Tuesday, January 19, 2010

UIS jumps on Google Wave for online learning tool


The University of Illinois Springfield is riding a new wave of online education.

UIS is one of the first universities in the nation to begin using Google Wave - an online tool for real-time communication and collaboration - for online learning and teaching, beginning in October 2009.

“We’re really excited to be working with Google Wave here at UIS,” said Ray Schroeder, director of the UIS Center for Online Learning, Research and Service. “One of the wonderful features of this new product is that it combines the Web 2.0 technologies that we have been accustomed to using on an individual basis. It molds all of these into a kind of an email or wiki format. And it enables students and others to use Web 2.0 technologies in a collaborative fashion.”

Wave was developed to answer the question: “what would email look like if we were to invent it today?”, Schroeder said. The product was released to developers in May and to the public as a beta in October.

“Email was invented nearly 40 years ago. As we developed technology over time, email was created to emulate snail mail and IM, or instant messaging, was more to emulate telephone conversations,” Schroeder said.

A wave, on the other hand, can be both a conversation and a document where people can discuss and work together using richly-formatted text, photos, videos, maps and more. In developing Wave, Google looked at “the way in which we can use technologies as they exist today rather than as analogs for technologies developed years ago,” Schroeder said.

And the new technology allows for many opportunities within the online classroom. Wave enables students to connect not only with each other in the classroom, but with people all around the world, Schroeder said.

“The technology allows for all kinds of collaborations,” he said. “You can drag and drop documents right into a wave rather than as attachments. You can come up with final product that can be saved and shared with a broader group.”

Other features of Google Wave include the ability to embed web pages, bring up live weather forecasts, look at maps and instantly change those maps to satellite views, Schroeder said. There is also a feature that will translate between different languages.

One of UIS’ efforts in testing the online teaching capabilities includes a collaboration outside of the classroom between students at UIS in the “Internet in American Life” course taught by Schroeder and Burks Oakley and students in energy studies at the Institute of Technology in Sligo, Ireland. The students are discussing the impact of the Internet on the perception of energy sustainability in Europe and the United States.

“Wave provides an opportunity to collaborate with people in other countries, and in our case, we collaborated with people in Ireland,” Schroeder said. “It’s phenomenal - our students meeting in a wave.”

COLRS also has several upcoming projects regarding Wave, including multiple national presentations, online workshops through the Sloan Consortium and training sessions for UIS faculty on using Wave. Two training sessions have already been conducted on campus.

“UIS is really out in the forefront of this,” Schroeder said. “This is a tremendous opportunity to use this technology to reach beyond our campus and our online program. It breaks down institutional and geographical boundaries.”

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