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Google Wave for Language Learning

Google have just presented a preview of their forthcoming Google Wave – a communication tool that combines email, IM and collaborative work-spaces. Effectively it is a mash up of Google Docs, Google Talk and Gmail.

The above YouTube video is worth watching, even though it is over one hour long. It very nicely sets out both what the tool can do and starts to look at how it will change how we work in the future. Of course, there is always the question of whether it will catch on, but given that it is an open source, there is a good chance that this or something similar will become the norm in the forthcoming years.

What is a wave?
The following is how Google sums up Wave

  • A wave is equal parts conversation and document. People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.
  • A wave is shared. Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process. Then playback lets anyone rewind the wave to see who said what and when.
  • A wave is live. With live transmission as you type, participants on a wave can have faster conversations, see edits and interact with extensions in real-time.


Enterprise 2.0 –> Learning 2.0
Google have clearly designed wave with the business team user in mind (rather than the individual/private internet user as noted by ZDNet). And it seems likely that it will enable a flatter (less hierarchical) way of team-work within and between organizations. And so if it is going to change the way we work, it is likely that it gives us some indication of changes in learning approaches we can expect with languages. A few initial thoughts below…

Real-time collaboration
The collaborative editing of waves is faster and more continuous than currently possible with Google Docs. It has very much a document layout (in the same way as Word or email does), and so does not seem to combine the freedom of a whiteboard into the wave work-surface. However, it is as responsive as any online whiteboard and allows editing tools that enable participants (students/teacher) to collaboratively create and edit texts and include multimedia.

Playback is a video style version of a wiki history. It lets you slide through the history of the wave to see how it has changed over its history. This can even be done for one particular participant and so could be used to see how a certain student has interacted with the document.

Commenting / Editing
Wave makes a distinction between editing a document and commenting on it and so a teacher (or student) can comment on the text. For example, this could allow a teacher to highlight areas for correction and give a hint of what the issue is.

Games and Widgets
There is a games function that has been used to create Sudoku and chess games that you can see in the demo film above. I can see potential for interactive quizzes and ‘exercises’ with this tool.

Opinion Polls seem very easy to create within Wave and so it adds some interactivity for students to quiz each other and for teachers to create checks for comprehension.

Spell Check & Automatic Translation
There is an automatic spell check and even an automatic translator for simultaneously communicating with speakers of another language. This raises the question of what skills we need to teach language learners so that they can draw on these tools to improve their communication skills. There may be scope for language education to move further away from accuracy and more into communicative approaches. In fact, if translation bots become more widespread (through the integration into conventional communication tools such as Wave), will the use of English (and other languages) change in an equivalent way to how English is changing as it becomes increasingly a global language with decreasing influence from native speakers.

Conversations rather than Publications
Google Wave certainly appears to be taking us further into the process of information and away from the publication of knowledge. Email and Microsoft Word are still very much focused on the completion and publication of information (with a clear time and date stamp) – even if shuttled to and fro in email conversations or as edited attachments. Wave, however, reflects the continuity of a conversation. The playback function allows us to look at how the wave changed over time, but there is no sense of finishing, publishing and archiving a particular document. This must surely take is in a different direction with knowledge construction and therefore learning approaches. Will language teaching become more obviously the management of conversations that run through various different lessons? Could language lessons become much more interactive with participants beyond the classroom? The very term “conversation” suggests that there may be some synergies to explore between Dogme and Google Wave in the language classroom.

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