Research methods in Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) are mostly imported from other disciplines, primarily psychology, social sciences, and computer science. The imported methods are generally used with little or no grounding in explicit theoretical models about collaboration; the measures considered are very heterogeneous (ranging from performance of individuals to practices of organizations) and not explicitly mapped onto investigated concepts; also, the overall methodology of the specific studies tends to be unilaterally oriented either toward naturalistic field methods or controlled laboratory methods. A number of CSCW researchers have pointed to some of these deficiencies, however, to date there has been no attempt to address these methodological deficiencies within an empirical program that incrementally investigates the same research construct.
This thesis addresses the problem of constructing appropriate research methods for studying awareness and knowledge sharing (common ground) in CSCW. It presents a research program: a sequence of studies on awareness and knowledge sharing intended as an instantiation of a new methodological approach. The approach has three characteristics: (1) Model-based: provides a mapping between conceptual models and methods; (2) Centered on group-level processes: the group is the unit of analysis and specific group processes are the focus of investigation; (3) Comprehensive in measurement: field and laboratory results are integrated and multiple measures of the same constructs are used.
The first half of the research program focused on activity awareness in CSCW. Drawing on the findings of a prior field study, a laboratory method was developed. A first lab study was devoted to validate the laboratory method and a second lab study provided detailed measurements of activity awareness. This study measured different aspects of the activity awareness construct, examined its relationship with known variables, and compared the effects of two CSCW systems, BRIDGE and Groove. The findings confirmed that many events tend to remain unnoticed in current systems. Key classes of factors affecting activity awareness included the properties of the event itself (e.g. distribution in time), the properties of the workspace (e.g. integration of content across tools, flexibility in navigation among the tools), the properties of the coworkers (e.g. metacognition, teamwork attitudes), and the properties of the group over time (e.g. amount of shared experience, increasing over time).
The second half of the program focused on common ground, a sub-process of activity awareness. Two laboratory experiments investigated the knowledge sharing process, respectively, in collocated teams using a paper prototype and in distributed teams using a software prototype. Subjective and objective measures in both studies showed that the amount of common ground increased as the shared experience increased (repeated task runs). The dialog patterns of the teams were also analyzed to understand the ways in which the increment in common ground occurred. While working together, the teammates developed not only shared knowledge about the content but also about the process and team strategies (i.e. how to do the task). As such process common ground was established, the teammates needed fewer explicit acts to regulate the process. As a result, the efforts were turned to building ‘content common ground,’ which led to greater efficiency. By comparing the results from the two experiments, specific effects of medium and setting were also identified. After presenting the results of the studies, the thesis discusses the proposed approach and specific experimental techniques developed and used in the program. Finally, the thesis draws some implications for future investigation and support of activity awareness and common ground.