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Collaborative Computing Work Groups

by Jacqueline Robertson B.A, Grad Dip Soc Sci (Social Research) Department of Sociology. Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the Master of Arts (Qualifying) University of Tasmania, November 1991.

This thesis contains no material which has been accepted for the award of any other higher degree or graduate diploma in any other tertiary institution. To the best of my knowledge and belief, the thesis contains no material previously published or written by another person, except when due reference is made in the text.

Jacqueline Robertson November 1991. Executive Summary This paper investigates the use of information technology to support group work. Groups are a more productive, innovative, creative and effective way of carrying out work . Group work has many benefits but its main advantage is that it allows information to be shared and resources to be pooled. To enable group work to be carried out efficiently and effectively groups need to overcome problems leading to disunity, or productivity losses. The main problems in group work are coordination and communication. Information technology provides a way of reducing these problems and of allowing groups to work more effectively. One way of achieving this is through computer mediated communication, allowing individuals to communicate with one another via their computers. The advantage of computer mediated communication is that it is a quick and efficient means of communication. It allows individuals to communicate across the barriers of distance and time.

There are various forms of computer mediated communication. Computer conferencing is one example. It allows people in dispersed locations to carry out synchronous discussions via their computer terminals. This paper presents research into the differences between computer conferences and focus groups, as an example of how computer mediated interaction differs from face to face interaction. Because computer conferences lack the non-verbal cues and norms associated with regular face to face conversation there is no mechanism to regulate the discussion, or signal changing of speakers, thus they tend to be disorderly and confused. Attempts to apply more structure have not been successful. The structured conference is slower, participants are not as involved and tend to lose interest. There are instances when computer conferencing can be a suitable substitute for a face to face meeting, particularly in problem solving where members need to reach consensus. There are stages of the problem solving process where it is more appropriate to have a face to face meeting. This is particularly true in the problem definition stage. In an organizational context where it is possible for members to meet face to face interaction can occur. However what if the group incorporates a number of individuals who are situated at different locations and for whom it is impractical, unfeasible or simply impossible to meet face to face. One way to overcome this difficulty is by using alternative group methods such as nominal group techniques. With the assistance of information technology nominal group techniques can be a useful way of carrying out a problem solving group, particularly in the problem formulation stage of the project. A specific example of this type of group using international membership is discussed in the paper. The use of computing technology creates numerous opportunities for group work whether it is task or problem based. For this technology to be successful careful attention must be paid to its design. Computing companies and software developers need to take into account the way individuals work in groups, what these groups need and what innovations the technology can provide. As group work becomes more important and as the information technology to support this type of collaborative work advances, further research into the implications of information technology needs to undertaken. The collaborative computing work group is emerging as an important and integral part of the organization. Acknowledgements

First, I would like to thank Ken Reed for his guidance, advice, suggestions and encouragement. Also, Richard Volpato for his direction and various enlightening insights. To my colleagues in the M.Qual/M.Soc.Sci "group", Maria Jeffries, Kim Grey, Peta Mackay, Lyell Wilson, Marnie Bower and Christopher Pownall , many thanks for your support, encouragement and understanding. Thanks to Steven Bittenger and Sue Mulcahy for offering interesting perspectives on the nature of computing work. Finally, thanks to all the students who gave up their time to participate in the focus groups and to all those people across the international

network who volunteered their services, your enthusiasm and interest was inspiring. Table of Contents Introduction: What are Collaborative Computing Work Groups 1 : 1.1 1.2 1.3 The Changing Nature of Work Societal Change 2 Technological Change 4 Organizational Change 5 2 1

2 : Work Groups and Productivity 9 2.1Productivity 9 2.2Characteristics of Groups 10 2.3Types of Group 12 2.4Alternate Groups 13 2.5Advantages of Group Work 14 2.6Disadvantages of Group Work 15 3 : Work Groups and Computers 18 3.1 Computer Mediated Communication: Meeting a need 19 3.2Basic Advantages of CMC 20 3.3Electronic News Groups and Bulletin Boards 21 3.4Electronic Mail 23 3.5Computer Conferencing 26 3.6Dispersed Work Groups 26 3.7Integrating CMC into Group Work 27 3.8Other Tools for Collaborative Work 28 3.9Group Decision Support Systems 28 3.10 Groupware 29 4 : Face to Face and Computer Mediated Groups - Focus Groups and Computer Conferencing : An Example 4.1 Computer Conferencing 31 4.2 Focus Groups 32 4.3 The Research Project 32 4.4 The Results 37 4.5 Starting Off 37 4.6 The Role of the Moderator 38 4.7 Regulating Discussion and Taking Turns 39 4.8 Prompts 40 4.9 Non verbal Cues 41 4.10 Participation an Interaction Patterns 42 4.11 Control 43 4.12 Content 43 4.13 Communcation Efficiency - understanding 44 4.14 Ambience 45 4.15 Computer Conferencing : Some Suggestions 46 5 : Computerising Problem Oriented Groups 5.1 Nominal Group Techniques (NGT) 49 5.2 Delphi Groups 51 5.3 NGT, Delphi and CMC 51 5.4 NGT Project 52 5.5 The Topic 52 5.6 Finding Participants 53 5.7 Advantages of Using Computerized NGT 48 31


6 : 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4

Collaborative Computing Work Groups - A Conclusion Face to Face Groups 55 Computer Based Groups 56 Combining Methods 58 Future Directions 59


Introduction: What are Collaborative Computing Work Groups? A work group is a collection of two or more people working together collectively and cooperatively on a shared project. A collaborative work group is a work group whose members are dependent on one another to carry out their work. They must combine their resources and interact with the other members of the group in order to produce the final product. The members of the group work toward a common set of objectives, and achieve this by dividing tasks and collaborating. A collaborative computing work group is one which is not only reliant on the other members of the group but also on the computing technology to achieve an effective result and to reinforce the collaboration. These collabortive computing work groups can take many forms. They may be a group of people working in a task force team in an organization, a group of academics co-authoring a book, a number of researchers collaborating on a joint venture, some students working together on a combined project, or a group of committee members developing a long term plan. These groups all work collaboratively together and with the aid of computing technology can do so more effectively. The type of work these groups are involved in is typically office based work involving information. This type of work is what Galegher, Kraut and Edigo (1990) call "intellectual teamwork". As we move into the "information society" these types of work groups are becoming not only an important but a necessary way of carrying out work. In this paper I will investigate how by adopting alternative group techniques and using computing and communications resources group work can be not only supported and enhanced but modified. There are a range of group methods and tools which can be used by groups. These include electronic mail, computer conferencing , groupware and nominal group techniques. This is an new and growing area and the emerging characteristics of these collaborative computing work groups have to be understood in terms of wider social change.

1.The Changing Nature of Work There are three main factors which set the stage for the emergence of collaborative computing work groups .These are : societal change and change in the nature of work, technological change and developments in micro computing and communications and organizational change and change in the role of management.

1.1 Societal Change Various models of development have traced the emergence of today's society through sequential stages from a pre-industrial society to an industrial one. Bell (1973) developed a model of societal change based on the changes occurring in the economic sector. His theory was that just as society had progressed from a pre-industrial society to an industrial one through the process of industrialisation so it will continue to develop and move into what he coined the "post-industrial society". Bell's model incorporated the move from one stage of development to the next facilitated by developments taking place in technology. For Bell the move from pre-industrial to post industrial was accompanied by change in patterns in employment. In a pre-industrial society people had been employed in primary industry such as agriculture. In industrial society there was a rise in employment in secondary industry, particularly in manufacturing, and in post industrial society the majority of employment is increasingly in the tertiary sector in white collar jobs. As society becomes more industrialised and developments in technology increase, work in the primary and secondary sectors is becoming more intensive and automated requiring a smaller number of workers to carry it out. Bell predicted that the increase in the tertiary sector would be particularly in the number of people employed in services, and that work would be carried out by professional and technical workers as well as scientists. Evidence for his argument on the emergence of the service industry came from data showing a shift in employment from primary and secondary jobs to tertiary jobs especially those in services. Bell argued that there had been a rise in the consumption of services. His argument stemmed from the Engel's law which says ' that we have a hierarchy of needs, and that as the most pressing are satisfied , so our increasing means are devoted to the less pressing; that is, that our proportionate marginal expenditure on necessities decreases as our income increases. Thus as economies become richer then they will spend less on necessities and there will be a new demand created, a new need which will be met by services.'(Gershuny, 1978 : 71) However this assumed that services had to be produced and then delivered. Gershuny follows a different argument. Rather than an increase in consumption of services there has been an increase in the consumption of service related goods. He explains the increase in service sector employment by showing that people employed in the service industry are also concerned with the production of goods as well as services . for while increased service consumption necessarily requires more service workers, more service workers does not necessarily imply more consumption of services for service workers are also concerned in the manufacture of goods.(Gershuny, 1978) What Gershuny saw was a move towards a self-service economy rather than a service one. The increase in wealth produces new categories of demand which are meet by goods rather than services. These are goods which traditionally were service oriented such as domestic services which have been replaced by domestic machines, transport services by cars, and entertainment service by record players, television and video. For Gershuny an increase in income will lead to individuals making their own choices about what they want and the

self service industry is more geared to this, allowing the preservation of individual choice and preference. The importance of information is a key element of the emerging post -industrial society. For Bell this information is in the form of 'theoretical knowledge.' The more services are produced, the more they are produced by specialists. This sort of specialism requires knowledge or expertise . We have seen this happening in the medical profession. Whereas traditionally there was one type of doctor who carried out all medical functions there are now a number of specialists each concerned with there own special area of medicine. The General Practitioner is the mediating point between these various specialists. However if there is a move towards self-service rather than service, then rather than a growth in knowledge or expertise there will be a growth instead of self-service technologies and information about their use. This paper investigates such technologies and the way they are integrated into a new type of group work. 1. 2 Technological Change Advances in technology have boomed in recent years . There are now many technologies all competing for acceptance in society. Developments in computing technologies have seen the emergence in importance of the microcomputer allowing computers to be placed on every desktop in the work place and in the home. The expanding area of communications has enabled these personal computers to be connected via networks, to share resources and to allow communication between the users. Reductions in the costs associated with computing and communications have increased the rate of expansion and adoption of these technologies in organizations. There are two types of technology - 'prescriptive' and 'permissive'(Galegher and Kraut, 1991). Prescriptive technology is technology which is developed to solve problems which exist in the current structure, to ' remedy flaws in current practices', whereas permissive technologies are those which enable things to be done which were not possible before.Technology allows us to do what we have done in the past more efficiently . Computers enable work to be automated. Thus a greater amount can be achieved at a quicker rate. They also allow us to do what we were unable to achieve with the old structures , giving us new ways, opportunities and possibilities for work. Thus these emerging computing and communication technologies have first - level, efficiency effects and second -level, or social system effects . (Sproull and Kiesler, 1991). First -level effects of communication technology are the anticipated technical ones- the planned efficiency gains or productivity gains that justify an investment in new technology....Second-level effects from communication technologies come about primarily because new communication technology leads people to pay attention to different things, have contact with different people, and depend on one another differently. Change in attention means change in how people spend their time and in what they think is

