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Special Report: Deconstructing “Groove”

First published: November 04, 2000

by Maish Nichani (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) & Venkatesh Rajamanickam (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address))

Groove is an open, real-time, peer-to-peer communication platform. Ray Ozzie, inventor of Groove, calls it "a platform for person-to-person-to-person collaboration with the spontaneity of e-mail that does not rely on larger, central computers, as Notes and other collaborative software do."

Groove is all over the news these days. Some articles have praised the new "platform", but there are others that dismiss it as a new fad. Our task is to deconstruct Groove and explore its design for e-learning solutions.

Groove home is at http://www.groove.net

See a picture of the Groove interface

Report at a glance:

Groove Features

Groove is a P2P collaborative platform. Deconstructing...

What is P2P?

Know Napster? Gnutella? These are P2P tools. They enable machine-to-machine connection, but over the Internet instead of a dial-up line. Servers are still involved, but in the same way as telephone switches -- facilitating the connection, but not an active participant. And the Internet, of course, erases virtually all the protocol considerations that dogged one-to-one connections in the past.

Additional Resources:

Like Napster, Groove is a peer-to-peer application that resides on a local machine. The preview version of Groove 'transceiver' (It's to Groove, what a browser is to the Web)- the "space" in which a user works is a suite of tools that include voice communication, instant messaging, text-based chat, and threaded discussion. There are also tools for sharing files, sharing pictures, sharing contacts, and for shared activities such as drawing and Web browsing. After Groove is launched, a user creates a secure shared space to which he can invite others to conduct business or personal affairs. Each Groove shared space is stored locally on the computers of each of the members of the shared space. A change to one member's shared space is reflected on everyone's machine, so their work remains completely synchronized with other members.

A Groove.net article, What is Peer Computing?, explains peer computing by comparing with telephone networks:

The most familiar example of a peer device is the telephone. Voice connections over the telephone are made directly, from one point on a network to another. The critical distinction between the phone network and peer computing is that the phone employs an intelligent network (with built-in logic for routing, tracking and billing) with relatively "dumb" devices (telephone handsets) at the edge of the network, while the peer-to-peer Internet model uses a relatively "dumb" network (the Internet) with no built-in application logic and high function endpoints (i.e., computers). High function at the edge of the network means there's far greater potential for rapid innovation in Internet peer services, tools and applications.

Collaborative?

Groove is a ground-up collaboration platform. It provides the basic collaborative functionality's like:

When talking about collaboration, one concern that crops up is that of synchronicity. Do all participants have to be online at the same time? Well, in Groove's case, not necessarily. When team members work offline, their current state is saved on their machines. This is updated with the latest version the next time they get online.

Platform?

In an interview with CRN Ray Ozzie mentions:

Basically, what we provide in Groove is the platform layer as a component management service. If they write tools or solutions within the Groove environment, they can package up their code, and they don't have to worry about delivering that code to all the workstations that are using it. They can host that code on our component servers, and the moment that any one of those users accepts an invitation to one of the shared spaces, the code comes down and gets installed automatically. The framework lets you program in any number of languages,any dotcom compliant language in the Windows environment. Once they build the app, we provide the synchronization of how that app interacts with itself. We transparently provide storage services so that anything someone does automatically gets stored in a secure XML object store. We do the communications services transparently. They don't have to worry about how to get the information from one workstation to another. We also provide some level of systems integration.

This means that collaborative applications can be written using the Groove platform as the base. For example, at Groove.net, there is an area where one can download such "tools", as they call it. One such tool is the "Team Sports Groove". Now, this is a tool, or application, that has been built for a specific purpose by using the Groove platform--"Tools for the coach, players, and players' parents to manage their team and track its progress in league standings". Viewed in this manner, we can say that Groove enables a collaborative environment to be built (wrapped) around a specific purpose. Another examples is Family Groove--Tools for a family to share news, post events, stay in touch, swap recipes, play games, and use the Web.

Point to ponder--Groove applications wrapped around educational objectives?

Initial experience of using Groove in an online course

I (Venkat) teach a graphic design course called 'Graphic Design Using Imaging Tools' (GDIT) at the Singapore Polytechnic's Virtual College, to the Advanced Diploma students in Multimedia Development. The course is spread over 16 weeks and the participants learn on-line through the Internet. As the instructor/facilitator, I put up course documents, moderate online discussions, administer tests and assignments, answer emails, and conduct onsite, face-to-face sessions once every 4 weeks. Singapore being such a small and geographically homogenous place, we can safely call this course a hybrid of classroom & online learning.

We use Blackboard CourseInfo v4.0 as the Learning Management System. The Virtual College courses are centrally planned, deployed, managed, and administered, and a tool such as Blackboard (BB) is really good for orchestrating such large-scale e-learning. But as with any centrally deployed solutions, BB is not flexible enough for enabling small peer groups to manage their learning requirements.

In the past, many of my student groups have taken the initiative to create their own learning spaces through chat programs, groupware programs and free web servers. In Groove many students found an ideal vehicle to carryout most of their activities. We decided to try it out in a small group. What follows is a description of the synchronous learning session that lasted for about 6 hours. A word of caution though: this is neither a through review of the product nor the observations made here conclusive. At the time of writing this article, we are still figuring out the product and we don't claim we understand the product thoroughly.

I sent out an announcement to the class about Groove and asked for volunteers to participate in a synchronous learning session on 28th Oct @ 2:00 PM, through Groove. Students were pointed to the Groove download site, and asked to download and install the application.

In the meanwhile I created a shared space called "GDIT-Virtual Classroom" (GDIT-VC) and included some basic Groove tools such as a threaded discussion, web browser, notepad, sketchpad and a couple of documents that would be central to our discussions for the session.

