Micro-Coordination: Looking into the details of face-to-face coordination

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Virginia Tech


Sociality is one of the most fundamental aspects of being human. The key to sociality is coordination, that is, the bringing of people "into a common action, movement or condition" [134]. Coordination is, at base, how social creatures get social things done in the world. Being social creatures, we engage in highly coordinative activities in everyday life"two girls play hopscotch together, a group of musicians play jazz in a jam session and a father teaches a son how to ride a bicycle. Even mundane actions such as greetings, answering a phone call, and asking a question to ask a question by saying "Can I ask you a question?" are complex and intricate. Actors not only need to plan and perform situated actions, but also need to process the responding actions----even unforeseen ones----from the other party in real time and adjust their own subsequent actions. Yet, we expertly coordinate with each other in performing highly intricate coordinative actions.

In this work, I look at how people coordinate joint activities at the moment of interaction and aim to unveil a range of coordinative issues, using "methodologies and approaches that fundamentally question the mainstream frameworks that define what counts as knowledge" (p.2, [80]) in the field of Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). To investigate computer mediated interactions among co-located people, I examine different interactional choices people make in the course of carrying out their joint activities, and the consequences of their choices.

By investigating co-located groups as they played a collaborative, problem-solving game using distributed technologies in experimental settings, I (1) provide critical case reports which question and challenge non-discussed, often-taken-for-granted assumptions about face-to-face interactions and coordination, and (2) tie the observations to the creation of higher level constructs which, in turn, can affect subsequent design choices.

More specifically, I ran two studies to look at how co-located people coordinate and manage their attention, tasks at hand, and joint activities in an experimental setting. I asked triads to work on a Sudoku puzzle collectively as a team. I varied support for the deictic mechanism in the software as well as form factors of mediating technology.

My research findings show that:

(1) different tools support different deictic behaviors. Explicit support for pointing is desirable to support complex reference tasks, but may not be needed for simpler ones. On the other hand, users without sophisticated explicit support may give up the attempt to engaged in complex reference.

(2) talk is diagnostic of user satisfaction but lack of talk is not diagnostic of dissatisfaction. Therefore, designers must be careful in their use of talk as a measurement of collaboration.

(3) the more people talk about complex relationships in the puzzle, the higher their increase in positive emotion. Either engaging with the problem at hand is rewarding or having the ability to engage with the problem effectively enough to speak about it is engaging.

(4) amount of talk is related to form factor. People in both computer conditions talked less about the specifics oF the game board than people in the paper condition, but only people in the laptop condition experienced a significant decrease in positive emotion.

(5) different mediating technologies afford different types of non-response situations. The most common occurrences of non-responses were precipitated by speakers talking to themselves in the computer conditions. Participants did not talk to themselves much in the paper condition.

Differences in technology form factors may influence people's behaviors and emotion differently. These findings represent a portrait of how different technologies provide different interactional possibilities for people.

With my quantitative and qualitative analyses I do not make bold and futile claims such as "using a highlighter tool will make users collaborate more efficiently," or "making people talk more will make the group perform better." I, instead, illustrate the interactional choices people made in the presence of given technological conditions and how their choices eventuated in situ.

I then propose processlessness as an idea for preparing designs that are open to multiple interactional possibilities, and nudgers as an idea for enabling and aiding users to create and design their own situated experiences.



coordination, Collaboration, micro-coordination, silence, non-talking, non-response