important. Change in social contact patterns means change in who people know and how they feel about them . Change in interdependence means change in what people do with and for each other and how these coupled functions are organized in norms, roles, procedures, jobs and departments.(4,5) Technology changes the way people work and the structure of the working environment. As society becomes more modernised and as technology comes to be more predominant in the work place then there will be structural changes in the nature of work and how this work is carried out. As we move further into the "information age" technology is growing in importance. As new technologies are developed and modified the possibility of a self-service society where people use the technology to obtain information for themselves, rather than going through intermediaries or being serviced by others, is coming into existence. 1.3 Organizational Change Work is becoming increasingly information based with more people working in the tertiary sector in skilled, white collar jobs. Technology has had an enormous impact on the nature of work. Computing technology in particular has revolutionised office based work. As society becomes more complex and reliant on information, and as technology places additional pressures on the old work structures, organizations must adapt to meet these demands. Organizations increasingly need to assess the usefulness of their traditional structures and look for more productive and effective innovations in the way they produce, organize and manage work. In response to international competition and the accelerating pace of technological and market change, organizations have attempted to become more flexible and adaptable. One way to do this is to push decision making down the organizational hierarchy, assigning the freedom and responsibility to respond to threats and opportunities to task forces and project teams.(Andona and Caldwell, 1990: 174) With the increase in complexity in society, the growth in importance of information based work and changes in the technology to support this work, it is becoming necessary for organizations to reassess and reorganize their structures and to adapt to meet these changes. As work becomes increasingly information based and specialised there will be a rise in the importance of specialists in the organization, which in turn will lead to the degeneration of the hierarchical structure of the organization. No longer will the power be held at the top of the hierarchy. There will be decline of middle management, a flatter organizational structure will result , and work will be concentrated in the hands of teams or groups. As work becomes more and more dependent on information then organizations will come to rely on those who are able to carry out this type of work effectively. There will be an increase in the number of specialists within the organization, who can deal with information work. These specialised workers will be organised in task-focused teams and will operate collaboratively much the same as in such organizations as the hospital or the orchestra. (Drucker,

1988) The new organization will see the decline of the old hierarchical structure and the emergence of a much flatter organizational structure. (Kanter, 1989 ; Drucker, 1988) Knowledge will no longer come from the top of the hierarchy but will be concentrated in the lower levels with the specialists. This will result in the weakening of middle management. Organizations must change if they want to be competitive and this involves adopting innovative structures. No longer can the organization operate through a hierarchical system of management. 'As work units become more participative and team oriented, and as professionals and knowledge workers become more prominent, the distinction between manager and nonmanager begins to erode.'(1989: 88) Managers must learn to work collaboratively both within their own department and across other departments. Managers have to start thinking "cross-functionally", working as integrators and facilitators. The decline in hierarchical structure will challenge the role of the manager and their power. (Kanter, 1989) So the new organizations are becoming more and more information based and as more specialists are employed the organizational structure will become flatter and the role of management will change. But what is necessary for these new organizations to work, to be successful? One of the things which is important is the workers perception of their work and of their involvement in the final product. To achieve this organizations are looking to more short term projects or assignments . These projects typically involve groups or what Drucker calls 'task-focused teams.' The best way to motivate people is by making them believe in the importance of their work, giving them control over their work and offering them an opportunity to learn and develop (Kanter, 1989). This can happen if they work on specific projects and work assignments where the gains are short-term . There is a clearer relationship between the worker and the final product and this will foster pride and motivation in the worker. This sense of ownership, along with a definite time frame, can spur higher levels of effort .Whenever people are engaged in creative or problem-solving projects that will have tangible results by deadline dates , they tend to come in at all hours, to think about the project in their spare time, to invest in it vast sums of physical and emotional energy. Knowing that the project will end and that completion will be an occasion for reward and recognition makes it possible to work harder.(Kanter 1989: 92 ) Drucker follows a similar argument. He sees that there needs to be more emphasis on the individuals to be responsible for their work and their communication with others. The only way that such an organization will survive is if people work together .'The key to such a system is that everyone asks :Who in this organization depends on me for what information? And on whom, in turn do I depend? '(Drucker, 1988 :49 )To work effectively within the organization specialists must have sense of the whole, 'a common vision' so that they can work toward something so that they can 'perceive and complete a whole task.' This will only occur if workers have 'pride and professionalism' in their work and that they will achieve this by

working in task forces as 'self-governing units'.(Drucker, 1988) With changes at the societal level in the economic sector resulting in an increased number of people employed in the tertiary sector in information based jobs, coupled with developments in computing technology and communications there has developed a need for organizational change. As work becomes more specialised and concentrated in the hands of the specialists there needs to be a way of coordinating this work. Thus the need for work to be carried out by work groups. If a worker has only specialised knowledge and skills in his particular area then he is dependent on other workers to provide the missing links. As work becomes more dispersed such work can be "serviced" by a range of support staff or can be supported through self-service supports and collegial work styles. 2. Why Work in Groups? It is becoming more important for work to be carried out by groups rather than by individuals. The question then becomes whether or not group work is necessarily more productive than non-group work. Working in groups has several main advantages which all lead to increases in productivity. However there are also some disadvantages in group work which cannot be overlooked. 2.1 Productivity Changes in technology have led to changes in the type of work people do and in the way they carry out their work. Traditional measures of productivity were based on the nature of the work performed. Unskilled labour required measures of output typically based around the number of lines written, or number of forms processed . However information work requires new standards of assessment. Technology has increased the speed and the amount of work which can be processed. More work can be completed in less time and with less effort. Information work requires different types of skills. It requires specialised mind skills. The basis for the evaluation of which can no longer be the amount of work produced but rather the quality of the work. New productivity measures need to be developed to assess this information work . Efficiency has been replaced by effectiveness as a measure of productivity. More attention should be paid to alternative ways of completing tasks and innovative approaches to work. Johnson and Rice (1987 ) in their study looking at the adoption of word processing in organizations obtained data from around 200 organizations . They found that there are 'many approaches that organizations may take to improve productivity, performance, innovation and creativity. ' These included the development of teambuilding and group problem solving skills, improving the flow of work between departments, and ongoing productivity measurement, along with others. Thus in considering whether a group is productive we need to take into account not only whether it is efficient but also whether it is effective. Is working in groups a more efficient, effective, innovative and creative way of working? Are groups more productive?

2.2 Characteristics of Groups There are numerous types of work groups of varying combinations. Their compositions differ as do the purposes for which they have been assembled. In discussing groups and the technology used to support their work it is necessary to define those characteristics which allow us to draw comparisons and to distinguish between them. Task Oriented and Problem Oriented Task oriented groups incorporate a number of members who are involved in carrying out specific tasks. They are usually project based groups brought together for a set period of time to work together until the project has been completed. Alternatively they are members of a particular organization who form a continuing group to carry out a set of related tasks. Often these types of groups are called teams. Problem oriented groups are often convened for only a short time, sometimes only one meeting . They usually involve a group of people who join their resources to solve a particular problem, whether it is to brainstorm ideas, plan a course of action or make a decision. These groups are usually held to discuss a certain issue or set of issues. They can take the form of meetings, discussion groups, conferences, workshops. The key element that divides this type of group from task oriented groups is discussion. Some groups may incorporate stages where they are task oriented and others where they are problem oriented.

Formal and Ad Hoc The formal work group has relatively permanent membership, ongoing tasks, and routinized reporting relationships within the organization. Members typically work in close proximity. Over time they elaborate personal relationships, division of labor, norms, and routines for communication to support their work.... Over time, skills and information of group members become more group-specific and norms more implicit. There is less communication on how to work together and more on the work itself. These processes improve coordination and increase commitment to the group. (Finholt, Sproull, Kiesler, 1990 : 291 - 292) Ad hoc groups 'are convened for a particular purpose, consist of members who would not otherwise work together , and disband after completing their assigned task.'(Finholt, Sproull, Kiesler, 1990 : 292 ) Ad hoc groups are temporary and are more flexible than formal groups. Permanent and Temporary Groups are held together for varying amounts of time. Some groups may only meet once and for just one hour. Others are temporary or short -term and only exist for the duration of the project. There are groups whose relationship is continuing and who will work together on long -term projects and those who are permanently employed and carry out a number of projects. The membership of work groups and teams is often flexible, membership of the groups change and people

are involved in a number of teams working on various projects. The move is away from permanent membership of groups with fixed tasks to part -time groups involved in multiple projects. Face to Face and Dispersed Face - to -face groups are those who have come together to meet at the same time and place, usually to discuss a certain issue as in a focus group, generate ideas through brainstorming or other group techniques, or reach a consensus and make a decision about policy issues or planning possible future actions.

