This week’s readings focused on theoretical frameworks and approaches for doing CSCW research. This was timely reading as I am starting to think about how my own PhD research is going to unfold.
Conducting Behavioral Research
Reading Easterbrook et al. provided a useful review of the theoretical positions one takes as a researcher and how that influences the design of a research endeavour. I have always believed my thinking lies most in line with the constructivist approach, which is closely aligned with ethnographic methods seeking to investigate users “in the wild”.
The article serves as a great reminder of the research process covering research questions, theory, methods, data collection and validity. I also appreciated the reminder of the need to reflect upon and make explicit our philosophical stance when approaching a research project as it will undoubtedly impact our direction.
McGrath’s (1995) article echoes the importance of thoughtful and considered research design specifically for conducting behavioural research. McGrath also offers some techniques for gaining access to data for behavioural research including self-reporting, observation, trace measures, and archival records. As this article was written in 1995 I am sure there are some further data points for doing behavioural research. Certainly the proliferation and accessibility of video has opened up lots of opportunities for behavioral research.
I thought about web analytics as a trace measure, “records of behavior that are laid down by the behavior itself”. I have used web activity analytics as a measure myself for some research projects, but like the example provided of shoes on a museum floor, found that while trace measures give an indication of where an individual has traversed in an environment, they do not say much about what they did or how they interpreted the experience. Web analytics are quite easy to obtain nowadays and can be considered as data for research. One interesting measure within the category of web analytics is search queries. I am always interested to see what sorts of queries are being run in collaborative spaces as it provides an indication of what questions people are seeking to answer.
A new lens for looking at CSCW
I found the third article by Lee and Paine (2015) exceptionally interesting. The authors argue that instead of seeking to map the best technologies which support computer supported collaborative work, we should take a closer look at the nature of ‘work’ in each case. This is helpful for me, as really the ‘work’ can take on many forms with varied scope. Rather than focusing on the scale or scope of CSCW or focusing on the time/space dimension of CSCW the authors propose a new model which seeks to describe the nature of the work, or coordinated action, which we are seeking to facilitate.
Furthermore the paper addresses the notion of emergent coordinated action which I find intriguing. I believe this represents new collaborative social practices which are emerging enabled by new technologies. I imagine there might be some examples from Twitter here, such as people gathering around a hashtag and having a discussion.
The Model of Coordinated Action (MoCA) identifies seven dimensions which can be used to describe and plan for coordinated action. I wanted to think through the seven dimensions in my own context of supporting groups of students using educational technology as they undertake a course.
- Synchronicity (asynchronous <-> synchronous) – certainly groups of students are going to be working in both synchronous and asynchronous ways.
- Physical distribution (same location <-> different location) – in my context students are mostly working together from a geographically similar location. Let’s say that the participants are all within the same city, which would be much different than in multiple cities and across time zones.
- Scale (2<->More) – Courses on our campus usually have quite small class sizes.
- Number of communities of practice (0<->More) – Here is where things start to get interesting. When selecting technology to support an online course I have never really considered the fact that the community may contain multiple communities of practice. It does make sense though, especially in a course where you may have students from multiple disciplines pursuing different majors. Even in our course we have folks from computer science and other disciplines as well as undergraduate, masters and PhD students. Certainly this is an important consideration when figuring out how collaborative work should be designed.
- Nascence (routine <-> developing) – Another interesting one in the context of technology enabled course design. In the example of the CSC course we are undertaking, I understand that we are using some unstandardized artifacts to support our collaboration. We are not using the institutional LMS (moodle or connex) platforms to support our work. Perhaps using Github, Slack and WordPress together is new to some (myself included). It’s an important consideration when designing for collaboration, how much nascence can the group tolerate? If we were all first year students we might use more routine tools which would be familiar to us.
- Planned permanence (short-term<->long-term) – In terms of permanence, there is very little in undergraduate work. Courses start and end within quite well defined time periods. I can see how this would create local and temporary alignment of practices (LTAP) to meet the needs of the course. This is another interesting dimension to consider, especially in the context of student work, where they might be coordinating their work in a number of different ways in the various classes they are taking. I appreciated the author’s analogy of a family setting up tents at a campsite for a week-long stay versus the same family building a home meant to last for years to describe permanence.
- Turnover (low<->high) – In courses turnover tends to be low, at least after the drop date. For the most part students become committed to success in a course and that should motivate their work and participation in CSCW.
I am interested in the MoCA as a way to strategically consider how to support CSCW amongst groups of students. The dimensions of communities of practice, nascence, and planned permanence offer new lenses for me think through the challenges of CSCW. I will be following the development of the MoCA.
If you are interested in hearing one of the authors explain this paper and address some questions, check out the video below.
Easterbrook, S., Singer, J., Storey, M. A., & Damian, D. (2008). Selecting empirical methods for software engineering research. In Guide to advanced empirical software engineering (pp. 285-311). Springer London.
Lee, C. P., & Paine, D. (2015, February). From The Matrix to a Model of Coordinated Action (MoCA): A Conceptual Framework of and for CSCW. In Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (pp. 179-194). ACM.
Mcgrath, E. (1995). Methodology matters: Doing research in the behavioral and social sciences. In Readings in Human-Computer Interaction: Toward the Year 2000.