Chromebook Thoughts

This isn’t my first foray into the world of Google Chromebooks, but I am looking at them through a new lens after seeing some interesting things at the Gartner Expo last week. I will have lots to say about these things as I spend my time using it more and more. I am not yet committing to a 30 Day CB Challenge or anything, but I am considering it. I like the ease of use of the devices and I really like that they promote the use of Drive and the overall Google Apps for Edu suite we have in use here at Stony Brook.


If I did do a challenge, I would want to invite an handful of participants to spend 30 days living on a CB as their primary machine. I’d love to have a few students, some faculty, and some staff to put these things through the paces and report on our collective experiences.

The overriding question is, can something as simple (and yet powerful) as a machine that runs really only a browser be competent as a work class machine. That is a worthy experiment that has been answered in other contexts, but not quite ours.

Until then I’ll be bouncing back and forth between this little device and my MacBook, iPad, and iPhone. The immediate limitation I have discovered is that so far I haven’t gotten 1Password to work, but I am guessing a simple google result will help that. If you are interested in exploring this territory with me, leave a comment or come find me.

A Little Google Help

A call for a little help from those out there in the World who have moved to the Google Apps for Education in the higher education space.

I read stories all the time about people moving to Google Apps with the focus on email or in K-12 environments, but what I am really interested in are stories about how people have promoted the notion of collaborative authoring across the Google Apps suite of tools (Docs, Presentations, Spreadsheets, Sites, etc) and have focused primarily on the pedagogical side of the adoption. I’d be curious in hearing any stories related to how these tools may or may not have changed what one can and can’t do from a teaching and learning perspective beyond what I can read at the Google run community. Here at Penn State we have a handful of faculty really taking advantage of these tools, but are doing it without us having any official relationship with Google — that means no real identity tied to their use and a less than clear idea of policy. I think these tools can be part of a huge shift in teaching and learning and I could really use some help by hearing some real world stories. Comments, emails, and Twitter responses are all welcomed and much appreciated.

Wave as LMS? I’ll not Say Never, but …

Today I saw a post on the Chronicle’s blog about Google Wave as the next LMS and its pushed me to revisit that line of thinking. BTW, the money quote from the post was,

“Just from the initial look I think it will have all the features (and then some) for an all-in-one software platform for the classroom and beyond,” wrote Steve Bragaw, a professor of American politics at Sweet Briar College, on his blog last week. Mr. Bragaw admits he hasn’t used Google Wave himself …

Does the Wave have “all the features (and then some) for an all-in-one software platform for the classroom and beyond” as Steve Bragaw says? Well … in a lot of ways it does contain most of what many of us dream of needing — a way to really easily connect with students. What it lacks are the tools that lots of our faculty rely on … Dropboxes, Quizzes, Roster Management, and Teams come to mind instantly. Wave won’t do the classroom management piece. As far as I can tell.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a developer account (although my real invite is still not active) and have spent time writing about my thoughts and reactions to what Google Wave might mean for us. This afternoon after getting another pointer to that Chronicle post I thought I’d go back and revisit my own early thoughts. This quote is what jumped out at me from something I wrote in June:

The big talk across the edublog space is that it could mean the end of the LMS. I’ll just say it, that’s crazy talk. What it probably means is that we might get a better footing in the LMS contract world and that we’ll have new opportunities to innovate. This platform can do quite a bit for us in the teaching and learning space, but as far as I can tell it probably will not be suited for testing on a real scale and it probably cannot replace the basics of the LMS definition — learner management. We need the LMS to do lots of things, but we also need new tools to support pedagogy that works to engage students. I think Wave will begin to even the playing field so that we have easy to use teaching and learning platforms alongside our real need to manage assessment, participation, and the like. Wave represents a new opportunity.

I still stand by that assessment and I am not ready to jump into the Wave as LMS conversation quite yet. I am also not willing to dismiss it quite yet either. As a member of our Institutional committee reviewing CMS/LMS futures I am aware of the challenges ahead for teaching and learning with technology — especially as they relate to centrally managed mega-systems like our course management environment. I know they cannot live up to the hope and hype that emergent technologies can. I know they can’t do real time collaboration like google docs (or Wave for that matter) and I know they don’t offer the open publishing space that our blog platform does. They just can’t and won’t ever be as sexy as the things that matter to us the most in this moment. The One Button Web is taking over in every single web interaction I have except perhaps in the CMS space. We can argue that that is a good or bad thing until the end of the Internet, but at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter.

Do we like the functionality of the “old systems?” Not really. Are we enamored by the emergence of what is happening outside the walls of EDU? Absolutely. Our job is to find elegant ways to bring the learner management stuff together with the agile stuff so we can suit the needs of most of our constituents. As more of us get our hands on Wave we’ll start to unravel the real potential here. BTW, if I were Google I’d make sure instructional technologists at as many Universities as possible had accounts so the real work could start … we can’t even do a Hot Team here to kick the tires. So with all that I am still hanging out over by the fence waiting to see how well Wave does empower new pedagogies. Because when we add it all up, the emergent tools we work so hard to understand need to usher in new classroom practices. The Wave will be no different — another tool that challenges and then changes pedagogical practice.

