(note: this is a guest post from Mike Kirk, one of the winners in a contest we recently held)
Last month, Google announced beta for an upcoming product called Wave which the tech giant refers to as “what e-mail would look like if it were invented today”. By that they mean a communications system with all of the acquired knowledge of the 21st century without the hang-ups of the 20th. For detailed info you should really check out the official Google Wave site, but I’ll try to keep the pre-required knowledge to a minimum here.
So what on earth does this have to do with education? Google is inventing this to revolutionize communication and productivity, which has essentially been stagnant for decades if not longer. E-mail, as one example, is sent back and forth between one or more people just as the letter or the memorandum was before it. Wave basically breaks that wide open, offering contextual live editing of a single communiqué. Now, while this can certainly help in productivity in a classroom just like it could help any general office task, the overall Wave concepts could be applied on a grander scale for educators.
The Way Things are for Teachers
The teaching process has remained largely unchanged in over hundreds of years. While technology may have advanced the way we do things, it hasn’t really affected what we are doing. Let’s take a look at the chart below. This is the basic process of teaching as it is today the way it has been for decades.
Whether you teach kindergarten or AP classes, these steps are all required. The teacher is responsible for teaching a subject to a learner. A teacher may have a curriculum or a textbook, but I feel that these tools are passive when it comes to twenty-first century instruction. An effective teacher will bring in outside ideas from co-teachers, mentors, administrators, parents and finally students. From each unique perspective a lesson plan should be enriched as a final outcome.
In general, these perspectives all happen in different places and are given by different people. Co- teachers and administrators can be in different buildings offering different viewpoints. Parents can be concerned at work or at home about getting their voice heard. Mentors can be giving great advice online nationwide or even worldwide. A technology minded teacher would need a tool to bring all of these voices together.
I believe we can look to Google Wave for some of the answers.
The Way Things Could Be for Teachers
Google is trying to get users to wrap their heads around this idea of a wave, which is basically the digital equivalent of a blank white board. In the wave, you can write correspondence, view documents or pictures, incorporate data from other web sources do all kinds of other things that would be available to a group of people sitting around a conference table. Let’s take that idea of a blank space or a wave in which a teacher can do productive work with others.
This potential for communication and collaboration would be a game changer for teacher. So many branches, you probably don’t even know where to start. It’s simple, every idea and step passes through the wave. Everyone has a voice that can be heard and responded to equally.
Google Wave is currently built to aid all kinds of text editing, namely e-mail and chat. If you look at that wave with the idea of lesson plans as an ongoing project, you should be able to gather input and feedback over a wave. Teachers can share their expertise in their subjects to include in other classes, such as research paper writing in English class to a lab report in Science class. In Google’s tech demo, once one user dragged files into the wave, a preview of the files appeared in another user’s wave. This same idea could work for sharing educational video and classroom photos.
Why go to all of this trouble?
Effective teaching and learning are collaborative processes. A teacher can elicit help from others to construct effective lesson plans. As I said earlier, so many people are working in so many different places with one common goal in mind. Why not move the tools needed to achieve that common goal into the same space? Google is specifically asking people to come up with innovative ways to take advantage of the technology they have on offer. In time, I believe that the education community will benefit directly from this web application.