I am in my final semester at university right now, and for one of my senior classes, I have to do a group research project and write a group paper summarizing and explaining research with five other people. In my whole college career, I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to write a group paper as I have been when we received this assignment.
I don’t think the rest of my group really understood why I was so excited, but the fact was, I couldn’t wait to try Google Wave out to see how it would work with writing a group paper. I’ll tell you what I think of using Google Wave to write a group paper, but here are some things I’ve learned so far in the process:
1.) Lay Out Specific Rules and Guidelines
Everyone in my group had not used Google Wave before, so I quickly sent out invites after we received the assignment to get everyone signed up. There’s a particular novelty about Wave when you first get invited. You want to click around and give it a test drive.
This curiosity is all good, but for this project, I created the project wave, and at the beginning of the wave I not only welcomed everyone to the wave, but explained some goals for the wave, some guidelines, and some tips for new users. In the goals section, I wanted to answer: what’s the purpose of the wave? what’s desired from each participant? In the guidelines, I wanted to emphasis the importance of staying on topic, cleaning up the wave if needed, and advise against certain gadgets and extensions.
These rules or guidelines are pretty simple but I found that creating some focus to the wave helped everyone stay on topic, contribute, and have a productive conversation.
2.) Consider Meeting in the Same [Physical] Room
Our first group meeting met for a brainstorming section all circled up in a conference room in the library with each of us with our laptops logged into Wave. Now, I know Wave is set up to simulate the feeling that the conversation is live, but there was nothing quite like waving in the same room. We could not only add our ideas to the wave, but we could also openly discuss these ideas in the same room. We were not only interacting with ideas in a verbal way but we’re also seeing what we’re discussing on “paper.” There will never be anything like a face-to-face conversation; you can discuss more and cover more in a shorter period of time, but combining face-to-face with Wave was doubly powerful.
At the end of the meeting, we were also able to give everyone individual work going separately from the meeting. One person was responsible for developing and explaining one point while the other person had to do another and so on. Obviously, the beauty of doing this with Wave was that we could see this other person’s revisions while we are making our own revisions.
3.) There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Idea
As much as Google Wave is an information tool, it is also very much a creative tool. During our brainstorming meeting, we had to come up with ideas for research questions. All of our fields of study are far from research (for example, mine is music), so a lot of us knew hardly anything about crafting a good and effective research question.
We found it was extremely important to emphasize (even in the rules and guidelines) there’s no such thing as a bad idea. We wanted everyone to throw out and add to the wave whatever idea or question came to their mind even if it ended up being an useable question. Creativity is best fostered in a setting of openness. Even if you throw out a “bad idea,” this bad idea could lead someone to another idea, which leads to another idea, and so-on. There’s a refining process and this process never happens if no one is willing to take a risk.
4.) Separate Content as Much as Possible Into Blips
In all of our brainstorming and writing, it was really easy to quickly fill up a wave with a TON of information. It was also really easy to collect all of this information into only one blip. After awhile, the wave can become really hard on the eyes to look at. This became a big problem.
It’s important that you are always doing cleanup. Try to divide your content up into the smallest blips as possible in a way that makes sense. This way it’s easier to respond to an individual piece of content because it’s in its own blip rather than apart of a 1000-word blip.
Delete things you don’t need anymore. Remember the history of your wave is saved, so if you happen to need something you deleted, just go back and get it. Use bold, italics, underlining, highlighting, and heading tags in the best way possible to format your wave in a way that makes sense and is easy to follow.
Every group’s workflow is going to be a little bit different. You’ll have to see what works best for you and the type of project you are working on. Google Wave is a tool with many different possibilities for its use. There’s not necessarily one way to use it.
If you are a college professor, I would really recommend trying out Google Wave the next time you have your students do a group paper or something similar. It’s amazing how fast the work process is sped up (once you get the hang of it of course), and I found that a lot more ideas have the ability to come out since Google Wave gives you an easier way to voice these ideas.
I’ve done group papers for other classes and we’ll have to do it all in a Microsoft Word document and pass that through email one at a time so we can then each individually add our revisions and updates. And while on a Word document, our revisions can show up from each individual, before you can add anything more to the conversation, you have to wait till you have the latest version of the Word document from someone else. There is a lot of waiting with this process, whereas with Google Wave, you can start adding something as soon as the idea crosses your mind.
Right now, in our group project, we are beyond the brainstorming process and we’re starting to write the actual paper. It’s interesting to me also how fast we can write it when we are all working on it at the same time, in the same room, and verbally bouncing ideas off of each other. We were able to pound out a couple really quality pages in only a matter of minutes because we had discussed it and as we were writing it we could each give input into what was being written.
Have you used Google Wave yet in the academic setting or in a similar setting? What has been your experience?