Evaluation of Alternative Media Used with a Groupware Editor in a Simulated Telecommunications Environment

Article excerpt

Writing efficiency using a groupware editor was evaluated in six configurations by factorially combining three communication media (audio only, audio plus video, and face-to-face) each with and without groupware editing in a within-subjects design. Twelve subjects familiar with journalistic writing were matched into dyads and wrote news articles based on sets of questions about video clips shown to them. The quality of the writing task products was consistently high and showed no differences among conditions. Results indicated that face-to-face conditions resulted in significantly less time to complete the task than did other communication conditions. When groupware editing was used, however, all communication media were equally efficient. The results were discussed in terms of the benefits of using the groupware editor to increase efficiency when face-to-face communication is not practical. Methodological procedures were discussed as a means of reducing team variability in evaluating groupware using telecommunications.

INTRODUCTION

A new type of software, termed a groupware editor, allows multiple users to create and edit a single document simultaneously (Olson, Mack, and Wellner, 1990). This software is a member of the groupware family of tools (Gibbs, 1989) used for some types of computer-based telecommunications environments. It has ostensibly been developed to increase efficiency in coauthoring tasks in which users may not be co-located. However, questions as to the effectiveness of this type of cooperative work aid still need to be evaluated empirically.

Little objective data have been published concerning usability of particular groupware editors or interactions between such systems and other telecommunication media. Most previous studies describe only observational data of teams at work. Gale (1991) noted excessive variability and no significant differences in user performance in a field study of a group whiteboard system versus other communication conditions. Smith, O'Shea, O'Malley, Scanlon, and Taylor (1991) developed a video tunnel designed to convince users that they were communicating face-to-face through a video system used for team problem solving. However, they reported high variability in their data and no significant performance effects.

A few publications have described research methodologies for evaluating types of group work similar to the groupware editor. Ishii (1990), in his discussion of a groupware package called TeamWorkstation, mentions that the video and audio media help with the establishment of floor control (i.e., who has the permission to edit) and other social protocol issues. Tang and Minneman (1990) mention the usefulness of the display of hand gestures in floor control. Watabe, Sakata, Maeno, Fukuoka, and Ohmori (1990) cite anecdotal results concerning both audio and video channels in their system, MERMAID. The audio channel was the most frequently used, and the video channel helped participants become more familiar with one another and accelerated informal discussions.

Work on Teamworkstation by Ishii and Miyake (1991) does provide some objective statistical data concerning their system. Two different modes of work space were compared: an overlaid picture mode and a teledesk mode. The overlaid picture mode is an analog combination of video signals from the two workstations, whereas the teledesk mode is a digital representation of the signals from the workstations. These two modes were compared in a mixed-factor design with order of mode usage and instruction in a calligraphy task. The overlay mode was found to be subjectively preferable and resulted in reduced task completion time.

The high levels of variability in the experimental data shown in previous group work studies influenced the methodology developed for use in the present experiment. Group writing has not been addressed previously because of problems in evaluating writing and the lack of sufficient examples of groupware editors. …

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