The advantage of face to face (ftf) groups is that you have a number of people together in the one place and can draw on the resources of many minds focusing on the particular issue. The combined effort of the group will produce a wider range of information, insight, and ideas than will the culmination of the responses of a number of individuals when these replies are secured privately. (Stewart and Shamdasani, 1990 : 19) Dispersed work groups are those which are separated by distance. The members are situated at distant locations which often inhibits regular meetings posing further problems for coordination and communication of members. 2.3 Types of Groups These group characteristics can be seen in different types of groups. Self -managing Teams These types of teams are also called autonomous work groups. They 'differ form traditional work groups primarily in who controls the critical managing processes and the set of tasks the group works on...Self-managing teams are groups of individuals who can selfregulate work on their interdependent tasks'. (Goodman, Devadas and Griffith, 198 : 296) These are task oriented groups. They can take many forms . They can be temporary or permanent ,face to face or dispersed depending on the membership of the group. Focus Groups A focus group is a type of indepth interview in which a number of people are brought together to discuss a certain issue or number of issues. The focus group is a collection of individuals, usually between six and twelve people who are representative of a certain section of the community. Focus groups are often used in research to obtain a low cost and quick way of gathering data on the attitudes of a particular group. Often focus groups are used in market research when measuring the effectiveness of a particular advertising campaign or product. They may be used in evaluating a particular program, or in developing planning strategies. Focus groups are problem oriented , temporary, ad hoc and face to face. Brainstorming Groups The objective of brainstorming groups is to generate as many ideas as possible. The idea is to stimulate the members to think innovatively and creatively about various issues. The important aim in

brainstorming groups is the amount of ideas generated, rather than the quality of the ideas. Brainstorming groups are problem oriented, temporary, ad hoc and face to face. 2.4 Alternate Groups To allow groups to work more effectively it is sometimes necessary to adopt alternative techniques and tools to support the work of the group and to obtain more productive results. Nominal Groups Nominal Group technique (NGT) is a method for structuring small group meetings that allows individual judgments to be effectively pooled and used in situations in which uncertainty or disagreement exists about the nature of a problem or possible solution.(Moore, 1987 : 13) The traditional nominal group technique is a problem oriented group, temporary, ad hoc and face to face. However recent nominal groups have tended to be dispersed. Nominal groups are groups in name only. They are usually made up of members who are experts in a particular field. The idea behind a nominal group is that you can collect the opinions of various individuals and integrate them into a group product. Members ideas on certain issues are collected, summarised and then redistributed for further comment. Nominal group techniques are often adopted by problem oriented groups. Delphi Groups Delphi is a variation of nominal group technique. It involves a group of experts who remain anonymous and who do not meet. Delphi comes from the Greek Oracles of Delphi who were involved in predicting future events. Delphi groups then are groups whose main purpose is to forecast changes and trends. Delphi is a method which is often used in forecasting possible future developments in technology. The delphi method involves getting members to write their forecasts on a particular topic. Their ideas are then collected and summarized and the major points are outlined and sent to the members who are asked to make further predictions based on the information provided by the group. Computer Mediated Groups Computer mediated groups can be task oriented or problem oriented. They may be formal or ad hoc, temporary or permanent. However their key element is that they are dispersed. They are groups which are situated at distant locations, who are connected by a computer network and who use a computer to communicate with people across the network. 2.5 Advantages of Group Work A work group is more than a group of people working in the same place at the same time, and more than the combined results of individuals' work. Work groups involve collaboration. Collaboration involves working cooperatively with members of the group relying on each other to complete their section of the work. Collaboration has a number of advantages. people collaborate because collaboration changes the process of research for them in desirable ways...working

with another person was simply more fun than working alone. They also believed that working with another improved the quality of the research product, because of the synthesis of ideas it afforded, the feedback they received from each other, and the new skills they learned. (Kraut, Edigo and Galegher 1990 : 152) If you want a job done quickly you split it up into tasks and delegate. You get different people to concentrate on a specific task each. So with each person putting in a maximum effort then the project will be completed in a shorter time. This is true if you are interested in achieving quick results. However the same principle is also true if you are interested in the quality of the work. Thus the saying : "Two heads are better than one ". If you want to achieve a higher quality result then you will do so if you combine the minds of several people. So collaborative groups can be seen to be more productive than individual work in so far as they : Generate a greater number of ideas. This is because there are more people working on producing the ideas. Osborn (1957), a major proponent of "brainstorming " techniques in problem solving, posited " the average person can think up twice as many ideas when working with a group than working alone. (Delbecq, Van de Ven and Gustafon 1975 : 16) Produce a better quality of work. By combining the resources of people with different knowledge and diverse expertise there will be a greater range of inputs and this will raise the quality of the work. Johnson and Rice found that 'word processing centers and distributed installations worked best when they operated as work groups rather than collections of individual operators/users'. (1987 : 199) Allow information to be shared. As work becomes increasingly specialised it becomes necessary to work collaboratively , to share knowledge of that specialist area. Specialism implies knowledge of a particular area and collaborative work group involves combining the information from each of the specialists to produce the final product. Increase job satisfaction Working in groups may enhance job satisfaction. Working in groups may simply be more rewarding than working alone. Group work has the advantage of providing support . Groups working collaboratively can offer feedback, alternative opinions, differing perspectives, encouragement, advice and guidance. 2.6 Disadvantages of Group Work Group work can be more productive than working alone. However this is not always the case. There may be some instances where group work does not increase productivity but rather results in productivity reductions or losses. Group work may foster the belief in some people that they are

required to work less and put in less effort than if they were required to produce an individual project. 'Diffusion of responsibility and lack of ownership of the group product can cause individuals to put forth less effort to accomplish group tasks than an individual task. '(Galegher and Kraut 1990 : 2) . An individual must take responsibility for their work but a member of a group can hide behind the cover of the group as a whole and not feel responsible for what the group produces. In problem oriented groups rather than promoting free thinking, helping to generate ideas and reach effective decisions, groups may have the reverse effect. This may occur when the group is set or focused on a particular set of ideas rather than exploring a fuller scope of thoughts. 'Researchers have concluded that when the group task is to generate information on a problem, interacting groups inhibit creative thinking'. (Delbecq, Van de Ven and Gustafon 1975 : 16) There may also be negative effects produced in problem oriented groups brought about by conformity within the group. A member may feel intimidated by other members of the group to conform. Asch (1955) in his experiments on conformity found group pressure had an effect on the inputs of individual members. This can have negative consequences. If members of the group are pressured into accepting the decision of the other members or of more dominant and high status members then the final product will not be a true representation of the opinions of the group. 'Life in society requires consensus as an indispensable condition. But consensus, to be productive, requires that each individual contribute independently out of his experience and insight.'(Asch, 1955 : 324) Problems in problem solving groups also involve domination by louder, higher status members which could result in the opinions of some members of the group being overlooked, creating a bias in the outcome of the group. Also lack of information on all aspects of the problem may create uncertainty in the group and lead to inability for the group to reach a consensus. Other major problems with group work are to do with coordination, communication and control. Because groups are made up of individual members working on separate parts of the project there needs to be some way of coordinating the work of the group. Coordination may involve organising the group so that they can all meet at a particular time, thus coordinating the members of the group or setting the deadlines of a particular stage in the project so that the next stage can begin - coordinating the activities of the group , or it may involve making sure that at the members work well together . There needs to be some element of control in the group which ensures that the group will work effectively together and the activities will run smoothly. Communication can be looked at in two different ways : Communication can be seen to mean connectivity . Thus communication in groups is important as it allows contact between group members. This is important where the groups are not working in the same place at the same time. Thus they require a means of communication to connect them and to integrate the sections of the project they are working on.

Communication can imply understanding. Thus communication does not only involve a transaction but also comprehension. A member of a problem solving group may tell another his idea on a particular issue but this does not necessarily mean that the other person understands what he is trying to say. Thus in communicating an idea there has not only to be the transfer of the idea from one to another but the recipient must have some understanding of what is being communicated. Group work is more productive than non-group work in that it can produce more efficient outcomes. Groups can produce more work at a quicker rate than an individual. Groups also have the advantage that they combine the inputs of individuals and integrate them into a single product. Groups can produce a greater number of ideas, provide differing perspectives, allowing broader and more complex issues to be considered. They can also produce higher quality results. However there are also disadvantages in group work such as inefficient cooperation and communication structures. So that the advantages of group work can be maintained and the disadvantages of working in groups can be diminished or at least minimalised groups need to develop ways of overcoming the negative factors. Computing and communication technologies can provide a way of assisting groups to reduce the negative factors and to ensure greater group productivity. 3. Work Groups and Computers We have already identified some major problems with work groups : In decision making groups members may be or feel pressured to conform with the general group consensus rather than asserting their own views. There is also a tendency for these types of group to be dominated by loud and opinionated members or uneven proportion of contributions due to status. Groups may also 'inhibit creative thinking' by focusing on one idea rather than seeking a number of alternatives. There may be a tendency for some members of task oriented groups to apply less effort as a result of the 'diffusion of responsibility and lack of ownership of the group product'. (Galegher and Kraut, 1990) Task oriented groups combine a number of people working together each carrying out different tasks. This requires an efficient means of coordinating group members and group processes. This is particularly important in self -managing teams , and in ad hoc teams. For members of groups to work together it is necessary for them to communicate effectively. Communication is an important aspect of groups - both within the group between members and externally with other parts of the organization. Not only is it important that groups coordinate their activities and communicate effectively but they should also develop effective methods for controlling group interactions. The question then becomes what part can technology play in overcoming

the difficulties which are inherent in group work? How can computing technology and communications play an effective part in the collaborative work group structure? 3.1 Computer Mediated Communication : Meeting a Need Computer mediated communication is a structure whereby computers are used to connect people on a computer network so that they can carry out effective communication. It is conventionally understood that group productivity is hampered by what are called process losses or, alternatively, transaction costs. Process losses or transaction costs derive from the inability of group members to communicate efficiently, and also from certain social pressures that emerge in groups....A related transaction cost is the time and effort the group must spend coordinating its work, along with the extra work that arises from inefficient coordination.(Finholt , Kiesler and Sproull,1990 :293) The two main problems with groups are communication and coordination. A further problem with group work is sharing the work, separating and dividing tasks or partitioning. Groups sometimes avoid partitioning tasks, or implement the strategy badly, because of the transaction costs arising from having to keep track of people's progress, encouraging them to do their work, collecting finished jobs, communicating to others how the work is going, making group members feel they are part of a group activity , and merging individual or subgroup products with the group product.(Finholt , Kiesler and Sproull,1990 :295) What is needed to alleviate these problems? A structure which allows quick, easy and frequent communication which will lead to an improvement in the coordination and integration of the group is what is required. Technology in the form of communications and in particular computer mediated communications can add great benefits to group work by providing such a structure. Taken together they [technologies for collaborative work] have the potential to provide people with the capacity to communicate across boundaries of time and distance and to increase the ease and effectiveness of their work.( Galegher and Kraut, 1990 : 3) 3.2 Basic Advantages of CMC Computer mediated communication has several main advantages: Speed Communication via a computer is fast. A message whether it is sent within an organization, interstate or overseas will arrive at its destination within moments of having been sent. This is a tremendous advantage in itself. Sending mail through the post is a much slower process. Sending a fax although it is fast relies on the line not being busy and also that there is a fax machine nearby. Computer mail can be sent form terminal to terminal. The sender does not have to leave their desk to send it and it is fast and efficient.

