any web2.0 platform they need from within the LMS. More technology options may be less important than online teaching and course development skills themselves. In creative hands, it is possible to use nearly every LMS tool for assessing student learning or helping students self-assess their learning -- not just the "quiz" tool. But, the skillset for effectively assessing learning seems to take the back seat regardless of where the instruction is situated.

but in any case, LMS or Web 2.0, support resources seldom scale to the challenge of bringing faculty closer to an entirely new skillset - systematic instructional design. Creating a webspace, populating it with "lecture" content and setting up discussion groups whether in an LMS or PLE just adapts technology to "traditional" instructional practices. Success still more or less depends on the quality of the lecture, the discussions, and the feedback students get. Bad lectures and good lectures live online with equal ease.

Back to Nils remarks..LMS environments can be configured as PLEs that's a matter of instructional design. Without understanding how we are designing learning environments and courses, we are pretty much limited at our ability to observe or describe the unique affordances that technology offers for creating productive learning experiences that could not happen but for technology is not just about

10. anthrodocz - October 10, 2009 at 06:47 am

But will we be able to use Google Wave on our chalk board? I can't see how it will work.
And, at our college,(Setinstone U.) we use a 3 x 5 card for things like change of grade; will we be able to incorporate this into something like this new Wave thing?

Wow!! It is amazing how our imaginations are shaped so tightly at times by the processes and habits we have institutionalized. I think our first challenge to ourselves in "higher education" is to loosen up our imaginations, and to hear our own message I am sure we repeat to our students about "success in the 21st century": the key is adaptability, the ability to change and to learn rapidly. This calls for developed imaginations. ...not something one might be too comfortable with at good ol' Setinstone U.

11. usctel - October 11, 2009 at 05:44 pm

Between 'Setinstone U' and an unrealistic disregard for the course structure with a rather cavalier approach to student assessment data lies a middle ground. This middle ground recognizes two distinct instructor groups that use the LMS. The recent

12. ericstoller - October 26, 2009 at 12:25 pm

In terms of accessibility for users with visual impairments, Google Wave is completely inaccessible to folks who use a screen reader. So, in a way, it's basically like Blackboard. Both products are extremely lackluster in terms of their accessibility.

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