Does Google Wave Mean the End of the LMS?

I suppose it was inevitable. At a time when even The Chronicle is asking whether Blackboard can be replaced by WordPress, a slick demo of a super-cool product like Wave was bound to trigger breathless speculation about the demise of the LMS. Equally predictably, the most enthusiastic predictions that the LMS will be replaced are being made by people who have already replaced their LMS. It is not terribly shocking to read Jim Groom predicting that this time the LMS is REALLY doomed!!!! (I mean that to be taken affectionately.) If you are comfortable teaching a class using WordPress or PBWiki or [insert hip and free Web 2.0 technology du jour], then there is a good chance that you will be comfortable teaching a class with Wave.

Me, I’m a live-and-let-live kind of guy. I think people who are comfortable using these flexible tools and who don’t want the traditional trappings of an LMS (e.g., grade book, assignments tool, test engine, etc.) should be able to have what they want,  while the people who want the full LMS toolset should also have what they want. That’s one reason why I think we need a Learning Management Operating System (LMOS) upon which flexible and individualized virtual learning environments can be instantiated. If you want a grade book and a test engine, great. We got those. If you don’t want ’em, that’s fine too. Let pedagogical needs and university policies drive these decisions rather than the technology.

So the question I’m interested in is more nuanced than the one of whether the LMS is “dead.” What I want to know is where Wave could fit with the range of capabilities that somebody might want in a virtual learning environment. What is it not good for? What else does it need?

To begin with, I think it’s worth taking a moment to consider what we mean when we refer to Google Wave. The demo video is pretty overwhelming, and it’s easy to get caught up in the…er…wave. Luckily for us, Scott Wilson has written a very helpful post breaking down the components of Google Wave and even whipping up a quick demo of one possible type of integration between Wave and Moodle. In essence, Wave can be broken down into three parts:

  • Wave Server, which Scott describes as “basically a Jabber instant messaging service with some extensions.”
  • Wave Client, which is “a web-based IM client with some bells and whistles.”
  • Wave Gadget Server, which “lets you use contextualized collaborative applications that can update in real time.”

A lot of the email/discussion board/chat/wiki/floor wax/dessert topping craziness in Wave appears to come from Wave Server. As Scott shows, it is separable from the ability to blur synchronous and asynchronous functionality in a gadget.  You could, for example, implement a straight-up discussion board as a gadget that doesn’t have all the crazy amorphousness of a full Wave but still breaks down the a/synchronous barrier. You could do a real-time poll. Or a white board. Basically, any application that can benefit from this sort of blurring should be supportable in a virtual learning environment via the Wave gadget server.

Now, why would you want to do that without the full coolness that is Wave? It’s simple: control. If you’re heavily open education-oriented and tend to have an allergic reaction to anything remotely institutional, then you probably think I just wrote a dirty word. But if you’re more old-school (and I am), then you believe that there is still a role for a teacher to structure learning experiences and assess learning outcomes. As a result, there are times when you want to control permissions, when you don’t want everything to be editable to everyone, when you want to steer a conversation or process in a particular direction. In those cases, the Wave Server as currently being demonstrated will not provide the necessary structure. It is possible that Google will implement fine-grained permissions structures in future versions, but I doubt it. They aren’t trying to create a content management or workflow app. More likely, they will meet these needs through a combination of separation of APIs that can be used by others to develop other capabilities and, more straightforwardly, through export. You produce a document in a Wave, you export it to a web page or an XML document, and you manage it in some other system.

And if you’re a believer in LAMS-like learning design, as I am, then there are times when waves are exactly the opposite direction of where you want to go. I believe that half of good teaching is sequencing experiences such that students are more likely to learn in deep and meaningful ways. (The other half is getting to know your students’ strengths, needs, goals, and progress so that you can ensure the sequencing you are doing will benefit them.) Wave is not designed for that at all. To the contrary, it is designed to get out of the way of free-form communication. This is very valuable, and it is entirely possible that you can layer structure on top through discursive means just as you would in an F2F class, but it’s not the whole ball of wax.