Distance CMC has the advantage of connecting people who are not in the same place, at dispersed locations, via means of a network and/or modem. This is particularly advantageous in situations where groups are separated by the physical boundaries of distance. CMC is a means of connecting people who would otherwise be unable to be members of a particular group. Thus members who may not be able to participate because they cannot get to a particular venue or who may even be in a different country can be part of the group via CMC. Time Computer mediated communication can be asynchronous. Thus it provides a means of communicating with people across time barriers. The sender does not rely on the receiver being free and ready to answer immediately. If they are out of the office the mail will remain until they return. This is particularly useful in overseas transactions where time differences apply.

Flexibility There are numerous forms of CMC depending on the design involved. Some systems allow messages and memos to be sent while others incorporate the sending of files and other large documents as well as graphics and applications. CMC enables messages to be sent to a single recipient, multiple recipients or broadcasted to an entire network. Anonymity In some instances group productivity may be impeded by the impact of status of the members . In these cases it may be favourable to carry out some problem solving activities where the members remain anonymous. This can be achieved with CMC as members cannot see each other face to face and so can take on aliases and hide their identities. Computer mediated communication can take several forms. The most common of which is electronic mail. It also includes such systems as computer conferencing, electronic newsgroups and bulletin boards. 3.3 Electronic News Groups and Bulletin Boards New Groups The traditional news group involves a system where you subscribe to groups on a topic you are interested in. Once included on the mailing list you receive information that is posted to that news group. Electronic journals are similar in that once subscribed you receive a copy of that particular journal. An alternative way of reading news from a news group is by logging onto a server, selecting the group you are interested in and reading the postings to that group. In some cases members may post their own contributions to a news group. Bulletin Boards Electronic bulletin boards provide a forum for discussion where members send messages, problems to be solved, requests for information, provide advice on a particular subjects and receive general information on the topic area.

These electronic forums allow discussion to take place across the network. They are asynchronous, people may log on and contribute at their leisure. The discussion remains alive, continuing regardless of who is contributing or what time it is. The advantages of these types of media is that people can subscribe to the group they are interested in and interact when they feel inclined to, when they have a contribution to make or something they need to know. People may simply be spectators to the discussion or they may take an active part in it. Electronic bulletin boards provide an effective way for people to share information on a particular subject. In most cases the members of the group have never met . These types of media allow people to interact with people they do not know, obtain advice they would otherwise be without and to share information that is important to their work.

Figure 1: Example of Bulletin Board 3.4 Electronic Mail Electronic mail or e.mail is often used in two contexts. It is used to refer to the mail - message, document, memo- which is sent by computer across a network and it is also used to describe the 'system' by which the mail is transmitted, the actual medium. Thus you can send "e.mail" and you can send something "via e.mail". E.mail has the advantage of quickly transmitting messages which would take considerably longer if sent by post. Various networks allow the quick transmittal of messages, other mail and larger documents such as files and applications to be sent quickly from one destination to another. The transfer of files is useful in that the person receiving the document has it already in computer format and is not required to retype or scan the information in. This also saves running the risk of mailing such media as floppy disks. This is particularly useful in the work group setting where people are co-authoring documents and books, or collaborating on projects. This can be seen in such as organizations as the university where academic networks are established allowing the people with similar research and study interests to communicate, share information and exchange ideas. E.mail allows messages to be sent within an organization thus substituting for telephone conversations . Difficulties such as trying to locate a person or catching them when they are free, playing "telephone tag", can be overcome by leaving an e.mail message on their terminal simply asking them to contact you or leaving the relevant information for them. Making communication more efficient, allowing less time to be spent on less productive activities. More detailed e.mail messages may contain information which has been clearly thought through and precisely expressed. Most e.mail systems allow you to send the same message to multiple recipients or to broadcast a message to a number of people or to a particular group. This saves the time which may be taken up in contacting numerous people to share the same information, and having to converse with each in turn about other matters as well. This can

be an effective way of sending office memos for example. In this case unlike paper memos - recipients can usually reply directly to you, even if it is just to indicate that they have received the memo or that they agree with/have noted what you have said. Another advantage of e.mail is that you can resend or circulate a message sent to you on to other people who may be interested in learning the same information. E.mail messages can usually be saved and stored and referred to later. You have a written record of what was said. This is particularly important if you have had a lengthy discussion and have produced a number of ideas. E.mail messages can also be printed out and in cases where you have a lengthy message this is often favoured. One disadvantage is delay of response, the sender has no control over when they get a reply, or some feedback to their message. The recipient chooses when to respond. With some e.mail applications such as CE Software's QuickMail the arrival of a message is accompanied by a loud chime, and /or a flashing icon so that you know it has arrived. This helps in drawing attention to the message making it difficult to be ignored. Some systems require you to check a mail box for incoming mail. In these cases it would be necessary to build into your day a particular time when you checked for mail. Mail notification is a useful inclusion in an effective e.mailing system. If the person has to actually go and get or check for mail then they may forget or be less inclined to do so. However if they are notified of a messages arrival by an icon flashing or a loud chime then they are more likely to attend to the message.With QuickMail you can choose the type of header such as Urgent, ASAP, or Normal. The urgent option changes the tone of chime and the flashing of the icon is increased in a greater attempt to grab the recipient's attention. In some cases where particularly long messages are used and a lot of time is used in typing and constructing the message it may be quicker and less time consuming to simply pick up the phone and call the person. However sending an e.mail message is less likely to interrupt the work of the recipient. They do not have to stop what they are doing and reach or run for the phone but can attend to the message when they are ready. There may be cases when the amount of mail arriving at your address is so great that you are continually sorting through it, reading and responding. Some e.mailing systems will let you set a specific time that they go and collect your mail. It may be that every twenty minutes the mailer goes out to the server and checks for mail. This may have disadvantages if the mail is urgent or needs immediate attention. A further problem with e.mail is that the sender may presume the person they have sent the mail to has received and read it. If the mail is being sent to a server and the person receiving the message has to log on and check their mail box and they fail to do so, then the mail will not arrive at its destination. If this is the only way that message has been sent then the contents of the message will be lost. Some systems have facilities built into them which allow you to see if the recipient has received and read you message and this is an advantage. If people receiving mail particularly important mail simply reply to the sender by sending another messages saying that they have received the first then this could solve the problem.

The meaning of some messages may be distorted or misconstrued because it is difficult simply to understand what the person is saying. It may be hard to distinguish whether the sender is serious or joking, expressing anger or sarcasm. The absence of non-verbal cues and tone of voice makes it more difficult to comprehend what the message is saying. You are reliant on the written word to convey meaning. Generally e.mail is a productive tool for communicating between individuals and it does have a place in group work. Finholt , Kiesler and Sproull (1990) in their study of software development teams looked at the possibilities which e.mail systems allowed. They were particularly interested in how e.mail could enhance communication and coordination and thus effect performance in ad hoc groups. They also saw that e.mail had an effect on the way the groups worked. Through the e.mail system, group members could tell each other about their individual progress and find out about how others are doing; this should increase both coordination and cohesiveness. Notice that we are referring not just to improved coordination of partitioned work, but to a group working in a new way, offloading more work onto parts of the group and using computer mail as an electronic link between individual activity and the group. The implication for this is not only that less time will be spent in meetings, but also that some of the penalties for working in groups will be reduced. By partitioning the work and keeping others informed, people would have greater control over and responsibility for their own work.(Finholt, Kiesler and Sproull 1990: 295) They found positive relationships between the use of e.mail and communication within the groups and that there were links between this and the coordination of group functions particularly " scheduling meetings, task assignment, and status reports." 3.5 Computer Conferencing Computer conferencing is a type of electronic mail. However unlike regular e.mail it held in real time, similar to a face to face meeting. A computer conference can be held between two or more people . The contributions of each participant is seen by all others .The participants interact by sending general messages to all members or targeting their questions to a particular person. Even when they are not directly involved in the discussion members can see the entries of the others. A transcript of the conference can be saved and kept for later reference. 3.6 Dispersed Work Groups There have been several studies done into the effect of computer mediated communication on dispersed work groups. Eveland and Bikson (1988, 1990 ) carried out a 1 year experiment using an electronic group and standard group. Both groups comprised working members and

retired members. The groups were to look at retirement. They found that : Electronically supported groups develop a richer communications structure with less hierarchical differentiation, broader participation, and more fluctuating and situational leadership structures. This appears in turn to be associated with greater feelings of involvement in the task and greater satisfaction and identification with group products. (1990 :285)

3.7 Integrating CMC into Group Work CMC is particularly important in groups where there needs to be a high frequency of communication between group members . In "Patterns of Contact and Communication in Scientific Research Collaboration" Kraut , Egido and Galegher (1990) discuss the nature of communication structures in collaborative research. They found that there was more collaboration between members who were in closer proximity to one another. This developed because of the frequent informal meetings and discussions which were held between the researchers. Thus for CMC to be effective for this type of collaboration it needs to be 'cheap, frequent, and spontaneous enough that collaborators can be in touch as easily as if their offices were next door.' (1990 :165 ). Thus there needs to be very little personal energy involved. However for these types of groups to work in some instances there may need to be some effort put into the early stages of becoming acquainted with the technology before any benefit is reaped. Electronic technology to support group work is not self -enacting, but rather requires significant investments of time and energy in learning ways to use the tools to best advantage, both on the part of individuals and work groups. (Eveland and Bikson,1990:286) This may mean that initially the group does not achieve an increase in productivity. However as they come to be more familiar with the technology and more comfortable with using it they will increase their productivity greatly. In order for this to occur there has to be match between the technology and the task it is being used for. Gutek (1990 ) looks at the fit between technology and tasks. He sees that the technology must be designed to fit the need it has to meet. Thus if the work group and technology match or fit then there will be greater use of technology, the members of the group will communicate and collaborate more effectively and be more satisfied with their technology and jobs. 3.8 Other Tools for Collaborative Work Until now the discussion has mainly concerned the use of computing technology and its function as a communication aid for group work. However there are other uses of computing technology in work groups which deserve mentioning. "Group decision support systems" are one example of how the computing technology has been integrated into a

