An empirical study on the effects of a collaboration-aware computer system and several communication media alternatives on product quality and time to complete in a co-authoring environment
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A new type of software, termed a "group editor", allows multiple users to create and simultaneously edit a single document; this software has ostensibly been developed to increase efficiency in co-authoring environments where users may not be co-located. However, questions as to the effectiveness of this type of communication aid, which is a member of the "groupware" family of tools used for some types of computer supported cooperative work, remain. Particularly, there has been very little objective data on any group editor because of the problems inherent in evaluating writing, as well as due to the few examples of group editors that exist.
A method was developed to examine the effect of using a particular group editor, Aspectsâ ¢ from Group Technologies in Arlington, Va., in conjunction with several communication media, on a simple dyad writing task. Six dyads of college students familiar with journalistic writing were matched on attributes of dominance and writing ability and were asked to write short news articles based on short video clips in a balanced two factor within-subject analysis of variance design. Six conditions were tested based on communication media: audio only, audio plus video, and face-to-face; each of these with and without the availability of the group editor. Constraints inherent in the task attempted to enforce consistent document quality levels, measured by grammatical quality and content quality (correctness of infonnation and chronological sequencing). Time to complete the articles was used as a measure of efficiency, independent from quality due to the consistent quality levels of the resulting work.
Results from the time data indicated a significant effect of communication media, with the face-to-face conditions taking significantly less time to complete than either of the other media alternatives. Grammatical quality of the written articles was found to be of consistent high quality by way of computerized grammar checker. Content quality of the documents did not significantly differ for any of the conditions. A supplemental Latin square analysis showed additional significant differences in time to complete for trial means (a practice effect) and team differences. Further, significantly less variance was found in certain conditions which had the group editor than in other conditions which did not. Subjective data obtained from questionnaires supported these results and additional1y showed that subjects significantly preferred trials with the group editor and considered then more productive.
The face-to-face conditions may have been more efficient due to the nature of the task or due to increased communication structure within dyads due to practice with the group editor. The significant effect of Team Differences may have been due to consistent style differences between dyads that affected efficiency levels. The decreased variability in time to complete in certain group editor conditions may have been due to increased communication structure in these conditions, or perhaps due to leveling effects of group writing as opposed to individual writing with team member aid.
These hypotheses need to be tested with further study, and generalizability of the experimental task conditions and results from this particular group editor need to be established as well face-to-face conditions clearly resulted in the most efficient performance on this task. The results obtained concerning the group editor suggest possible efficiency or consistency benefits from the use of group editors by co-authoring persons when face-to-face communication is not practical. Perhaps group editors will become a useful method for surrogate travel for persons with disabilities.
- Masters Theses