So, to sum up, here’s what I think about the potential role of Wave in virtual learning environments:

  • There is definitely a place for a Wave server as part of an LMOS.
  • Sometimes Wave will give you everything you need to meet your goals for a particular virtual learning environment.
  • Sometimes you will want to export the product of a Wave to another tool in your virtual learning environment.
  • Sometimes you will want to use just the Wave gadget server to enhance the functionality of tools embedded in traditional web pages.
  • Sometimes you want to have traditional workflows or advanced learning designs, in which case Wave probably doesn’t add any value.
So sure, the LMS may be dead. But long live the VLE and the LMOS.
Share Button

Google+ Comments

About Michael Feldstein

Michael Feldstein is co-Publisher of e-Literate, co-Producer of e-Literate TV, and Partner in MindWires Consulting. For more information, see his profile page.
This entry was posted in Ed Tech, LMS & Learning Platforms and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Does Google Wave Mean the End of the LMS?

  1. Nate Angell says:

    I haven’t even touched my pudding and I’m ready for more (of your great posts)!

    One of your use cases, “Sometimes you will want to export the product of a Wave to another tool in your virtual learning environment.” is specifically supported by Wave, in the idea of embedding waves in other media.

    Another: “Sometimes you want to have traditional workflows or advanced learning designs, in which case Wave probably doesn’t add any value.” I could envision using wave primarily as an authoring tool—at times collaborative, as with another instructor—where the result was a kind of more old-school, structure, but perhaps incorporating more next-wave content/patterns.

  2. I don’t think that embedding a wave is the same as exporting the product of a wave. My point was that sometimes you don’t want things to be editable/mashable. Embedding the wave doesn’t accomplish that end.

    But on the larger point of Wave being primarily an authoring tool, I agree completely. Despite the claims about how it will replace email, chat, Twitter, hair dryers, and Zambonis, I think the first tool it is likely to obsolete is the wiki. You certainly can build a wiki-like activity into a larger learning design.

  3. Nate Angell says:

    How about a frozen wave? On a hot day? Maybe raspberry?

    That close enough to export for ya? 😉

  4. Jim Groom says:

    Hey Michael,
    I think that is the most times any person has linked to one post of mine 🙂 I like your emphaticism [sic]! As to the Death of the LMS, I think you’re are right, it has been greatly exaggerated, and certainly to some degree by me (but I am by no means original and Leigh Blackall covered this ground long before me). But I don’t think about the death of the LMS as a literal death, but more of a metaphor for opening up other possibilities that are all too often foreclosed by this fluorescent-lighted scourge that infects just about every campus under the sun. I know it lives, the idea of it’s death is more akin to Nietzsche’s infamous proclamation “God is dead!” And while we all know that God and his son have never been more alive in the US, I think it’s also true that they have never been worshiped so thoroughly without soul and faith by and large, I mean mega-churches kinda get to the heart of this argument–when capital and religion start aping each others models to the point where they are virtually indistinguishable I think it is apparent we are faced with a far larger cultural crisis than anything Google can fix. But I digress, because in fact I wanted to agree with you that shouting “LMS is dead” is anything but nuanced, at the same time I’m not sure how nuanced it is to suggest everyone should just get along and do whatever they like. I mean how many people, like those at CUNY, are strongly encouraged to use Bb for so many elements of their work, and how does the fact that universities can avoid really engaging instructional technology by claiming an investment in a system like BlackBoard is money spent on “instructional technology.” It is a way to avoid actually funding and fostering the very possibilities so few folks realize because they don’t have the time, support, or sense of what else their is. The options are disappearing, and the solutions have become monolithic, that is the real issue for me. I also think the idea that everyone can make their own decisions is crucial, I’m just afraid so many K-12 teachers and university faculty have so little sense of what is available, and the sharecropping system of LMSs is just furthering that slavery in the name of efficiency, control, and administration. because, in the end, what would be the tools in these LMSs that provide a unique and powerful learning experience? They are management tools by and large.

    But with all that said, I agree with you about the Wave as well, it won’t be the end-all-be-all of teaching and learning, no tool will, but it does suggest a very different paradigm that may prove quite important and interesting—and let’s face it, a majority of faculty and teachers will love it because it smacks enough of email to remain both alien and intimate all at once. But it does suggest ever more readily that what we ar doing in the teaching and learning space has been shaped by the online tools we choose, and that is why the idea of an informed choice and a sense of the nuanced possibilities to bring in a number of tools or experiment beyond the proprietary shackles of most CMSs is so crucial, and what has been choked out of most of the tepid approach to let people choose their tool, while disregarding how stacked the deck always already is in favor of the institutional solution.

