Project Collaboration: Using Google Wave

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My Grad School classmate Lauren Rodan thought of collaboratively writing on Google Wave, and I jumped the wagon. The result is embedded at the bottom of this entry. Unfortunately you must have a Google Wave account to view it properly and there aren’t too many people with a Wave account now, so please view the pasted transcript and imagine what it looks like.

When I started to use Google Wave (less than a week ago) I felt like I was using a glorified chat. But once we started the collaboration writing, it worked more like a face-to-face conversation than a cramped thread of aimless thoughts. What is shown below is an edited version so the real interaction went a bit more chaotically – the original colored thread looked like a piece of lego building rather than layered conversation we see here. But I believe we did generate a coherent piece of thought.

So, is Wave an effective tool for collaboration? Yes. And probably not only for collaboration. We could express ourselves freely without getting derailed from the topic. And the result I believe is greater than the sum of our individual thoughts. Both of us found interesting and refreshing perspectives in each other. Of course, proper initiative (Lauren) and mutual respect made the process successful but what made Wave special was that it stayed in the background all the time, never interrupting the writing process. Google Wave might be a revolutionary tool but no matter how big its potential is, it is still a tool that helps us do what we want. It was an extremely useful, transparent helping hand. I am glad Google and its engineers understand this point well (as opposed to… let’s say MacroHard).

The transcript:

Conversation color-coded as follows:

  • Collaboration was not “required” as part of the assignment – Did you collaborate with anyone else on the team? Whether you did or not, why?

I did not have the chance to collaborate with anyone else on the team. I made an attempt to do so by sharing a logo, but I did not receive any comments on it. I misunderstood Lauren’s intention as a pure example, not an opportunity to collaborate. I got too used to think in “solo” mode (though the professor encourged collaboration all along) I think people may have been so far along with their projects at that point that my logo did not fit into their plans. I agree on this point, and I am also thinking – maybe a majority of us work in independent work style? At least I am. Personally, I am an independent worker. But part of the reason I appreciate the program I am in so much is that it takes me out of my comfort zone. I have had to collaborate with my classmates, people I’ve never met, online. It is a great challenge. I regret that this project did not lend itself to that kind of collaboration. Maybe collaboration is something that can become a course on its own. It is such a huge thing. Isao, I think it should be part of every course. I think the course was built so that students can choose either or not to collaborate. To facilitate collaboration more, I think the course can even force students to work together. Unless the students know each other from past semesters, getting to know each other itself usually take some time, and one semester only has 15 weeks – a “pushing” mechanism might work. I’m not sure I agree with you on the collaboration front. I don’t think we have to know each other. The thing that gets us talking and working together is the fact that we are all studying the same topics, and we more or less all have similar (or related) interests. We do have similar interests – but the working or studying style might differ a lot. I see you are more comfortable taking initiative and collaborating and I am on the opposite side of the spectrum – self-starting and prefer to complete things on my own. I see what you mean. The funny thing is I am more like you in real life – independent and prefer to work on my own. Taking a course online makes me different for some reason. The course topic unites us students all, but collaboration is about our style (or even personalities) and an encouragement can work well, otherwise we tend to fall back on our favorite learning (or working) styles.The way I feel about collaboration in distance learning is this – if I didn’t want to be involved in a learning environment (which I define as one of interaction with professors and students alike), I could have just bought a load of books and not taken any classes. I think collaboration is important in higher education. I learn a lot from my classmates. As Lauren pointed out, learning materials are everywhere. The key to attend a grad school is to be with people with similar goals and interact with them. Now, if this was a non-distance learning course, the fact that students sit together naturally creates friendship and collaboration. Distance learning can take extra measures to create that natural bonding which can be the essense of higher education.

  • How was the collaboration initiated?

I think we’ve expressed that collaboration was initiated as a bunch of false starts. I recently saw people posting logos and other collaborative efforts in Moodle. At this point, I don’t think I could take anyone else’s work and combine it with my own unless I did a lot of work to make it fit. If there were collaborations, they certainly occurred indirectly – for example, reading other students’ comments and building on top of them, or looking at their courseworks inspired me and forced me to think in different ways. You are right, Isao. I didn’t think of that. There were posts in forums that people responded to that helped me gain direction. It does not sound as much, but it is indeed deeper than merely watching “examples” online to get inspirations – the fact that the other students were looking at the same topic as I did made it more real and substantial than merely scanning the web. I could gaze into an alternative universe and see many different possibilities. Unsynchronized brainstorming, that’s how I describe them. Terrific description. I like that – unsynchronized brainstorming! Then what would you call our conversation here on Wave? Synchronized brainstorming? The Wave encourages adding comments – exactly what brainstorming is about. No judgement, only contribution.

  • How did it affect your own project work?

My project probably could have been better with collaboration. I know my classmates are all very talented in different ways, and my project probably could have been better had we pooled our resources. I totally agree that the classmates are all talented in different ways. For me, this course had the highest level of professionals than any other projects I have done. I must say I was intimidated at first, which probably discouraged me a bit from speaking out on collaboration. I am wondering, if we were asked to create a single project together, what might have happened? I am not merely suggesting it could have been better – it might have gone the other way. The sum of individuals can be much bigger or much smaller than expected.For the final project of a class I took last semester, students formed two groups – one to develop the core values for a company, one to develop more of a sales and marketing focus. It was intense! We had to put all of our work onto a single wiki. It was hard organizing around everyone, but I think it came out pretty well in the end. Do you think similar projects can be done in this course topic (design)? I think we might need to add some twist to make it effective if we do so here – my company excels in industrial design but there is little collaboration. The boss decides almost everything, but the result is stunning, which made me think hard – I have always believed in the power of horizontal partnerships but there are some topics that do not suit them well. The most well-known example is Apple (Steve Jobs (not a fair example – he is brilliant!) decides everything). That’s an interesting and unusual perspective. I think your boss is probably really talented and intelligent. That’s probably why the dictatorship (yikes!) works. I agree with you about the power of horizontal partnerships. I mean, look at all of the open source platforms that have been gaining ground. One person does not do all the work for any of those. It is the work of many people, and many other people who correct and refine the work of their predecessors. It is true – I once heard the reason why Linux and other open-source platform worked well was because the original model was incomplete – people saw there were holes, and they volunteered to fill them in. Regarding my own course work, if I have joined a joint project, I could have volunteered for the role of “patcher” – to do what’s left.For myself, I would have volunteered to do a lot of the design work. I am no expert, but I love following new trends and tutorials.

The embedded version:
(Sorry I couldn’t make the Wave appear inside the entry; the embedded version appears outside the main blog entry area, at the bottom of the screen. For clear view, the copy&pasted version above should be better.)