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Group 7 of IRLS 575
Groupware: Message Boards and Wikis
Chat transcripts: Students of the World D2L
D2l and Students of the World chat were used for our group collaboration. This tool was mainly utilized for administrative issues and checking in with group members. Our group used chat as way to feel connected to each other in a synchronous format largely to ensure we were all "on the same page." Typically it was used to coordinate revisions and provide updated scheduling and issue conferencing. It was not used for significant revisions of work or long discussions of our assignment. The d2l chat worked fine for the above uses. It can be slow to update, and shouldn’t be used if there is going to be rapid interaction back and forth. Since it is hard to know if a user is on the d2l chat, we would schedule a chat beforehand and often first post on the d2l discussion board when the chat was beginning.
Email was another occasional tool for facilitating group communication. Email was generally more of a wrap-up and basic summary tool. If several different items were changing or being updating by various members on the discussion board, chat, and wiki; an email would be sent as a heads up. Overall, email was used the least for this group project.
We all liked the scratchpad setup though some of the initial editorial hints needed to be more easily accessible during editing. There was a significant learning curve for all members. It provided us with a great workspace for piecing together our group experience before the final edition is due. We are appreciative of the accessibility for viewing edits of all members. This contributed largely to the feeling of collaboration on the group project.
Scratchpad is an excellent example of the ease by which Wiki's can be accessed for groupwork. Advantages to the wiki include a democratization of information and an opportunity for an asynchronous melding of ideas. Wikis are an excellent tool for constructing a list of resources, planning group projects, or for the purposes of this project; the sharing and collaboration of research and ideas. We feel the wiki is one of the best tools for collaboration. The largest issue with wikis is the inability to index and/or organize information for this reason, some members have minor concerns with its use as a dedicated groupware tool.
In the article "Wide Open Spaces: Wikis, Ready or Not", Brian Lamb elaborates the common objections to the use of the wiki as groupware. The chief concern in the use of the wiki is the fact that anyone and everyone has access to edit the information. However, Lamb argues that the "soft security" of the wiki works because everyone has ownership. Fundamentally it is equally easy and far more likely wiki watchdogs will catch lapses and "fix" false information.
Group 7 discussion board on D2l
The members-only discussion board on d2l has been used consistently throughout this assignment. For some members of the group, this is the first time a separate message board has been made available for groupwork. Previously they had been required to use email as the only tool used in the development of the project. The convenience of having our own board is having a bulk of our work and discussions stored in one spot accessible by the entire group. It is checked it more often because members are already checking the discussion boards at least daily, if not more. The discussion boards have an ease in accessibility as there are no time constraints for "checking in". The user is free (within reason) to work at a self moderated pace. One important detraction (for this group) is that the inviduals members are only indication as to group participation is through participatory feedback.
Message boards are an excellent groupware communication resource. This group has used the D2L message board as a foundation for keeping this project on schedule. We have set up other systems for contributions and communications, but ironically we all feel the need to replicate these efforts on the message board "just to be safe". We are appreciative of the message board as both a learning tool and communication device because it allows the user to be free of the constraints on scheduling and content. Synchronous forms of communication like in person meetings or chat require the participants to formulate and share ideas simultaneously. Message boards provide the convenience of catching up when time allows, and time to formulate effective responses. Additionally, the anonymity of the message board allows for the normally reserved public speaker to participate fully in the discussion.
The message board, however, failed in the sense that one member of this group didn't find it (or receive other communications) and thus did not participate until the eleventh hour. See below, under "Failure of Groupware," for a discussion. However, for the majority of both the project duration and project members, this tool was an invaluable contribution to our group experience.
We did try to use google groups, but it has been rather difficult to schedule the whole group for a chat at the same time. Part of the time it has seemed like a complete waste was made just trying to get everyone together on the google chat. The chats and discussion forum experienced a great of lag and members had trouble getting onto the site more than once. Overall we felt this was more of an obstacle to the groupware than a useful tool.