system to support problem oriented groups. Groupware is an example of how software can support and even transform group practices. Both these tools, "group decision support systems" and groupware are used to support groups who are not typically dispersed but rather who meet in the same location, meeting face to face. 3.9 Group Decision Support Systems Group decision support systems (GDSS) are used by problem oriented groups to enable a more informed and democratic decision to be made . GDSS 'combine communication, computer, and decision technologies to support the decision-making and related activities of work groups. (Poole and DeSanctis, 1990 : 173) The advantage of the GDSS is that they improve the uncertainty typically associated with problem solving. They do this by providing information applicable to the decision. GDSS systems are effective in that they 'focus the efforts of the group members towards the task or problem to be solved by the group.' (Kraemer and Pinsonneault,1990 : 387) GDSS enhance group work by increasing the depth of analysis, increasing the degree of participation by members and reducing the domination by one or two members, and increasing the consensus among members. This results in a greater quality decision being produced which in turn adds to increase ' the confidence and satisfaction of the group toward the decision'. (Kraemer and Pinsonneault,1990 : 388) Group decision support systems can integrate the use of group methods such as nominal group techniques with modified hardware and software configurations and specially designed meeting rooms. 3.10 Groupware Groupware assists groups in structuring, organising, coordinating and carrying out their work. Groupware is a particular type of software which is designed to support group work. Groupware not only enhances group work by improving the way things are done but also changes they way people work. Galegher and Kraut (1990) in their distinction between 'prescriptive' and 'permissive' technologies show how technology has a dual purpose to advance the current work practices to solve problems in the existing structure and to allow new ways of working to develop which were not possible in the old structure. Groupware is particularly important in the latter of these two uses for technology. Groupware enables innovative group work practices to develop. An example of groupware is the design of electronic diaries or project management tools. An individual may develop a specific timetable and schedule for themselves by using a particular software package. However it would be more beneficial to the group if there was a common timetable or schedule which could used by all members to coordinate their work. As one person changes their entry this effects the overall schedule. Thus if one person cannot meet a deadline to finish work and changes her schedule to fit in with this, the timetable of the entire group will be changed. This means that each person is directly responsible to the group and what they do has consequences for the project as a whole. This may induce people to

work more productively. Another example might be the use of groupware to create live links between documents so that the changes that are made in one part of the document are reflected in another. The changes are dynamic. Imagine you are working on a journal article . You have sent the first draft to a colleague to add any alterations that may be necessary. You come across some information which helps to clarify your argument and want to add it in. Groupware enables any changes you make to be reflected in the copy you have given your colleague. Thus all you are required to do is to add in the appropriate information to your document and the colleagues document will be changed dynamically. A further example of groupware are hypertext software systems which are 'designed to permit scholars and students to access and modify a common file, creating a network of linked text and graphic entries and annotations on a common topic.'(Galegher and Kraut,1990: 3) Hypertext facilitates new ways of carrying out collaborative work. (Landow, 1990) All writing that makes use of reference conventions, however, leads the reader to exit the main text, consider additional material, and return to it. In some cases, material contained in the referenced section leads the reader outside the particular article or book entirely, and the reader may investigate other printed texts before returning to the original one. Imagine if one could simply touch the reference symbol and the indicated additional text appeared. Then imagine if one could touch the title of a work or body of research data mentioned in the additional text and it appeared, too.That is hypertext. (Landow, 1990 : 408) 'Networked hypertext systems characteristically produce a sense of authorship, authorial property an creativity that differs markedly form those associated with book technology.' (Landow, 1990 : 410) The risk with groupware is that if there is not a thorough understanding of the functions and processes of how groups work incorporated into the design of the system then the groupware may not be useful for the group and will not be used. Groupware creates new norms of group work. The designers of the groupware need to keep this in mind when developing their products. They need to create something which will not only aid the existing practices of group work but which develops new, more effective ways of carrying out group work. Computers have an integral role to play in supporting work groups. Computers allow connectivity and communication, aid coordination and control, and provide new ways of approaching work. Computer mediated communication is becoming an important structure within the modern day organization. New group tools such as GDSS and groupware are only now beginning to find a place in the work group structure. Because they involve new ways of looking at work and restructuring the way people work there needs to be careful attention paid to the design and development of these systems. To look more closely at the application of computers into group work it is useful to consider a specific example. Computer mediated groups

and face to face groups provide an interesting comparison which gives us insights into how computers affect group work. 4 : Face to Face and Computer Mediated Groups - Focus Groups and Computer Conferences: An example To look more closely at the effects and influence of computer mediated communication on group work I have taken the specific example of computer conferencing. The relative merits and draw backs of computer conferencing can be seen more clearly when they are compared to face to face groups, in this case focus groups. From research into these two groups I hoped to uncover the basic differences in the two methods, as well as the comparative advantages and disadvantages of each. 4.1 Computer Conferencing Computer conferencing makes use of computer terminals to enable a group of people in different locations to communicate with each other simultaneously. It is really a specific form of electronic mail system, but one in which transactions can be carried out at the same time (in real time, or synchronous) and can involve more than two people. Electronic mail transactions are typically asynchronous and involve only two people. McGrath (1990) distinguishes between two types of computer conference one 'using simultaneous chat mode', the other a more structured system 'limited to one speaker at a time'. The simultaneous chat mode more closely resembles normal face to face conversation, is unstructured and spontaneous. The structured form would typically involve a moderator to regulate discussion and a formal agenda. McGrath's distinction mirrors the difference between a conversation and a formal meeting. A computer conference can have a variety of purposes, but is obviously most useful when individuals are unable to convene in the same place at the same time. It can be the basis of the planning stage of a project, used as a brainstorming tool for generating ideas, as a research tool for gathering people's opinions on certain issues or gaining general information from a number of people at dispersed locations. Generally, computer conferencing might be used in any problem solving context where a face to face meeting is impractical or unfeasible. 4.2 Focus Groups In many ways, focus groups are similar to computer conferences. They involve a small number of people, they happen in real-time, they are problem-oriented and can be either structured or unstructured. The main difference, though, is that they involve groups who meet faceto-face. Focus groups are led by a moderator who regulates the interaction. Generally focus groups are fairly unstructured. In some groups the discussion is tightly regulated by the moderator and there is minimal communication between members. In others, the moderator starts the discussion and only interrupts when necessary. Focus groups, unlike computer conferences, have one primary purpose collecting data. However, they can be used for collecting a wide

range of data where individuals reactions are important, for example, in product testing and questionnaire refinement. Focus groups and computer conferences then can be said to be fairly similar in some ways, the main difference being that focus groups are face to face while computer conferences are dispersed. As I was interested in looking at the implications of computer mediated communication for group work it seemed appropriate to compare computer conferencing, as an example of computer mediated communication, to focus groups. 4.3 The Research Project The best way to compare these two types of group structures is to actually run some examples. Doing this would give a greater appreciation of how the two group methods worked. Traditionally small group researchers have used lab based experiments. My research differed from this as it involved a trial and error method where I ran several groups each at progressive stages of the research.The initial computer conference was to held to gain an understanding of the basic processes involved in conferencing generally. This was followed by two focus groups to provide a measure of comparison. Then a further computer conference was run to clarify some issues which had been raised in earlier trials of the conferences. The aim of the research was to look at the basic structures of the groups, to distinguish the main differences between them, uncover any problems in the computer conferencing set up in particular, and to look at how these problems could be overcome. The first computer conference was run between four staff members of the Sociology Department to discuss future directions in software for the department. The purpose of this conference was to see how computer conferencing could be substituted for a face to face meeting. It was immediately evident from this conference was that computer conferencing is not as simple as sending a normal e.mail message. All members of this group were experienced computer users and all used electronic mail frequently. However the conference was not a success. The overall flow of the discussion was disjointed, entries were not linked and were unrelated to prior ones. There was no method for regulating or coordinating the discussion. Thus the result was an unstructured and confused conference. From the results of this first attempt at computer conferencing I decided to use a more structured approach in my next conference. This conference was compared to two focus groups held on the same topic. These three groups formed the body of my research. The Topic I ran the two focus groups and the computer conference on the topic of the purpose of university from an undergraduates perspective. These groups had the dual purpose of providing me with examples of groups as well as supplying data for a colleague's paper on "Evaluating Change in the Academic Environment". The Participants The first focus group, (Group 1), combined a number of undergraduate students from the Sociology Department. These students were mature age, they were older than the average student and had not come to

university directly from school but had worked prior to entering university or had returned after a period of time away. This group contained five people - three males and two females. The second group, (Group 2), was made up of younger undergraduate students of the Sociology Department who had typically come to university straight from school. This group included six people three males and three females. The computer conference, Group 3, combined three postgraduate students and three undergraduates, three of which were males and three females, of varying ages. I wanted a fairly homogeneous membership for each of the focus groups so that they could be seen to be representative of the particular groups or sectors of the student population. The combination of the groups was relatively uniform. By choosing these group combinations I was attempting to counteract or control for any differences in the group which may arise for reasons other than the method used. This way any differences that did result could be related to the group method. The Setting The focus groups were held in a tutorial room behind desks which were set up in an L shape, with all participants facing the moderator. Because the object of a focus group is discussion , the group should be seated in a manner that provides maximum opportunity for eye contact both with the moderator and other group members...most participants in focus groups feel more comfortable when seated around a table. (Stewart and Shamdasani 1990 : 88)

Figure 2: Tutorial Room showing focus group setting. The focus groups were videoed to obtain an accurate record of the proceedings and to enable further analysis. The groups were also observed from behind a one way mirror and could be heard clearly in the observation room through a speaker system. In the computer conference each of the participants were located at computers in different parts of the building. The computers used were Macintosh LCs, a Macintosh Plus and a Macintosh SE. The application used in the conference was Quick Conference in CE Software's QuickMail. Briefly, Quick Conference is set up so that you choose the participants from a list of online users. Then any messages you send go to each of the participants you have selected. You enter the message in a box at the left hand side of the screen and to send use the mouse to click on the 'send' button. A transcript of the conference appears on the right of the screen including both your message and that of the other participants, indicating who the message is from, the date and time. The box containing the transcript is small and only the last three or four messages can be seen, depending on the size of the message. In order to see the rest of the transcript you can scroll back up and view it.