From the feedback I have received since the session, I gather that many students couldn't make it because the meeting was called in a short notice, some were turned off by the big download (10.5 MB) that was required, some managed to download but had trouble installing and getting into GDIT-VC. Two students however managed to cross all the hurdles and came into the shared space. We started interacting and discovered reasons for many of the earlier glitches. There seems to a considerable time delay (we were all connected to the Internet through a 56k modem) in getting the shared space delivered on to each other's machines. The delay also was varying from a maximum of 25 minutes to a minimum of less than a minute. Fortunately the 'message tracking', done by Groove lets you know the exact status of your communications.

Despite the problems, the session was very interesting, unlike anything we've experienced before. The Groove interface itself was very intuitive and needed very little figuring out before we could start using its features. We used the notepad to jot down the minutes; used primarily text-chat to communicate, simply so that we could archive it; used voice-chat sparingly; and started a threaded discussion to continue discussing on the subject offline. The sketchpad was hardly suitable for our requirements. But the two most useful things that we found were the web browser and file-sharing tools.

Using the 'browse together' option we opened our actual online course documents and were able to construct conversations around them. Unlike BB, where the documents reside at a different place from where conversations about them can happen, Groove provides a neat communication wrapper around documents. We did however feel that bookmarking and annotating features, within Groove would be of immense help.

We were able to work on shared files smoothly although we were not sure the how or if the version controls are in place. In one instance a newer version was overwritten by an earlier version. But we could see several potential instances in our course where this can be very useful. For instance, there is a group assignment where 3-4 students get together to compile a report. The process that goes into creating the report involves research - mostly on the web, brainstorming and writing. An epistemic form that shows how knowledge is structured, concepts are organised and illustrates relationships among different facts and concepts can guide this enquiry process.

Overall, Groove is very promising. The fact that it is simple to use and that it is de-centralized are hugely empowering to peer groups that will use it. The sense of personal control and the simplicity of initiating collaboration are appealing. As en e-learning tool, we just have to wait and see if interesting and innovative applications are built that specifically target learning & KM issues. Most of my students described Groove as an interesting tool. Whether it will evolve beyond being just an interesting tool will largely depend on how learning solution providers react to Groove and what Groove Networks can offer to them in return.

Extending Groove >>--some educational applications

Some screen shots:

example 1

example 2

example 3

Acknowledgements: I wish to thank -- my students, Mike Tan and Lee Chi Ho for being enthusiastic enough to give the new tool a try, spend the long hours that it entailed and brainstorming with me the possibilities of using such a tool for e-learning.

Epistemic forms and games

Now, this could be a shot in the dark, but its a start.

Target paper: Epistemic Forms & Epistemic Games

Q) What are Epistemic Forms and Epistemic Games?

A) Short Answer: They are scaffolding structures.

Example: Have you posted an opinion in Epinions.com? Well, suppose you were to post your opinion, or epinion, on say a magazine, the form to do that would include the following:

Specific points to consider in your review:

  • Discuss reasons why you buy this particular magazine.
  • Compare this magazine to other similar magazines.
  • Explain why you liked or disliked a specific article in this magazine.
  • Suggest similar or competing magazines that others might enjoy.
  • Do you subscribe to this magazine?
  • If a subscriber, do you plan to renew your subscription?
  • If not a subscriber, how often do you buy this magazine?
  • Overall Rating?

This is a scaffolding structure intended to make all opinions complete and justified. For some professional epinionators, these forms could be a hindrance, but for others, it acts like a scaffold to make well-balanced opinions. These scaffolds are called epistemic forms.

An epistemic form is a target structure that guides the inquiry process. It shows how knowledge is organized or concepts are classified, as well as illustrating the relationships among the different facts and concepts being learned. The completion or creation of the structure is the object of the epistemic game.

An epistemic game is the process of completing an epistemic form or knowledge structure. Instead of being given the completed structure in a lecture or a handout, students create the form by filling in the slots of the structure themselves.

Epistemic game playing teaches students how to construct and organize their own knowledge. When students create their own epistemic forms, they are analyzing the material and synthesizing new structures that show the relationships within the material. Seeing how information can be organized into various structures promotes fluency in pattern recognition, a skill that is associated with expert behavior and creativity.

Example:

A Typical Epistemic Game: the List Game

The easiest game to deconstruct is the list game. It is played by asking a question and listing the answers. If the question requires answers that need to be discovered, rather than looked up, then making the list is an act of creating new knowledge.

The epistemic form is a list that answers the question.

Entry conditions are prerequisite skills or knowledge which students must have prior to playing the game, i.e., the facts or events upon which the question is based.

Moves or actions that can be taken during the list-making process are: add a new item, combine two or more items into one, change an item, split an item into two or more items, or delete an item.

Rules or constraints that govern the list game are: similarity (items must have equal size, importance or other critical characteristics), coverage (the list must include all possible answers), distinctness (each item on the list is unique), multiplicity (the question has more than one answer), and brevity (the list must be short enough to be comprehensible).

A list can be transformed into many other forms: a matrix, a hierarchical chart, a time line, a spreadsheet, or whatever else becomes appropriate. The learning group can transfer to a new form as required.

Using Groove

As epistemic forms and games are scaffolding structures, they can be used in a collaborative environment to create and share knowledge. This is where Groove can help.

Examples:

Critiquing an research report.

Groove can be extended to include some epistemic forms that can be collaboratively created and filled up by the group members. Questions like the following can be generated and discussed:

Further, graphs and charts (other epistemic forms) can be included to manipulate the data.

Some more examples:

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