Wednesday, November 10, 2004

CSCW - Wednesday afternoon

First up was a CMU study of cross-cultural impacts in collaboration. The differences they looked at were High or low context, task or relationship focuses, and individualist or collectivist. They used Americans (including Canadians) and mainlaind Chinese for the study, since they were the most diametrically opposed. The participants communicated via F2F or IM. The study had several hypotheses. Here are a few of them:
  • more common ground yields more efficient conversations (true for Americans, but not for Chinese).
  • lean media will have a negative effect with participants from high context cultures (false - the Chinese were more efficient in IM)
  • same culture pairs will do better (false - they all did poorly - no significant difference)
The Chinese pairs spent time on relationship building, and discussed items in greater depth than the American or mixed teams.

Next, an MIT Media Lab team discussed their effort to influence group participation by showing them a shared display. Problems include groupthink, group polarization, and poor information sharing -- where folks talk about what everyone knows, not the unique information each one possesses. These can be addressed by considering minority viewpoints, alternative approaches, and increasing the breadth of discussion. Technology can potentially help: if you are aware of an imbalance, you can correct it.

All participants wore a mike with volume dectection only. The shared display graphed participation with over/under participation indicators. The primary hypothesis was that users would adapt their participation levels based on the feedback. What the found was that the over participators scaled back, but the underparticipators did not change their behavior. Indeed, they often refused to believe that they had underparticipated. You can find more info here.

An Australian team from CSIRO presented their study of remote online meetings between farmers and researchers dealing with drought and water salinity issues that affected the farmers' crops. They used NetMeeting over dialup connections and had many technical problems, but the farmers expressed high satisfaction anyway. The farmers changed their farm management, and the researchers got validation and feedback for their simulation model. My moral: any connection is better than none if it is delivering something really valuable.

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