You’re on the right way to enter into the world of CSCW

December 25, 2015

cscw-intro

It’s been a long time human beings have found group-work to be more effective compared to working in person and obviously teamwork predates computer technology. But the ways things are being done are always changing over time due to demand to achieve more from limited resources like human resource, time, etc.  and sometimes to compensate weaknesses of these resources, like limitations on computational and memorization capabilities of humans. Computers and computer networks have supported collaborative work to a large extent lately, because they could enable humans to work remotely and supply computational power and speed they need and also ensure their information could be unforgettably saved while be shared and accessed by any of members from anywhere.

Now let’s get to the question: what is CSCW? Although researchers might not have a consensus on what is its definition exactly and which topics constitute this research area, but we could simply define it like this: “It’s a community of application/system designers/builders and behavioral researchers that work on how collaborative behavior affects technology and vice-versa”. So, could we simply say group-work equals to collaborative work and CSCW and groupware are identical? Well, the answer depends on how we define groups and groupware. we define groupware as “software that support groups” and believe its considerably technology-oriented unlike CSCW. People working on groupware usually do narrow examinations, if any, on various kinds of social forms of collaborative work and have a focus on solving technical issues of providing multi-user software programs, say designing user-friendly interfaces for software to be used by multiple users.

As a result of what CSCW is supposed to be involved with, there become some core issues mainly concerning researchers on this area. “articulating cooperative work” which is more behavior-oriented, “sharing information” which is mainly technology-oriented and “adaptation of technology and social behaviors” which is involved with both concerns. To elaborate these three problems, I want to use an example  of my own experiences, when in my undergrad studies some of my colleagues and I decided to work together on a freelance web-based project we got. It was a large project and needed considerable time and effort to be completed. Because we wanted to collaborate and work on this project mostly from home, I will talk about it after writing a few paragraphs about distance work.

cscw-time-space-groupware-matrix

One of the most important problems which CSCW is concerned with is distance work. Distance work may refer to team members distributed in different cities of a province or even those who are spread in all around the world. The larger a company or an organization is, the more it is likely to have team members in far distances and that’s because they usually need various branches in different areas of the world and in many cases, specially when it comes to tech companies,  it is more affordable for an American or European companies to hire employees from eastern countries due to lower rates of payments. However, there are some downsides with distance work which their severity is likely to be reduced over time, but they will always remain as concerns including:

According to the diagram above, we could say as the distance increases, timezone and cultural differences grow and matter more.

Team members also don’t have identical social, organizational and technical backgrounds. When they are gathered together to collaborate in work, they all have to follow certain regulations – usually predefined, but are always subject to change – to cooperate better. these regulations are usually determined at organizational level, so although every individual might find the style they have used to more convenient, but they understand in collaborative work following organizational regulations will help the team work better, therefore they easily accept them and adapt themselves to these standards.

To provide an example, in my own experience mentioned in the third paragraph of this post, after deciding to create a team, we had several meetings and discussions, and as a result decided to agree on these regulations for our communication, coordination and standards in various layers and aspects, although we had different backgrounds and preferences almost in all of these at the beginning:

cscw-distributed_cognition-450px

We said that an important part of CSCW research is working on behavioral aspects of collaborative work. Because people involved in collaborative work have close interaction with each other as well as their environment which is to a large extent made of technological tools and we want to study them altogether, a collective and interconnected processes of cognition is required which we call it distributed cognition.

In the article “Distributed Cognition: Toward a New Foundation for Human-Computer Interaction Research”, authors try to make use of distributed cognition as foundation for HCI research. They propose an integrated framework that combines ethnographic observation and controlled experimentation for their research. They believe the traditional view of cognition does not address what actually occurs between humans and computers collectively together, because this view assumes a kind of isolation for individuals from their computational environment in the process of cognition and puts a boundary between them in its examinations, so it only brings computer interfaces into the boundaries of cognition symbolically, not interconnectedly.

In reality, things are happening altogether. There are not separate ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ areas that might come together, every thing is happening at the same moment and what impact computer systems have to people, affects those people’s impact on other people and vice-versa.

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