Figure 3 : Snap shot of Quick Conference interface. The Names So that the group members and the moderator knew the names of all participants, each member wrote their first name on a piece of card and placed it on the desk in front of them. In the computer conference each participant was recognised by their login name, which appeared in a list of users and along with any message which was sent from them. In this particular computer conference each member was given an alias as a login name so that essentially their identities were unknown to the other members. The Moderators A female post graduate student, trained in the running of focus groups acted as the moderator for both focus groups. The moderator wore a small device in her ear, attached to a transmitter through which an observer communicated with her, aiding in prompting and focusing her attention on different aspects of the discussion. In the computer conference the moderator ran the conference from a terminal with the assistance of another researcher who was located at the same terminal. 4.4 The Results Recording the Discussions One of the advantages of a computer conference over a focus group is that you are supplied with an immediate transcript of the proceedings which you can save, store and print out. The transcript includes such details as the name of the person asking the question, who has received the message, what time this occurred and the date. Videoing is a good way of recording a focus group , but if you require proper transcript from which to carry out a content analysis then it is necessary to have the video transcribed. 4.5 Starting Off In the focus groups the moderator began by introducing herself and briefly mentioning the topic for discussion. She also indicated that there were people observing the group and that she was wearing a plug in her ear connected to a transmitter in the room behind. The initial aim of the moderator is to ensure that the group is relaxed and comfortable with one another so that they do not feel intimidated to speak. A focus group should began with a general question and lead to more specific issues. This is known as a funneling approach.(Stewart and Shamdasani, 1990 : 95) In these groups the moderator started by asking the group to write down the three most important things which came to mind when they thought about the experience of university. This started them thinking about the topic generally. She then asked

each in turn to relate the most important thing they had recorded. Thus initiating the discussion and helping to alleviate any fears they may have had about speaking in the group. This was the first time these students had been involved in a computer conference and only one of them had used e.mail before. Thus the session started by briefly explaining how Quick Conference worked. Quick Conference is a very easy application to use and only a brief explanation was required. The group were also briefed on the protocols for participation. The computer conference started by first checking to see if everyone was ready and that they could operate the system. The moderator then began by asking the same question which had been asked to the focus group. They were told to write down their replies and to share these when prompted by the moderator. 4.6 The Role of the Moderator The moderator was important in initiating the discussion, prompting participants to elaborate, drawing all participants into the discussion and focusing the discussion on certain issues. In the focus groups the moderator addressed specific questions to individuals as well as asking general questions of the whole group. This was similar in the computer conference . Questions which were specifically addressed to individuals were prefaced with the name of the person. " Kate: What do you mean by knowledge?" In some cases the same question was asked of more than one person: "Tom and Sonia: What do you think is the most important?" At other times multiple questions were asked. Different questions were asked in the same entry. "Bill: What sort of skills? Kate: Do you still think you didn't learn any skills." This was to assist in keeping the interest of the participants and to maintain the flow of the conversation. The other type of question was a general question which was addressed to all participants and was prefaced by "general question". 4.7 Regulating Discussion and Taking Turns According to McGrath Groups engaged in face-to-face communication exhibit a remarkably orderly pattern of communication, as if there were a rigourous set of norms or rules regulating behaviour...There are few interruptions or times when more than one person is speaking. There are relatively few silences and those tend to be short. (1990 : 45 ) This was true of both focus groups, particularly in the early stages of the discussion. Initially the moderator controlled most of the discussion prompting participants to elaborate on their answers and directing the general focus of the discussion. The members of the group tended to answer directly to her. However as the discussion advanced members began to expand on their answers without being

prompted, and began to talk to the group rather than always referring back to the moderator. Also, the participants began to feed off the answers of the others, expanding on what they had said, agreeing, disagreeing and offering further examples. The transition from one speaker to the next was smooth and orderly. As I have already mentioned the first computer conference, which was run, the software conference, revealed that there were basic structural problems in computer conferencing. This was because there was no procedure for regulating the discussion or changing the speakers. Thus I decided to use a more structured approach in this conference by setting some protocols. In the briefing prior to the conference the students were told that they were only to respond if a question was asked to them specifically or if a general question was asked. This indicated that they were not free to ask questions of the other participants or interrupt the general discussion. This resembles McGrath's example of a structured conference where discussion was limited to one speaker at a time. By using this structured format the problem of turn taking and changing speakers was reduced. However it created further problems. The main problem was the participants felt that the conference had been "boring"and that it was "too slow". There was a lot of delay between questions and a lot of waiting. This was partly due to the time it took to type the entries. People take considerably longer to type than to speak even if they are skilled typists. Also because of the structured format of the conference, having always to refer back to the moderator, it was difficult to involve all the members in the discussion. After running the conference I held a face to face discussion with the students who had participated. One aspect that came up in this meeting was that the students felt unless they were being addressed specifically or a general question was being asked to the group they did not pay attention to what was going on in the conference . Because they were told at the beginning of the conference that they were not to interact directly with the other members they paid less attention to what the others were saying. A similar experiment was conducted by Sproull and Kiesler. They also found that there was a lack if consistency in the conference and designed a system to counter this. Because everyone was reading and writing at once, discussion seemed disorderly. To impose more order, we wrote a program that allowed only one member to "talk" at a time. It forced group members to press a special key when they wanted to talk. People not only hated this ; they behaved very badly, refusing to relinquish their turn when asked or repeatedly banging the request key. They let us know what they thought of our foray into automated management of group discussion. (Kiesler and Sproull, 1991: 74 - 75) It is difficult to determine what length of structure you should add into a computer conference. Sproull and Kiesler decided that less structure was a preferable alternative. However there may be cases

when it is more applicable to use a structured format and others when a less ordered, more conversational structure is viable. 4.8 Prompts In the focus groups the moderator provided constant reassurance. She was continually saying "right" and encouraging the speaker to continue. This was also true of other members of the group who provided the same types of motivation to continue speaking: nodding, saying "right", and "yeh".; not necessarily indicating that they agreed with the speaker's point of view but that they understood what they were saying. Prompts took a different form in the computer conference. A couple of times the moderator had to remind the respondent to reply, but on the whole prompts did not operate as an informal mechanism to keep the discussion going as they had done in the focus groups. 4.9 Non Verbal Cues In the focus groups non verbal cues were important in encouraging the speakers to continue talking. There were a lot of non-verbal cues such as nodding throughout both groups. Even when participants were not speaking they were still involved in the discussion, often nodding in agreement, laughing and listening. The facial expression of the participants allowed the other members of the group and the moderator to gauge when they were unsure about something or when they disagreed with something the speaker was saying. They also aided in signalling when a person had finished speaking, wished to say more or required more information. Non -verbal cues are obviously missing from a computer conference. This is one of the reasons it is so difficult to coordinate and regulate changing of "speakers". The absence of non verbal cues and facial expressions also has other draw backs. It is more difficult to express emotions such as anger, frustration, joy or sorrow. This problem was encountered in a conference I ran between a group of students in a software workshop. " From : Jane How do you express anger or assertiveness on this thing From: Lyn ####****@@@sh*t %$@FB etc From Jane TWICE!!!! " The use of punctuation and symbols may help to convey meaning and express emotion. However they are not really an effective means of doing so and attention must be paid to the wording of entries so as not to create confusion or misunderstanding. A smiling face, typed rotated as :-) , suggests a joke or happiness. Bad news or unhappiness is conveyed by :-( . Although such cues weakly signal mood, they are flat and stereotyped. The boss's smiling face looks not different

from the secretary's . Mild amusement looks no different from hilarity. (Sproull and Kiesler, 1991 : 51) These types of cues were not used in the main computer conference. 4.10 Participation and Interaction Patterns All of the participants in Group 1 had something to say although some spoke more than others. Two of the participants who were sitting next to one another in the 1 and 2 spots (refer to Figure 1) tended to contribute more than the others, sometimes discussing issues between themselves, the other members of the group occasionally intervening. The number 1 speaker tended to speak most of the time often drawing the conversation back to himself and his own experiences. One member of the group, in the number 3 spot, was quieter than the others , although when questioned he was able to respond, indicating that he did have something to say. Another member in the number 4 spot tended not to speak until he was asked by the moderator. However once he began, he spoke at length. In the second group, Group 2, there was a more even distribution of speakers. All speakers contributed to the discussion. A couple of members spoke a little more than others but generally conversation was shared. The main speaker was in the number 1 spot and he tended to get a little off track. However he usually pitched his discussion at the group attempting to include them: "I don' know about you guys but..." This was different from the main speaker in Group 1 who did not appear to relate what he was saying to the group. In the focus groups personality played a role in determining who spoke, how often and for how long. Participation in the computer conference was more evenly distributed. Because the members only "spoke" when asked the moderator had control over this element of the participation. The length of the replies was fairly consistent. All were quite short, usually one or two sentences. 4.11 Control Group 1 was a fairly controlled and orderly group. Although they did disagree on several aspects they carried on a calm and directed debate. There was more tension in Group 2 over differing opinionssome members appeared to find some resentment in what other people were saying and this was detected in the tone of their voice and in their reluctance to join in the conversation rather than in the content of what they said. Control of the computer conference was maintained by the moderator. There were only one or two instances where the participants broke away from the general group discussion. Content In Group 1 a large proportion of the discussion was anecdotal ,with people describing their own experiences. Some members tended to be

easily diverted, sharing experiences and relating stories and often taking a long time to actually express what they wanted to say. My overall impression of this group was that there was a lot of talking going on and quite a bit of information being produced. However a lot of what was said could have been said more concisely, taken less time, and provided more opportunity for other issues to be discussed The answers of group 2 were not as anecdotal as group 1. Group 2 used more objective language when discussing issues although at times they expressed strong personal views. Their replies tended to be inconsistent and contradictory in some instances. The replies in the computer conference were shorter and free of anecdote. Although at the time the discussion appeared to disjointed and difficult to understand, the transcript was fairly easy to read and to follow. The information generated was useful and interesting but the participants tended to feel that the conference had not been a success. People seem to feel that the most satisfactory or effective interactions are ones in which they have talked a lot. [However there is a] low correlation between how much people talk and how effectively they communicate. (Krauss and Fussell, 1990 ) In face to face discussions because people are talking this makes them feel that the are taking an active and important part in the group. However in computer conferences because they do not get immediate feedback or non verbal cues and encouragement they tend to feel less involved an lose interest quickly, feeling as though they have not contributed. 4.13 Communication efficiency - understanding In the first group there appeared to be no difficulty either on the part of the moderator or other members of the group in understanding what members were saying. However some members in the second focus group had trouble articulating their ideas. There was some confusion at times about what participants were saying, and this was expressed by the moderator and from the other members of the group. To obtain clearer understanding of the participants answer the moderator would say "I'm not sure what you mean can you explain that some more". In one instance the moderator asked another member of the group to express what she thought the other member was trying to say. The confusion which resulted from not being able to express clearly what they had to say appeared to create some anxiety in the speakers. In the computer conference there were occasional ambiguous entries but generally they were fairly explanatory. They lacked the assistance of non verbal cues which made comprehension a little difficult at times. One of the things which came up in the discussion after the conference was the difficulty people had in constructing their messages. " You have to think before you reply. You have to think about what you're going to write, how your going to phrase it and about the spelling!!"