    But, what’s best about this post to me, is that I actually spent the evening before CUNY’s WordCampEd with an old colleague of yours in New Jersey, Jeff Ruth, and we actually spent a good part of the evening talking about EdTech, and your name came up and I got a real cool sense of your early experiementation and collaboration with much of this stuff in the classroom. Sounds like your time together in Hoboken had the makings of the much earlier and richer space where edtech wasn;t so much a program as an approach–much of which has been lost with the predominance of the proprietary LMS market and their real control over so many of our possibilities (this is when control isn’t such a good thing for teaching and learning). it all circled around to how the current edtech landscape which is rich for re-mapping and usurping from the corporations makes it one of the most fascinating and uncertain space to be working in at this time. So, I have to say I was pretty excited when I got the chance to comment on your post, and give you a virtual “hi” from Jeff, as well as more of the same” LMS is dead” drivel from the bava. I know better than anyone that I can be a tad bit annoying, and that my nonsense is getting old quick. But I don’t know what to do, I’m having too much fun, and the larger point is we are all working and deeply invested in a space that has the potential to be opened up and re-imagined outside of any one tool or monolithic solution, and that places these conversations near and dear to my heart. There is no way to live a wrong life rightly, I understand that, but it sure is fun to try.

  5. HA! I can’t believe that (a) you ran into El Jeffe, and (b) you somehow made the connection to me. That’s fantastic. Jeff is an absolutely amazing teacher. It was a real privilege to work with him. He also was a great partner in crime during our mutually pathetic bachelor days. It’s great that you two met.

    Anyway, we’re in complete agreement that the LMS architecture, and university policies that have co-congealed with it, are overdue for an inevitable massive overhaul. We’re not very far apart at all. I saw your webcast from CUNY (sort of an old stomping ground for me, as you discovered), and I enjoyed it a great deal. I just figured you could take a little needling in good spirits, given how well you handled the Honorable John St. Clair. And clearly, I was not wrong about that.

    There’s a difference between annoying and creative abrasion. You’re not annoying.

    (And bonus points for citing Nietzche. Did Jeff mention to you that I had my seventh graders read Nietzche in Ethics class?)

  6. Hi Michael,

    Like many, I got caught up in the excitement of The Wave, but the requirement (for better or worse) of control is one that still makes me thing that the two concepts will complement each other, rather than one taking over the other.

    Whatever the case, I know some large Moodle clients of mine who will be watching what happens with Wave with significant interest – exciting times ahead!


  7. Hi Micheal,

    I think the terminology you use is not clear to me. Especially your bullet point “Sometimes you will want to use just the Wave gadget server to enhance the functionality of tools embedded in traditional web pages.” From what I understand after listening to the announcement and talking to Wave developers Wave consists of the following: 1) Wave server where the wave objects reside 2) Wave client 3) Extensions, robots and gadgets. Robots are server side waves and gadgets are client side and both are special participants of a wave 4) and the possibility to embed a wave into your own application. In our case that could be any LMS or other learning technology. So I’m not sure what you mean with “Google Wave Gadgets”.

    Victor Maijer
    Free University Amsterdam

  8. Victor, you should read the blog post by Scott Wilson that I referenced above. He even shows an example of a Wave-enabled gadget (which is not the same thing as a full Wave) embedded in a web page. It is possible to add real-time interactivity to a gadget but not allow, for example, people to start a conversation around it the way they could in a wave.

  9. Pingback: Does anyone know how to price eLearning? | Ben Betts

  10. I think the problem that some have with Blackboard, and others have with WordPress, or you name your tool, is that it is like creating a big box full of stuff and then telling the instructors: “you have to use this one-size fits all box to teach all courses.” Using Google Wave for the course would essentially do the same thing with a cooler box. I’ve been discussing an idea with colleagues that we just call “A New Vision for Learning Management Systems.” We want to turn the LMS inside out. The idea behind New Vision is to dump the box and come up with a bucket that you hand to instructors. Tell them – “hey, you can use any thing you want, have your students do what you want, and then add the finished project to this bucket so you can grade it and store those grades on your school server. Oh, and the bucket will easily and automatically organize the stuff you put in there so that it makes it easier for you to see what they are are doing, and easier for them to see what other students are doing.” The idea is kind of FaceBook + Moodle + iGoogle (or maybe mow Google Wave). But taking the stuff from those that work well for education. We’ll be present at Sloan-C’s Emerging Tech conference this month about this, with plans to get an open-source project going soon. We welcome all input. My main ideas on the subject can be seen here: (start at the bottom)

