You might recall I wrote a post a couple months ago with a few tips for using Google Wave to write an academic paper. Now that the semester is finally finished, and the paper is all done, I wanted to follow-up more on how that process went and the pros and cons of using Google Wave to write a group paper in the academic setting.
To give you a bit more background information on our research paper, our paper reported our findings from a survey instrument we created for people to take. We had to analyze hundreds of responses and then report our findings in our paper. There were six of us in the group, and our research looked at six different specific but very inter-related areas within the research we were doing. So each member of the group was responsible for analyzing their assigned area and then incorporating and connecting their findings with the other areas of research into a comprehensive and complete paper.
We used Google Wave to write our paper. Wave proved to be very useful for this type of project but lacked in some areas. Let’s take a look.
1.) Wave really is extraordinary collaborating in a live document. I know this might be a bit obvious because this is just what Wave does, but after using Wave in a serious context, rather than just clicking around for fun, I saw how extraordinarily powerful it is to see everyone’s thoughts and ideas transpiring in real-time. This allows all the participants of a wave to give instant feedback.
2.) The entire process is sped up. I am not even kidding you, after having brainstormed and processed the results of our survey, we had written 10 pages worth of content for our paper within a matter of an hour. I think this was largely due to the fact that we did not have to wait for the latest revision of the document in order to contribute more to the paper. Whenever you had an idea, you could instantly contribute.
3.) There was ownership for everyone involved. One of the concerns when doing a group project is that the responsibility of the project falls onto one person. Because the group paper was accessible by anyone at anytime, we could all play an equal part in the process. We did find it helpful to assign someone as having a primary editing role for making sure the paper transitioned smoothly and displayed consistency, but even so, others can be involved in that process as well.
4.) Playback is really nice. When you have six people contributing to a wave, it isn’t long before the Wave fills up with a lot of information. While this is important for the brainstorming process, eventually, you want to delete the parts of the Wave you don’t need anymore. The good news is that the history of your wave is recorded and can be restored from any point. So we were able to take a lot of liberties deleting the “extras” we didn’t need anymore. In the final editing process, there were times where I wanted to go back, and this was relatively easy with just a few clicks.
5.) Indented replies are useful. We tried to separate our paper up into as many small blips as we could, so people could reply to those individual blips with any thoughts or reflection, rather than replying to a massive section. However, we didn’t do the best job at dividing our paper up into blips as we hoped. This was partly because we didn’t know how to insert a new blip above a blip. After the paper, we noticed if you click on the top right corner of a blip and select “Insert Above” you get another blip that isn’t indented. I wish we would have noticed this sooner!
Cons (or Suggestions)
I hesitate calling this a list of “Cons” because it might be better called a wish-list or simply some suggestions. Some of these things might seem a bit picky, but these are some features that I thought might be helpful, especially in a more academic setting, after having walked through this process.
1.) What about footnotes? Through college, I’ve been accustomed to using footnotes for citations and any extraneous notes that are worth mentioning for papers. So if you are hoping to use Chicago style citations you’ll be out of luck.
While it wasn’t a problem to format our citations in MLA, we did find ourselves wishing we could throw in a footnote. If we wanted to use footnotes, we would have to write the whole paper, then cut and paste the paper from Google Wave into Microsoft Word to add in the necessary footnotes. Who wants to do that?
Even if there wasn’t a footnote feature that was as seamless as Word’s, it would still be nice to have a superscript and subscript formatting option on the toolbar. This way, we could at least manually add in any footnotes or citations if we pleased. This definitely didn’t make or break the project, but we were bumming out.
2.) Drag and drop blips? At times, it was a bit tedious to clean-up the wave to prevent it from becoming too messy. Ideally, we wanted to have as many blips in the paper, so we could add an indented reply to those small sections of the paper. Because we were doing six different inter-related sections, in the editing process, we ended up moving these sections around quite a bit within the paper. I could have seen it be helpful to be able to simply drag a blip and move it to a different spot in the wave.
We simply cut and pasted the content in order to move it, but it might be cool to have some drag and drop functionality to wave.
3.) I wish Wave were faster. Different members in the group experienced some inconsistency with the overall speed of Google Wave. Of course the speed of the internet will play factor into this, but it seemed at times like the browser couldn’t always handle wave from an application standpoint. I noticed those that were trying to run Wave in Firefox or Safari generally had a much more laggier experience than those running Google Wave in Chrome. It makes sense why Wave would run faster in the Chrome browser (Google develops Chrome), but it would be nice if I could use Safari too without it crashing my browser.
4.) The experience was sometimes a bit chaotic. It is easy to get lost in a wave once you start throwing out ideas and replying to different blips. One thing our group had to remember was that Wave does not organize your content for you. We all had to be very intentional about creating lists, separating blips, and deleting the unneeded parts of the wave. It might be cool if Wave included a table of contents feature, much like a wiki, where you can create a table of contents at the beginning of the wave, and those sections linked to parts deeper in the wave.
5.) Any final formatting had to be done in Microsoft Word. We were able to do the bulk of writing the paper in Wave, but getting it into a format that we could print out and turn in to our professor required us to use Microsoft Word (e.g. headings, page numbers, double spacing, citations, etc.). I could almost see use for a feature that would allow you to export a Wave into a .doc file or into Google Docs. This would allow you to the put the finishing touches on whatever you create in Wave for presentation’s sake.
Google Wave shows some real potential for using it in the academic setting. It can be a great platform for discussion among colleagues and for working on projects. Again, as Google Wave is still in preview, it’s not perfect, but it’s definitely something to test out and experiment with. I had no idea going into the project if Wave would be able to do what we would need it to do. However, throughout the process, a lot of us in the group kept affirming that Wave really did make things a lot easier for us. If you’re a professor, you might want to consider using it for your classes.
The biggest thing in this process was that we didn’t have to worry about having the latest document version. The latest updated version of our research paper was right in the Wave, so anyone could add, subtract, or modify it at anytime. If you’re thinking about using Wave in an academic setting, it’s definitely worth the try.
I welcome any questions or comments about my group’s experience with using Google Wave in the academic setting. Please post them below.
About the Author
Brett is a website developer and the founder and editor of gwTips. In his spare time, he enjoys playing guitar. You can visit his website to learn how you can teach yourself guitar with online guitar lessons.