One opinion was that the conference allowed for a more honest response. "You say things that you wouldn't normally say in a face to face group situation." This may apply to people who feel particularly intimidated by face to face discussions. 4.14 Ambience The first the group with what group, 1, focus group appeared to enjoy talking, felt comfortable in and were not afraid to offer suggestions or to disagree the others had to say. The more talkative member of the enjoyed reminiscing about past experiences.

General discussion may be necessary in some cases for group members to feel comfortable in the group situation; comfortable enough to be able to share their opinions without feeling intimidated. This goal was achieved fairly early on in the discussion. However this would have been facilitated by the fact that all members were known to one another before the group commenced and under different circumstances it may have taken longer for the group to feel at ease. The second group also appeared to be relaxed and generally comfortable with the situation. There was humour evident in all groups. In the focus groups people could joke between one another about their experiences and about what they were saying. In the computer conference people also showed humour in their answers. "General Question: So have you developed any work skills in an Arts degree? From: Jim I know where the uni bar is " The humour in a computer conference is different to that of a normal face to face discussion. In a computer conference the words that have been chosen, the spelling or miss spelling can add to the humour.


Computer conferencing : Some Suggestions

Having discussed the results of the computer conference and the focus groups it is now necessary to look more closely at the contexts in which computer conferences are most appropriate. Obviously if you have a dispersed group and you want to run a meeting or discuss a problem then it is useful to run a computer conference. However computer conferences also have other advantages. They allow a more even participation of members. They are useful when you do not want the discussion to be dominated by a particular person or when you want to focus the discussion on a specific problem and you want people to concentrate on the problem without getting off the topic or lapsing into anecdote. In computer conferences people tend to be more direct and focussed on the topic. One thing that was uncovered in the research was that computer conferences will only work in some circumstances. With the initial

conference the problem was that the issue we were trying to discuss was too broad. The problem needed clarifying and the conference needed a clear objective or set of objectives. In this instance it would have been better to have had a face to face discussion to begin in with in the problem definition stage. This way we could have decided what exactly it was that we were trying to do. Once this had been decided we could have carried on further discussions at a later point via electronic mail. The computer conference could be run at the second stage of the problem solving. Once the problem had been clarified and there was a specific focus a computer conference it would be a useful way of continuing the discussion and of reaching a consensus. In computer mediated groups reaching a consensus tends to take longer than in face to face groups but the participants are usually happier with the result. Because there has not been pressure to conform with the group, individuals are more likely to argue their case and thus the final result will be a better indication of the opinions of the group as a whole. Because a computer conference tends to be slow it would be better in some cases to use a specific agenda. Thus you could structure your questions so that they only required brief answers and less typing. In cases were you were interested in making decisions about a set of issues it may be appropriate to ask the participants to make a simple yes/ no judgment. One of the problems with computer conferences is that the discussion tends to become focused on one particular path and once it had began to go this way it is difficult to back track to the original point of discussion. Thus in some problem solving contexts different types of group set ups may be more appropriate. In the next section an example of an alternative type of group set up is used. 5 - Computerizing Problem Oriented Groups There can be various sorts of problem solving techniques adopted by groups. The techniques used by the group depend on what they are trying to achieve. Focus Groups and Computer Conferences are two types of group techniques which can be used by problem oriented groups. Focus Groups are particularly useful if the issue is to probe deeply into the nature of a problem or focus on a particular issue. Computer Conferences can be useful if the relevant group members are dispersed and needs to discuss a number of points, brainstorm, or generate ideas. In situations where the group is involved in defining the problem or determining the focus then face to face groups are usually preferable. The software group which I described in the previous section is an example of a group which should have involved a face to face meeting to first decide the nature of the problem. In that instance we had decided that we would look at what direction the department should take with further software acquisitions. The problem was that everyone wanted to talk about something different and there was no general cohesion. So the conference was disjointed and confusing, we all wanted to take the discussion in different ways. In this case it would have been more appropriate for us to have held a short face to face discussion

to decide what it was about future direction in software we wanted to discuss. Then we could have dispersed, carried out a couple of e.mail conversations and then held a conference to make the final decision about which way to go. Computer conferences are a useful way of reaching consensus in a problem situation as they aid in keeping the focus on the problem directed and dispel any distractions which may be apparent in a face to face group. This is fine if you have a group within an organization who could convene in a face to face meeting. However what if you have a dispersed group who cannot meet, and what if you have an issue which cannot be solved in a synchronous discussion, a problem which requires reflection, comtemplation, more careful attention to the development of ideas and discussion of alternatives? In these cases it is appropriate to adopt an alternative problem solving method. Nominal Group Technique (NGT) is an alternate group technique which used in conjunction with computer communication can allow this type of group problem solving to occur. The basis of nominal group techniques is that each group member sees what the others think and can then modify his or her thinking. Computerized nominal group techniques are particularly useful if the opinions of experts in an area who are located at various points around the world and quick results are required. 5.1 Nominal Group Techniques (NGT) Nominal group techniques involve a group of people who want to identify problems, explore possible solutions, plan a particular course of action, set goals and priorities, or assess or evaluate a particular program. A group who needs to develop ideas and explore more complex topics which cannot be resolved in a face to face discussion will benefit from nominal group techniques. Nominal groups are groups in name only in the sense that they do not interact with one another but use a moderator to collect and assemble the ideas and opinions of each of the members. The traditional nominal group technique involves groups who meet face to face but do not interact. The stages of this process are 'silent generation of ideas', 'round -robin recording of ideas' where ideas are written on a set of boards for all members to see, 'serial discussion of the list of ideas' where members clarify the meaning of the ideas , and voting - where members usually rank the ideas in order of preference.(Moore, 1987). Members of the group can develop their own ideas separately, each is able to share their ideas and they can then at a later stage expand on the ideas of the other members. Later nominal group techniques and the type which will mainly be referred to here involve groups who are physically separated and who do not meet face to face, members often remaining anonymous. Nominal group techniques provide the group with the advantages of group work. By combining the ideas and opinions of a number of people there is a greater number of ideas produced, alternative perspectives , broader and differing inputs into the group. Nominal group techniques also add to this the advantages of working alone . The main advantage of these types of groups is that they do not

interact and in some cases do not meet, so they overcome any problems which may arise in face to face interaction. One of the problems associated with face to face groups is focusing or fixing on a particular issue or train of thought rather than exploring the alternatives and thus stagnating ideas and inhibiting creativity. (Delbecq , Van de Ven and Gustafon, 1975 ) Other problems include conformity, status, and domination by louder members. All of the problems mentioned here can be overcome, or at least reduced, by using nominal group technique. In nominal groups all members have a chance to contribute and have their contributions considered by the group. They have time to consider and reflect on the what they want to say and to explore their own ideas. Nominal groups have the advantage that they incorporate the opinions of all members. There is no risk of the members being intimidated by other more dominant members, or of not having a turn to share their ideas. Nominal groups are also useful where conflict may be present in the group. Conflicting ideas are more likely to be aired and tolerated if they expressed through a nominal group. If the group is dispersed and members remain anonymous then the group is less likely to be troubled by status or personality differences which may prejudiced some members of the groups against the contributions of others. The emphasis in nominal groups is on the development of the individual product which is then pooled, and combined with the work of other members, so that the final product is the collaborated efforts of the whole group. 5.2 Delphi Groups Delphi is a type of nominal group and thus the advantages are the same as those in nominal groups. The purpose of a delphi group is to forecast future directions. Delphi groups are always dispersed and usually anonymous. They are particularly appropriate when diverse expert judgments have to be combined to get a forecast. A delphi group can be quite large, incorporating a number of members in different locations. They are useful in cases when there are too many people to hold a face to face meeting, and can involve people who are unable to convene at the same place or same time. This may be the case when you are trying to collect the opinions of experts especially if international membership of the group is desirable.The traditional form of a delphi involves sending out questionnaires. Delphi groups are particularly useful in predicting trends in technology. They can also be used for project management, preparing agendas, collaborative research , technology assessment, communications for deaf and home-bound handicapped and 'forecasting and exploratory conferencing'. (Lindstone and Turoff, 1975). 5.3 NGT, Delphi and CMC. Running a nominal or delphi group can be quite a long and drawn out process.The various stages involve contacting members, sending out questions, collecting and summarising , redistributing the summaries , collecting the responses to these and so on. These processes may be carried out several times depending on the nature of the responses, the size of the group and the complexity of the issues. Contacting people, sending out the information and waiting for responses all take up time.

If these groups use computer mediated communication then they can be run more quickly, the data is already in computerised format so it can be processed more easily and the overall effectiveness of the group is improved because members do not lose initiative or focus. (Price, 1975) The members of the group can be contacted, sent the question/s , and send their replies via computer . The advantages of using this type of method nominal group with computer mediated communication are shown in the research project I conducted across the network using nominal group technique. 5.4 NGT Project The aim of this project was to investigate how to run a type of nominal group via computer involving people interested in the area of computers and communication, and to identify the potential for this type of group work. 5.5 Method of Research This research involved several stages. The first involved finding and contacting members. The second stage involved sending out questionnaires to participants to find out more information about the "types" of people I had involved. The third stage involved writing a brief scenario and obtaining initial reactions from the group. After receiving these replies the objective was to summarize them and then redistribute and ask each of the members to write a brief comment on this summary . The final product was to be a focused report on problems arising in international conferencing. 5.6 The Topic The following problem was sent to all participants and they were asked to simply write down any reactions or initial thoughts they had about this. The Problem "Imagine trying to run an international computer conference across the network. The focus of the conference would be on computer based information. What are the issues that should be considered in running this type of conference? Think about such things as the advantages of running the conference the major obstacles you may encounter, the sorts of outcomes you should aim to achieve and what sorts of resources you would need to mount the conference. " 5.7 Finding Participants Attracting participants was the first major step in the project. A message was sent to a selected number of Comserve Hotlines requesting participants. 'Comserve is an electronic information service for people interested in human communication studies'. (Comserve Electronic Information Service). Comserve organizes its discussion lists into groups called" Hotlines". The request for participants was sent to the "MassComm", "Interper", and "CMC" hotlines. The request briefly outlined the nature of the project and asked people interested in participating to respond as soon as possible . The request was sent out on the Tuesday evening and the next day I