  11. Dan Stucke says:

    Michael, I too got a little overexcited about Wave and hoped for the same demise as you:
    In the UK all Secondary (11-16) schools are expected to have a LMS (VLE on this side of the pond) in place this year. Most are a mish-mash of rather poor versions of wikis, forums etc..
    If issues such as single sign-on can be resolved it should be possible to roll your own LMS using a combination of a few free or cheap online tools such as Google Apps (with Wave).
    I hope in the UK we are given the opportunity to find quality pedagogical reasons to use LMSs – rather than just worrying about implementing one for the sake of meeting a government target.

  12. Pingback: Does Google Wave Mean the End of the LMS? | e-learning lab, laboratorio e-learning

  13. Pingback: The Other Brian Whitmer: Google Wave Limitations

  14. Pingback: More Waving « Cole Camplese: Learning and Innovation

  15. Pingback: Letture - Vocescuola

  16. Pingback: konzeptblog » stellen wir die richtigen Fragen?

  17. Ray Davis says:

    Speaking of Scott Wilson, another post of his mentions in passing the sort of scenario I had in mind: Picture IMS-LIS-style data and services placed in somewhat the same integration spots as OpenSocial data and services. Then we could start to parcel out higher-education-oriented bits of functionality (with their far more complex contextually-determined roles) across application and service engines and across institutional sources. At best, this wouldn’t of course eliminate the need to code education-focused functionality, nor the need to map idiosyncratic institutional structures and identities into an application-friendly common ground. But it _could_ eliminate the LMS as an all-or-nothing monolith. Instead, “LMS-y” bits could be confined to developing education-oriented gadgets/widgets/apps and to sorting out roles-and-groups contexts, while standard bits of functionality which _don’t_ need heavy LIS-awareness could get handled by non-domain-specific software.

  18. Ray, you’ve just described where I think/hope Sakai 3 is going over the course of a few releases. There will still be a bundled, all-encompassing LMS experience for those who want it, that will be just one option. If you look at Atlassian’s screencast of an OpenSocial-enabled Jira, there’s nothing distinctly different about Jira itself from, say iGoogle. It’s just another gadget container. It has some domain-specific gadgets and some generic gadgets. You could put all your e-learning gadgets in one container for an LMS-style experience, or you could sprinkle them over various other containers (e.g., a Confluence wiki or a gadget-enabled WordPress) as desired.

  19. Ray Davis says:

    “… where I think/hope Sakai 3 is going over the course of a few releases.”

    Guess I’ll have to look into this Sakai thing…. 🙂

    Thanks for the pointer to Atlassian’s dashboard infomercial. I also like where they’re going with Crowd.

  20. Those Atlassian guys are really smart.

    On the LIS stuff, let’s make a point of finding some time at the Sakai conference to discuss it. One of the limitations of the LIS work to-date is that we don’t have anyone on the working group who has a really good background in the wider world of identity management. So we haven’t discussed, for example, whether it makes sense to think about representing the LIS structures in SAML and, if so, how well or poorly the information and service models we’ve come up with would work in the SAML world. For that matter, we’re not clear on where current practice is on applications using LDAP for group management information. Your input would be extremely valuable.

  21. Pingback: Prestidigitation » What is that these tools do do?

  22. Pingback: Mountebank » What is that these tools do do?

  23. Pingback: Bookmarks vom 20. Juni bis 24. Juni : KOMA medien eLearning Blog & Forum

  24. Pingback: 教育大发现社区简报·2009年6月份 : Sociallearnlab

  25. From the work I have been doing for the last couple of weeks I would say that the LMS is far from dead. My beef with it is that it can stifle innovation. Yes, I agree that students need a degree of structure, scaffolding and alignment but I hate to see experimentation and different styles of teaching/learning restricted by rigid structures and barriers of LMS dictated at institutional level.

  26. Pingback: The Standalone LMS is Dead | trainingwreck

  27. Pingback: Catching the wave!

  28. Pingback: Does Google Wave Mean the End of the LMS? « D. Digenti Learning Pages

Comments are closed.