Proceedings of CSCL '97: The Second International Conference on Computer Support for Collaborative Learning, December 10-14, 1997, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

By Rogers Hall; Naomi Miyake et al. | Go to book overview
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feels is needed in the current situation. All such help is made more coherent and more useful by being indexed through the current task hierarchies to ensure its relevance to current worker goals ( Carroll, 1990). A final area we are currently exploring for system enhancement is improving communication between the helper and the worker being helped. As mentioned above, we are incorporating advanced communication software such as NetMeeting. We also are working on expanding the role of the system during the help session by allowing it to actively intervene in and influence the interaction (by making use of the information in the user models of each participant in the session). The system itself becomes a learning collaborator in the interaction in the manner of Chan and Chou ( Chan et al., 1995). A big remaining communications problem is coming up with techniques that help establish mutual context at the beginning of a help session (beyond sharing user profile information).

Another major concern for the success of PHelpS is the motivation of the workers to support each other. Peer help, formal or informal, is a common trend and is being encouraged in corporate cultures. PhelpS interactions are considered informal in the sense that the workers choose their helpers without being absolutely explicit as to what kind of help they need and without knowing much about the candidate helpers. PHelpS attempts to provide structured peer support by collecting information about the workers and helpers with respect to the task hierarchies, their work habits and other related information. The workers know that there are implicit rewards associated with peer help. In addition, the organisation should come up with explicit rewards to encourage peer support. For instance, RPC has recognised a group of "power users" who volunteered to work under a new initiative called the "peer-mentor program" within RPC. Such corporate recognition can be motivating for potential peer helpers.

With respect to privacy issues, the individual user models employed by PHelpS to help workers, could also be used by management to monitor workers, perhaps to the workers' perceived or actual disadvantage. Hopefully, management would be deterred from such monitoring by the likely result that workers would immediately cease using PHelpS at the first sign that their privacy was being violated, and thus all the potential advantages of the PHelpS approach to an organization would be thrown away by its misuse. This isn't as big a problem at CSC as it would be in other organizations, since CSC workers are accustomed to the monitoring of their activities while using OMS, in that accountability for accessing sensitive information about convicted criminals (particularly high-profile offenders) is part of the workplace culture. Nevertheless, even in more controlled environments such as CSC, worker empowerment and wholehearted worker acceptance is critical to the success of PHelpS.


The PHelpS approach has the potential to give real substance to the notion of the "learning organization". By using technology to support human-human collaboration, the spread of knowledge takes place naturally as the informal peer help networks supported by PHelpS distribute new ideas and techniques throughout the organization. Learning is leveraged by the technology, not imposed through some external agent such as a CAI system. Learning happens authentically in the context of real tasks. Learning happens collaboratively, both through being helped and through helping. In some sense the organization itself can be said to be learning, since the knowledge of how to carry out tasks is rapidly distributed and soon becomes ubiquitous. Interestingly, unlike many information technologies which become bogged down if the number of users grows too big, PHelpS works better the more people who use it, since a large database of potential peer helpers allows a finer grained selection of appropriate ready, willing, and able helpers.


We would like to thank the management and staff of the Prairie Regional Psychiatric Centre of the Correctional Services of Canada for their active support and participation in the PHelpS project to date. We would also like to acknowledge the Canadian TeleLearning Network of Centres of Excellence for financial support of the project.


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Proceedings of CSCL '97: The Second International Conference on Computer Support for Collaborative Learning, December 10-14, 1997, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
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