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Appropriating Google Wave

June 9th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I have many ideas floating around in my head at the moment. One is the notion of appropriation. Writing last weekend, Tony Hirst said  the idea of appropriating technology could be important in at least two senses:

“Firstly, in the sense of us appropriating technologies that might have been designed for other purposes in order to use them in an educational context.

Secondly, in the sense of using appropriating technologies to sample, sequence and deliver education related performances,…..”

Interesting stuff. At a prgamatic level, I see little future outise institutions for purpose built educastiuonal technology. Such technology was developed essentially as platforms for consuming learning or knowledge. But the act of exproriation and repuposing technologies designed for other puposes could be seen as a active learning process in itself, overcoming the gap between the technologies and the content.

Last week Google annnounced Google Wave. It’s described as “a real-time communication platform which combines aspects of email, instant messaging, wikis, web chat, social networking and project management to build one elegant, in-browser communication client”. John Naughton translates that as “a sophisticated set of tools enabling people to work collaboratively across the internet. And “real-time” means exactly that: in most cases what you type appears – as you type it – on other people’s screens.”

I can see Google Wave being rapidly appropriated for a future Personal Learning Environment.

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9 Responses to “Appropriating Google Wave”

  1. John Cook says:

    Context sensitive waves.
    The focus for my work is on learning options of mobile and user generated context and its appropriation. The Urban Education example that you have kindly provided the link for is a good example of what I will call a *context sensitive wave*. Due to structural changes to mass communication user as citizens are now actively engaged in generating personal contexts for learning, where self-development is a socially negotiated and appropriative process involving the internalization of cultural products. This is leading to context sensitive waves. Let me explain (I hope) what I mean …

    These structural changes to mass communication affect the agency of the user/learner and their relationship with traditional and new media. I think that users are now actively engaged in shaping or generating their own forms of individualised communication context by accessing and transforming the cultural products that are available within new media platforms and the Internet. For me this is a key part of what I have called appropriation and agree with your blog that Google Wave represents the next step in the trend to media convergence. For example, the BBC has traditionally acted as being ‘in editorial control’: commissioning programmes and broadcasting them through a predefined schedule that is transmitted on television. Now mass media is witnessing a trend where the ‘user’ can generate there own content with a mobile phone or other digital device in the form of pictures or video clips; they can then go on to publish them almost immediately on the Internet via media platforms like Flickr, Twitter, FaceBook or YouTube. Consequently, my view is that within society what we are seeing now is an ‘individualised communication context’ where learners appropriate digital media and technologies in ways that designers of this stuff never imagined. These can be regarded as context sensitive waves using Google speak.

  2. jen hughes says:

    Google Waves is well exciting, can’t wait …so how come Google could make their conference launch of Waves so mind numbingly boring. If you don’t believe me, watch the video at

  3. jen hughes says:

    John – I thought your post was really interesting. I’ve been revisiting some of the models put forward by the original ‘communication’ theorists like Shannon & Weaver and Colin Cherry and by the Mass Communication theorists like Gerbner, Lassman, Jakobsen, McQuail, Osgood-Schramm etc. Just messing around with them – trying to see which dimensions have changed, what new ones have been added and generally scribbling stuff on top of their diagrams. Very much ‘thoughts-in-progress’, not even work in progress!

    A lot of them, surprisingly, still hold good and even where they do need adapting, they nevertheless provide a damn good baseline for mapping the changes. Are you interested in talking a bit more about this?

  4. jen hughes says:

    For example…..this morning as I was munching my toast…I was thinking that many of the early communication theorists make the distinction between intrapersonal, interpersonal and mass communication. But has that distinction now broken down? Is microblogging, which typically asks what are you thinking or what are you feeling…is that intrapersonal or interpersonal or mass communication. Publishing the intrapersonal so that it becomes interpersonal using mass media???

    I also quite like Berger’s use of the word ‘artwork’ (instead of ‘text’) to refer to ‘content’ (in terms of message) together with its ‘form’ (picture, written word, sound)

    As of lunchtime I’m thinking of Stephenson’s Play theory and his distinction between ‘social control’ and ‘convergent selective conditions’. Mass media has always found the first difficult and focussed on the second. Web 2.0 might be about using the second to effect the first.

    A few months ago while staying with Graham in Bremen I staggered in from the pub at about 2 am and started writing a whole load of stuff on Graham’s computer about Jakobsen’s idea on functionality and its relevance to social networking – must ask Graham if it is still lying around.

  5. John Cook says:

    Hi Jen,
    Feel sure you know this but as far as communications theory goes check our G. Pask; or see D. Laurrillard’s conversational theory, which was based on this.

    In your second comment you ask is there still a ‘distinction between intrapersonal, interpersonal and mass communication’. In a strict sense yes, but not in terms of Vygotsky, who always saw developmental processes in these terms (my first comment above draws on these notions). The exciting point about appropriation is the user decides. In Twitter for me I do intra when I type and intra when I click return, to see what folks think of my thinking (Neil Mercer calls this interthinking; Socrates also had a lot to say on this!).

    In my ICE 3 paper ( in 2007 I discuss appropriation and how the SCOT framework postulates that new technological systems emerge through a process of negotiation and struggle by different social groups over meanings and the material shapes involved. Due to the ‘interpretive flexibility’ (Pinch and Bijker, 1987, p. 27) of technological artefacts, ultimately, certain interpretations or solutions will become more widely accepted than others, and the shape of the artefact will stabilise. Thus, possibilities initially evolved by users die out if they do not fit the dominant paradigm. However, SCOT has attracted criticism because it pays little attention to groups that are deliberately excluded or that have no social voice. Furthermore, SCOT may not take adequate account of structure and agency. Winner (1993, p. 370), for example, suggests that Constructivists disregard the dynamics involved in technological change beyond the social actors involved; for example, what about deep-seated political and/or gender biases in a social system? In order to address these and other criticisms, I have tried to look at and document user stories as they interact at the interface between formal and informal learning (see eg

    We need lots more work and lots more funding, but then I would say that 🙂 Google Wave will be used in unexpected ways, just like SMS was and is, (SMS which was invented for telemetry and alerts purposes). The exciting thing is that through their own agency users and learners are taking control. The convergence of media platforms like YouTube and Wave is aiding and abetting this.

    ps when I go out with on the town with Graham getting home by 2pm sounds early 😉

  6. jen hughes says:

    Thanks for replying. Lots to think about and follow up. I shall read your paper over the weekend and follow up some of the references I am unfamiliar with then maybe we can continue the discussion when I am better informed!

  7. John Cook says:

    Hey Jen, been thinking/talking to people about getting funding to develop the above ideas. Wondered what you and anyone else thought of this statement/stateof affairs/vision:

    Part of the JISC E-Learning Programme Vision Statement, in the ‘L&T Innovations’ call circular 4/08 Annex D, is that with regards the UK learning environment “By 2010 within this environment: 1. Learners and Teachers are using a mixture of institutionally-provided and user-owned technologies in a confident and effective manner”.

    My question is this: Given that 2010 is 6 months away, are we nearing JISC’s vision?


  1. !@GrahamAttwell, I have commented on you blog post with my thoughts on appropriation and context sensitive waves


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