had received thirty -two replies. The day after twelve more people responded and this continued with a total of fifty-two people responding to the initial request. The two things that were surprising and impressive about the replies were: the promptness of the replies and the enthusiasm expressed by the respondents. Imagine trying to attract this scope of attention to a project you were running if you advertised it in some other way. The advantage of this method was that in 'posting' my request to these particular groups it was addressing a group who were interested in the area of computer communications. To contact these people without this advantage would have involved first finding a list of people interested in the area. Then locating their addresses and phoning or writing to see if they were wanted to take part in the project. This would have been difficult as most of the participants were located overseas. Such a process would no doubt involve numerous phone calls to catch the person I wanted and once found they would have to agree to being involved. Alternatively, I could have advertised in a journal but this would also have require more time and effort I my behalf and also on the part of the respondents. The amount of effort required from the respondents in the electronic example was minimal. All they had to do was to read the request, write a reply and send it off. The whole process would have taken them about five minutes. There was a great deal of enthusiasm expressed in the replies. People were interested in what I was doing and wanted to help. "I' m interested in participating in your project ; my own interest/research have been in this area as well, and I'd like to help in any helpful way." "You can count me in on your research I look forward to being of assistance". 5.8 Advantages of Using Computerized NGT Thus the main advantages with this approach were: the speed with which I was able to get people involved the number of and type of people I was able to attract were interested in the area I was researching. Many of them taught in the area of cmc, some had written major works on the topic. the ease with which respondents were able to answer my request The advantage in using this type of group problem solving experiment was that I could involve people who were interested in the field I was researching. Most of the students taught in the area, others were students with a general interest in CMC or who were writing papers similar to my own. I was not limited to people who were close by or within my own institution. Most of the respondents were in American Universities. I had a couple of replies from other Australians, as well as some from England, India, Finland and Canada. Running each stage of the research was quick. The members of the group replied promptly to all of my requests. Those who were unable to continue participation or who foresaw that they would be slow in

responding sent me messages to this effect. Sending out the various stages of the research problem required little effort . A facility called 'nicknames' in the mail program I was using enabled me to set the participants up in a group so that I could send the same message to all respondents at the same time. This type of nominal group is an effective means of problem solving. This method has immense potential as a research tool for carrying out world-wide surveys. 6. Collaborative Computing Work Groups - A Conclusion Having considered the advantages of using work groups, alternative group methods and information technology in supporting, enhancing and developing new opportunities for group work it is now appropriate to look at when these can be used and how they can be used together at different stages of the group process. 6.1 Face to face groups The advantage of face to face groups is that they closely resemble informal interactions. Thus all of the norms usually associated with conversation are present allowing the discussion to be regulated and conversation to flow coherently. Non-verbal cues, facial expressions and tone of voice all assist in making the discussion fulfilling and rewarding. Face to face meetings also have their draw backs. One of the problems is that face to face groups run the risk of being dominated by louder or higher status members, thus reducing the opportunity for all members to contribute. In face to face groups conformity is a also a problem. Members may feel inticed into conforming with the general feelings of the group even if they do not agree with them. Individuals may conform simply to avoid conflict or to allow a quicker consensus to be reached so that the meeting will conclude. Face to face meetings tend to be channelled into focusing on only one aspect of the issue rather than exploring alternatives. Face to face meetings are useful in the initial stage of a project when the problem needs to be defined and strategies decided upon. Brainstorming Brainstorming is a specific type of group method which involves generating ideas. The aim is to generate a large number of ideas regardless of how absurd or outlandish they are. At a later stage these then can be sorted through and a decision made about their viability. The advantage of brainstorming is that you have a number of people together and if all of their ideas are pooled then you will have a greater number and variety . The disadvantage of brainstorming is that creative thinking may be inhibited for rather than exploring all possible ideas members may get caught focusing on a particular idea which has been raised by one of the members. Rather than generating alternative ideas they will be concentrating one line of thought. It is useful in brainstorming groups to include a silent ideas writing stage where individuals can think without being influenced by the group. Focus Groups

Focus groups are used for collecting data. They are a specific type of face to face group, led by a moderator. The idea of a focus group is to concentrate or focus on a certain issue. A focus group allows you to collect the opinions of a particular group who is representative of a sector of society. Some examples are mature age students, young mothers, teenage boys , members of a community group or organization. The advantage of focus groups that you can obtain more indepth data than from a questionnaire and can collect the opinions of a group rather than an individual. A important advantage of focus groups is that they are a quick, cheap and easy way of obtaining data. A disadvantage of focus groups is that they are dependent on group dynamics to be successful. If there is a particularly dominant member who is continually talking or members get caught up in anecdote or there are conflicting personalities then the group will become unsettled and the information generated will be minimal. It is the role of the moderator in focus groups to maintain control and focus the attention of the members. This can be a difficult task. 6.2 Computer based Groups Computer mediated communication is the means by which individuals can communicate with others across a network via their computer terminals. The advantage of CMC is that it allows members of dispersed groups to be connected, to exchange information, communicate their progress and coordinate their work. CMC is useful whether the group is dispersed within an organization, or world-wide. The disadvantage of CMC is that it lacks any non-verbal cues which usually regulate discussion. Electronic Mail E.mail is the more common form of computer mediated communication. It allows individuals to send messages or memos from their computers. E.mail allows quick communication between individuals and it has the added advantage that communication can be asynchronous. It can cut across barriers of distance and time. The disadvantage of e.mail is that because non-verbal cues and tone of voice are absent the message relies on the written word to communicate and convey meaning. This may result in messages being interpreted incorrectly and misunderstood. Thus the sender needs to be aware of who he is sending the message to and what he is trying to convey. E.mail can be used as a messaging system, for sending memos to a group of people or simply communicating on a more informal basis with other individuals. It may be particularly useful in a group context for coordinating meetings, checking progress and providing support and encouragement. Computer Conferencing Computer conferencing is a form of e.mail which involves synchronous or real time discussion. Its main purpose is in allowing a group meeting to take place between members who are at different locations. It is also a useful way of problem solving without the problems associated in face to face groups. Members of a problem based group will take longer to reach consensus in a computer conference but the decision is more likely to be a better representation of the whole

group. The disadvantage of computer conferences is that they tend to be disjointed and confusing. Their are no mechanisms for regulating discussion or of controlling turn taking and attempts to overcome this by applying more structure tend to be boring, members are excluded and the discussion lacks spontaneity. One way of attempting to prevent this is by setting an agenda which only involves a minimal amount of typing from respondents and which keeps the discussion flowing. Nominal Groups Nominal group techniques involve a group of people who usually do not meet and are often anonymous. The various stages involve contacting participants, getting them to write on a particular issue or problem, collecting their responses, summarising them and redistributing them for further comment. The advantage of nominal group techniques is that problems normally associated with face to face groups can be overcome because the members do not interact. Also the benefits of group work such as pooling ideas and collaborating can be achieved in a nominal group. When used with CMC these groups can be used more effectively allowing greater and varied membership and a quicker more efficient means of disseminating and collecting the various stages of the project. Computer mediated nominal groups are a useful way of tackling problems which cannot be solved in a synchronous discussion and which require reflection and contemplation. They are useful for the problem definition stage of the problem solving process in particular and when you want to develop a model or report. 6.3 Combining Methods The various group methods which have been discussed above each have their advantages and disadvantages. Thus it is useful to look at how they could be used together at different stage of the group process. We have already discussed how the software group would have benefitted by combining a face to face meeting with electronic mail discussions and a computer conference, and there may be more applications for linking these methods. I saw an example of this recently when I was asked to partake in discussion with two other people . The objective of the discussion was to generate some ideas for a book review. I suggested we try a computer conference and received the following reply: My first reaction to your suggestion was that I prefer a faceto-face discussion, since we can EXCHANGE more ideas in a shorter amount of time that way. This appeals to me. On reflection, however, I realise that an email-exchange (not real-time computer "conferencing") would let other "interested" people benefit from and contribute to the discussion in an "offline" mode. They would spend their time thinking about the subject--and not be taking up my time in a meeting while they were doing it. I could benefit later by reading their contribution and making use of their ideas in my proposed book review.

I propose a compromise: Let's go ahead and have an initial discussion. Iwill write up a draft book review on the basis of topics we cover in the discussion, then email it to you, Sue, and any other interested parties. We can then carry on a group email discussion of futher points or suggestedrefinements to my draft. I am quite happy to have other people contribute by becoming co-authors of the book review. This type of interchange could even be mentioned as part of the book review, to show how electronicinterchange is affecting communication and collaboration. (Steven Bittinger, e.mail message 15/11/91) This is an interesting example of how face to face and computer mediated communication can be linked and shows how the two can be productively incorporated into group work. 6.4 Future Directions I have outlined several of the possibilities for using computers in group work. However there are even greater opportunities and possibilities for this type of work group. There is a need for further research to be done in this area. In particular in looking at the effect of information technology on groups and in determining which types of group methods and computing tools are suited for what groups and in which stage of the group process they are appropriate. More careful attention needs to be taken by those people involved in designing the tools to support group work to the way groups work together. They need to consider those things which are required by the group to make it work more productively and effectively . They also need to consider in what way the technology can change the way groups work and help to create more productive systems of group work. This a relatively new and exciting area which requires further research and investigation. References Ancona, Deborah G. and Caldwell, David F. (1990) ' Information Technology and Work Groups: The Case of New Product Teams' Pp 173 - 190 in Jolene Galegher, Robert E. Kraut and Carmen Egido (eds) Intellectual Teamwork: Social and Technological Foundations of Cooperative Work (Hillsdale New Jersey : Lawrence Earlbaum Associates inc) Asch, Solomon E. (1955) 'Opinions and Social Pressure ' Pp. 318 - 324 in Paul A. Hare, Edgar F. Borgatta and Robert F.Bales (eds) Small Groups: Studies in Social Interaction (New York : Alfred.A.Knopf) Bell, Daniel ( 1973)The Coming of Industrial Society: a venture in social forecasting. (New York : Basic Books) Bikson,Tora K. and Eveland, J.D (1990) ' The Interplay of Work Group Structures and Computer Support' Pp. 245 - 290 in Jolene Galegher, Robert E. Kraut and Carmen Egido (eds) Intellectual Teamwork: Social and Technological Foundations of Cooperative Work (Hillsdale New Jersey : Lawrence Earlbaum Associates inc ) Delbecq, Andre L. , Van de Ven, Andrew H. and Gustafon, David H. (1975) Group Techniques for Program Planning : a guide to nominal group and delphi processes. (Glenview, Illinios : Scott, Foresman and

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