It is worth noting that as a group we feel we were not using Google groups to its full capacity, but realistically it just did not meet our needs for this particular project. The google groups site initially was a good place to deposit completed research that needed to be added to the final project, but as we progressed we became more reliant on the traditional methods of message boards and email. We think groupware sites like Google groups or Yahoo groups are better suited for hobbies and/or support organizations. We've seen Google groups successfully used in collaborative "think tanks" and for the provision of a "place" where individuals can go to learn more about personal interests. Maybe the inherent success of these groupware tools lie in a long term committment to their sucess. Ultimately, this is not an effective tool for short group projects such as this.
Failure of Groupware for One Member
Log of D2L Discussion 10/9-10/10: Groupware Failure
The above link is to a log of a discussion from the d2l message board that started early Tuesday morning and has continued since then. The discussion began when a group member who had been incognito for the entirety of the project posted--for the first time--to apologize for not participating until then, and to ask that he be allowed to contribute.
Mike: A number of personal factors played into this absence, but of particular interest to the group, as an exercise in keeping with the assignment, was the breakdown in HCI between d2l, email, and myself.
As is discussed in the logs, the central issue as to why I did not become aware of the group's work without me was that I was not aware of the private group discussion forums. New threads opening constantly on the d2l Discussion page caused me, in my pre-occupation with other things, to gloss over the link to my group's discussion while perusing other topics. One of our members sent me an email to check up, but this email was unfortunately not received, and importantly, none of us have any real way of knowing how or why the email didn't get through. Was it an incorrect email address? Was it a server error? We may never know. I had tried, at a late hour, to get caught up and provide some content for the final project, but the group discussion had already concluded, which really underscores how easy it is to fall behind in electronic communication and groupware.
But, the question remains: why? I cannot speak for the world at large, but the major reason that I, personally, have found it exceedingly difficult to make the transition from physical communication and groupwork to electronic formats is that the electronic formats are incredibly passive. In her article, "Distance Learning: Silver Bullet or Educational Apartheid?", Sue Greer-Pitt discusses the ramifications of this. The passive nature of wikis, email, chat programs, and so forth require an extremely pro-active approach on the part of the user, when compared to analog media. This is not in itself a bad thing; many people thrive in such an environment. Others, like myself, do not, and the problem comes from the fact that those of us at a disadvantage in this setting are completely waylaid by it. I cannot say whether I would have been more or less likely to simply not receive a pertinent phone message as opposed to an email, but I can say with some certainty that I would have been far less likely to gloss over or simply ignore a received phone call than an email, due to the phenomenal amount of "white noise" on the Internet.
Technology cannot be expected to account for the listlessness or general incompetency of a user. However, I would submit that they whole point of a study of HCI is to make peoples' lives easier, and until we find a way to make the computer a more active participant in the exchange, mistakes like this, that would not have happened in an analog format, will continue to occur.
Overall, our group used the d2l discussion/message board, chat, google groups, scratchpad wiki, and email. In terms of usage and our preferences regarding this project the rating of the groupware is: d2l message board, wiki, d2l chat, google groups, and email. It was estimated that we met roughly 3-4 times per week or so for a month. This number is quite high for many group collaborations. It is most likely due to the efforts of team members to experiment with several mediums of groupware and the desire to keep in touch despite distance learning barriers.
The majority of the work and communication was first handled through the message board and then we continued our discussion of groupware on the wiki. For this project, d2l chat and google groups did not necessarily meet all of our needs or requirements. It was difficult to schedule chats and the slowness of responses/postings was not efficient. Email is usually a popular tool, but we used it quite sparingly in regards to this project. The message board provided the same ease of convenience to all members while lowering the number of steps to communicate proficiently with all members. The message board was well-known for being frequently checked by the majority of team members, thus it was also used as a “back-up” method for the group’s work. The wiki would have most likely been used even more if members had had more personally editorial experience with the resource. However, it did become the main source for final edits before the project was turned in.