Academic journal article Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue

Evaluating Advanced Video-Conferencing Interfaces for Remote Teamwork

Academic journal article Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue

Evaluating Advanced Video-Conferencing Interfaces for Remote Teamwork

Article excerpt

1. INTRODUCTION

Video-mediated communication (VMC) offers groups of geographically dispersed people the possibility of rich real-time communication and collaboration. Being able to see each others' faces while speaking to one another is generally assumed to be beneficial and desirable, allowing remote participants to communicate, feel, and interact with each other in approximately the same manner as they would do if they were actually together in the same room. Yet, despite the obvious advantages of visual communication over audio-only conversations, VMC still feels distant, artificial, cumbersome, and detached compared to being face-to-face.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

One shortcoming of common video-conferencing systems (see Figure 1) which contributes to this feeling is that the 3D context between people and their shared workspace is lost. It is therefore not possible for participants to tell from the video of others what they are looking at, what they are working on, or who they are talking to--all of which can cause issues for coordinating their collaborative activities.

Researchers in the field of CSCW (computer-supported cooperative work) have tried to improve VMC through the development of innovative video-conferencing interfaces which support more natural, easy, and efficient video-collaboration. (1)

In this paper I describe my attempt to design and evaluate video-conferencing prototypes that support several spatial aspects of face-to-face meetings which are otherwise absent in regular video-conferencing systems. In line with a user-centered design philosophy, I believe that thorough evaluation is a pivotal part of an iterative design process working towards more usable, more efficient and more fun-to-use video-conferencing systems.

In section 2, I give an overview of possible evaluation criteria that assess the quality of a video-conferencing interface. Section 3 then presents the design and the findings of a user study that applied some of the previously introduced measures. Finally, section 4 discusses the findings and concludes this paper.

2. EVALUATING VIDEO-CONFERENCING INTERFACES

The goal of any real-time telecommunication media is to collapse the space between geographically dispersed groups and create the illusion that people are together, when in fact they are not. Or, in other words, the more a communications medium supports face-to-face-like communication and social interaction, the better.

Based on this premise, the quality of different video-conferencing systems can be assessed with respect to the degree to which they allow remote users to feel and interact with each other as if they were actually together in the same location.

In this regard, the concept of "social presence" provides a framework for understanding and measuring the differences between mediated and non-mediated communication. Short et al initially defined social presence as an experienced characteristic of a communications medium that depends on the "salience of the other person in the interaction." (2) Since then, the definition has been broadened to include the "feeling that the people with whom one is collaborating are in the same room," (3) the "perceptual illusion of non-mediation", (4) or the "feeling that one has some level of access or insight into the other's intentional, cognitive, or affective states." (5) At a basic level, and as common denominator of all definitions of the term, social presence describes and encompasses different facets of the "sense of being together." (6)

Generally, social presence increases with the amount of supported nonverbal communication cues, the possibilities for immediate feedback, and the degree to which they support interpersonal rather than mere factual aspects in conversations.

In decreasing order of social presence, face-to-face communication is rated highest, followed by visual media such as video-conferencing, non-visual media such as the telephone, and written media such as a business letter. …

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