Really Riding Google Wave

Its been several weeks now that I’ve had a developer account on Google’s sandbox implementation of Wave and thought I’d share some more thoughts than the random tweets. I hope I’m not violating any sort of NDA by doing this because I think it is important to start the dialogue on something as potentially transformative as Wave as early as possible. Let me start by saying that when I first got my account I was extremely underwhelmed for a few reasons, but after using it now for weeks I am converted and find myself extremely frustrated that it isn’t really ready for wide release. The primary reason I was underwhelmed was that I had no one to work Wave with … sure there were hundreds of developers in there, but no one that I would participate with in any meaningful way. Wave is a collaborative platform and without collaborators it is close to useless. Now that a couple of ETS colleagues are also in the developer release I can say I am sold.

Real Time Rocks

Chat has always been useful, but in the context of a Wave the notion of real time conversation is kicked into a whole new dimension. I can’t overstate this enough, the ability to co-author a document and work through decision making is game changing. I’ve been using Google Docs as my writing platform for a couple of years now — going so far in the last 18 months of eliminating Office from my laptop. Wave gives you an even easier way to manage collaboration and collaborators through a drag and drop interface for adding people to the document. The thing that blows it all up (in a good way) is the ability to drop out of the flow of the document and have a real time threaded conversation but still within the framework of the document itself. Brad Kozlek and I worked through an idea in a single Wave the other day that would have taken hours and dozens of emails instead of the 15 minutes it took by doing it in Wave. Real time workflow is the thing that has me craving more people in my network.

Real Time Collaboration and Discussion = Decision Making

Real Time Collaboration and Discussion = Decision Making

If you are using Wave by yourself you’ll never get it. I think of how different it has been since Chris Millet and Brad have gotten their accounts … we were sitting in a meeting the other day with a shared Google Doc running and we were all stepping on each others’ edits. I started a single Wave shared with Chris and Brad that allowed us to take notes in our own way within the same document without a real worry about formatting or placement. When lots of people get into a single Google Doc things can get messy, but it seems more well contained in a Wave.

I am really excited about how this will play out in a class. I can easily envision a Wave shared with a group of students that will let them take notes, have conversations, share resources, and be generally engaged behind their screens. If I think of what made the Twitter usage so powerful last time I taught I can easily map a more interesting and longer lasting scenario onto a shared class Wave. Students were using Twitter to mostly share resources, give each other encouragement, and to have sidebar conversations … in the Wave all that happens, but it is a shared document that can be revisited within the context of a larger learning opportunity. I’ve been lamenting how disconnected the Twitter channel feels after the event has occurred … with a Wave, I think you have a more lasting artifact that is a hybrid of the “in the moment” Twitter activity and the reflective blog post that happens after the learning. I am very eager to see this with a much larger group within a learning environment.

Extensions are Crazy

One of the things I am still wrapping my head around is how easy it seems to be to do interactive things within a given Wave. If you’ve not seen the demo the Wave team gave then you are missing out on seeing how easy it is to insert small pieces of interactive content that allows you to extend the metaphor of a document into a more robust and engaging environment. It is hard to explain, but imagine a group of students taking collaborative notes, having a conversation, and being able to plot their work on a graph all at the same time within the same Wave. Think about asking questions and having them answer with a single click within a Wave … the whole thing just bends the idea of what it means to work in a single space. Brad was able to publish his Wave into his Penn State blog without a whole lot of trouble … that is interesting, but the same functionality you have within the Wave environment itself is then instantly available from within his blog post. What that means is that whatever you can do within the Wave, you can do from within his blog.

Wave in Post

Wave in Post

What all this means to me is that (a) I am now ruined until the Wave really comes out and (b) I can’t imagine going back to other environments for doing collaboration. Is it a bigger leap than Google Docs were for writing when it hit as Writely years ago? Perhaps. The problem I see is that I am still asking people if they use Docs and they say no. I can’t imagine at this point of passing around a Word document to get business done and I know for a fact I won’t want to send emails and use Docs when we can do real time collaboration and conversation in a Wave. Getting from here to a time when this is how we all work will be difficult. Honestly, I can say that this is the next big game changer and once it hits going back to the old way will be very, very difficult.



I’ve switched back full time to Gmail and love it. The one thing I notice is how boring it is to only have to really run a browser … Gmail, Docs, and nearly everything I use lives there. Boring.

Protect Yourself

Given the recent security breach at Twitter I’ve been rethinking all my passwords across the social web. I am now using a password management tool as well to help me keep it all straight. If you are interested in the goings on with Twitter and the Google Docs fiasco, I’d recommend taking look at, The Anatomy of the Twitter Attack, on TechCrunch. I’m not providing any sort of in depth commentary only because it is well outside of my space, but I would urge everyone to think about their own password strategy.