Groupware and Computer-Supported Cooperative Work in the College Classroom

By Scalia, Lynne M.; Sackmary, Benjamin | Business Communication Quarterly, December 1996 | Go to article overview

Groupware and Computer-Supported Cooperative Work in the College Classroom


Scalia, Lynne M., Sackmary, Benjamin, Business Communication Quarterly


A new category of software, termed "groupware," is rapidly transforming corporate communication. The term groupware is widely used but, due to on-going rapid developments, a consistent definition of the term has proved elusive (Johansen et al., 1991; Lloyd, 1994). In the broadest sense, groupware refers to any form of computer-mediated communication (CMC) that supports interaction among group members regardless of location (Coleman & Khanna, 1995; Phillips & Santoro, 1990). A major goal of groupware is to provide a multiple-user environment in which participants can evaluate each other's contributions and, through a collaborative process of focused activities and dialogue, develop ideas and make decisions. This team-based "collaborative process" is often referred to as "computer-supported cooperative work" (CSCW) (Robinson, 1993).

Groupware, in some form, is likely to be a high-tech competitive factor in the on-going development of global companies, strategic alliances, and networks of suppliers and distributors. It is therefore important that groupware and CSCW be included in college business programs, particularly those in business communication (Clampitt & Meyer, 1995). This exploratory study examines student use of CSCW for group discussion, decision making, and collaborative writing assignments at the college level. The purpose is to assess student responses to CSCW and to evaluate its effectiveness for group work in the classroom.

Types of Groupware

There is a variety of computer software available to support CSCW in the workplace and in educational institutions (Baecker, 1993; Wild & Winniford, 1993). It is possible to combine these various forms into three groupware categories based on order of complexity. These categories are neither exclusive nor exhaustive. The classification is based on how well the software supports sharing and exchanging information, cooperative work on documents, and decision making (Ellis, Gibbs, & Rein, 1991).

E-mail and Electronic Bulletin Boards

Both e-mail and electronic bulletin boards are computer-based communication methods that permit asynchronous, or nonreal time, communication among organization members at any location. Although they are in widespread use and represent a huge advance in convenience and communication efficiency, they do not easily support the group activities required for CSCW. For example, neither e-mail nor electronic bulletin boards offer access to shared databases or facilitate on-line collaborative writing, editing, and revising shared documents (Riedl, 1989).

Computer Conferences

Computer conferences are groupware applications that allow either real-time interaction or asynchronous messaging at any location. They offer on-line meetings in which participants, at the minimum, can send and receive messages. At a more complex groupware level, participants can edit and modify the contributions of other group members, develop collaborative documents that represent group consensus, and maintain a database of group activity (Coleman & Khanna, 1995; Zuboff, 1988). Thus, computer conferences can fully support CSCW in terms of both exchange and sharing of information (Rodden, 1993). Examples of full-featured groupware products that support electronic conferences along with many increasingly sophisticated features for work-group collaboration include Lotus Notes, DEC Linkworks, and IBM WorkGroup (Coleman & Khanna, 1995; Papows, 1995).

Group Decision-Support Systems

A Group Decision-Support System (GDSS) is designed to promote discussion and analysis of problems and improve the speed and quality of the decision-making process. GDSS activities are synchronous and typically take place in a room with the following features: terminals for participants; a large screen visible to all; a moderator; an accessible database with relevant information; and software to support voting, record keeping, and decision-making processes (Beauclair, 1990; Thierauf, 1989).

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