Last night, at the Google Wave Sydney User Group, we brainstormed a lot of different ways that Google Wave could be used in a vast spectrum of fields. A recurrent theme was education, and we touched upon various ideas, and basically just agreed that Wave (and collaborative technology, generally) can have huge implications for education. One of those ideas we discussed was group projects, and I wanted to discuss that area in more detail here.
As a teacher, you often want to encourage group projects, since they can help students learn cooperation and teamwork, and since they can often have a synergistic effect and produce amazing results. But, there's always that same concern with group projects - someone will do all the work, someone will do none, and it's impossible to know who deserves the good grade. Well, Wave could potentially solve this, both in terms of knowing who to give credit to, and encouraging a better balance of work across group members.
Here's an example proposal based on my own experience:
You're a teacher running a game projects class, and you've divided the class into project teams for the semester. The first aspect of creating a game is writing a design doc for the game (describing gameplay, objective, characters, etc), and you make that the first assignment for each team. You create a Wave for each team that has the design doc template in it (headers), and you give them a week to work on it. You recommend that they use reply blips and inline blips to divy up the work, and tell them that you will be monitoring the project and will do a review of the first draft in a week, and grading of the final a week after that.
When you review, you reply in the Wave and comment on what parts need work or clarification, and which parts look good. When it comes time for grading, you use the playback functionality to see how everyone contributed. You see who took the lead and made decisions, who wrote up large sections, who revised sections for clarity, and who just sit back and watched. Now, hopefully, since every team member knows that you can see all the edits and attribute them to each of them, they will actually feel more motivation to contribute, and you won't have many students that just do nothing. But if you do, well, you can penalize them accordingly, and perhaps next time, they will learn that their actions (or lackthereof) are being watched.
You could even automate some aspects of this with robots. There could be a robot that counts the word count of each team member, and outputs that in a stats gadget at the end. This could feel a bit too strict for the students, but it can also serve as a nice "hey, you're not quite doing as much" reminder. That robot could also just monitor progress as a whole, making sure the team stays on progress. The gadget could list stats like "5 sections completed, 5 days left until final due". Then, those per-team-member stats just become another indicator of progress on the whole, and don't feel as accusatory.
One issue I see with this proposal is the tracking of "peer waving." Some students may sincerely find it more productive to sit at one computer and write up sections together - perhaps one giving the ideas, the other putting them into words. These words would only be attributed to one student, and the idea giver could be unfairly penalized. Possible solutions for this would be to annotate the text [Peer waved firstname.lastname@example.org] or to recommend that students alternate between accounts when doing this.
Another issue, of course, is that not all group projects are writing up a blob of text, and in fact, many of them are not. In computer science, many of them are actually writing code. You can already ask students to use SVN and monitor commits from each team member for less fine-grained monitoring, but you could potentially even have students write their code in a Wave, and use a robot to compile it out, for real-time monitoring. In other fields, many group projects involve the the creation of a physical (non-digital) object. Perhaps you could have students write a design doc for that physical object, or even use a collaborative gadget to sketch it out.
So, yes, this solution isn't perfect, and for non-text projects, involves a bit more creativity. But, I still think it's pretty damn good. If you're a teacher, try it out and report back!