COLLABORATIVE TECHNOLOGIES: INSIGHT FROM THE CLASSROOM EXPERIENCE Abstract Collaborative technologies exemplify information technology that has evolved in response to the need to increase efficiency and effectiveness of group meetings and cooperative work. As groups play a more important role in organizations, the use of collaborative technologies becomes more endemic. However, students training for organizational positions generally do not receive a high level of training in group work or working with collaborative technologies.
To address this challenge we introduced three collaborative technologies, Group systems, SAMM, and Option Finder, in two graduate business courses. Our main objective was to better understand how these technologies might be introduced and integrated into the classroom environment to support the learning process. The students’ provided feedback on the use of the technologies regarding positive and negative aspects and methods of improving the process. The positive aspects of using these technologies were they provided a more efficient decision making process, anonymity, faster feedback and a more structured and focused process.
The negative aspects included a lack of interaction among the students, a difficulty in learning the technology and not enough time. It is believed that the negative aspects were more an artifact of constrained classroom time than a response to the technology. Methods of improvement included more discussion and more training on the technology. INTRODUCTION During the past ten years collaborative technologies have evolved. These technologies can be characterized by variations along the continua of time, space and level of group support (Alavi & Kenn, 1989; DeSanctis & Gallupe, 1987; Johansen, 1988).
The term Group Support System (GSS) refers to a computer-based electronic system, frequently implemented on a local area network (LAN) to support the work of groups and to supplement the meeting process (Dennis, et. a1. 1988). Computer-mediated communication systems (CMCS) are systems that focus on the communication-related activities of team members. Both provide tools that can be used during or between face-to-face meetings and tools for groups working at different locations. These systems have been shown to improve productivity (Valacich, et. a1. 994), increase collaboration (Kock and Mcqueen, 1997; Wallace, 1997), effectiveness (Easton, et. AI. 1990), and creativity, and shorten meeting times (Nunamaker, et. a1. 1989). These systems can improve group work by: I) enabling all participants to work simultaneously, 2) providing equal opportunity for Volume 1, NumberJ participation, 3) enabling larger group meetings thereby bringing more information to the meeting, 4) providing process structure to help the group focus on key issues,and 5) supporting the development of organizational memory (Gray and Mandviwalla, 1999).
For a more complete review ofpast research on GSS see (Briggs, et. aI, 1998), (Niederman, et. a1. 1996) and (Pinsonneault and Kraemer 1989). Many of the activities ill university classrooms, especially in graduateseminarclasses, resemble those of a meeting and may benefit from the use of collaborative technologies. However, very little research has been conducted on how these systems can be effectively used in a classroom environment (Aiken, 1992; Hayne, 1994). This paper reports on a study conducted in two graduate business courses utilizing three collaborative technologies, GroupSystems” , SAMM, and Option Finder.
The study tracked perceptions on positive and negative impacts of the technology and suggestions on how its use might be improved. The insights gained from this study are not discipline specific, opening the door to applicability for all classrooms and training 13 environments where the task is appropriate for collaborative technologies. BACKGROUND ON COLLABORATIVE SYSTEMS Collaborative technology systems exist in various configurations and products. At present the best known of these systems is Lotus Notes. Others products are electronic mailing systems (e-mail), and computer conferencing systems – many of which are Web based.
However, few people agree on a solid definition of collaborative technology. An attempt to provide a common framework used to categorize these systems is that of DeSanctis and Gallupe (DeSanctis and Gallupe 1987). This framework identifies four quadrants using a TimefPlace metaphor (See Figure I). Any systems used at different times are often referred to as asynchronous technologies, an example of this would be e-mail where the users send messages at different times, an example of a synchronous technology would be video conferencing with all participants using the technology at the same time. FIGURE I
TIMEfPLACE DIAGRAM Same Time Different Time ST/SP DT/SP ST/DP DT/DP Same Places Different Places A second framework (Watson and Bostrom 1991) exemplifies the use of a collaborative system based on the underlying technology. According to this framework there are three broad classes ofsystems: I) workstation support for facilitator/leader only, 2) keypads provided for all participants, and 3) networked workstations provided for all participants, see figure 2 for a complete description of these classes, only technologies from class 2 and 3 were used in this study and are described below. 4 Keypad systems, such as Optionf’inderw, a product of Option Technologies, (Watson and Bostrom, 1991), or Tally, consist of a notebook computer rurnring the software and a set of keypads, one for each participant. Through the use of a projection system, the facilitator projects a series of questions onto a screen in the front of the meeting room. Each question, input by the facilitator or meeting leader, requires vote responses from the participants, The system inunediately displays the results ofthe votes for discussion or re-vote.
All ofthese systems require the use of a facilitator who helps manage the meeting process and who generally also runs the system. Networked workstation-based systems consist of a series ofworkstations, one for eachparticipant,a server that runs the software, and a network to link the stations and the server. These systems generally have a variety of software tools supporting various meeting functions such as electronic brainstorming, issue analysis and voting. Examples ofthese types ofsystems include GroupSystems TM (Nunamaker, et. al. 992; Dennis, et. al. 1988), and Software Aided Meeting Management (SAMMTM) (Dickson, et. al. 1992). Collaborative Technologies Used in this Study Three same time/same place technologies were used in the study. Two multiple workstation systems were used: Groupsysremsw (Nunamaker, et. al. 1992; Dennis, et. al. 1988), with 24 workstations, and SAMM (Dickson, et. al. 1992), with 10 workstations. Both ofthese systems were setup in the traditional ‘U’ configuration with workstations for each user and a common screen in the front of the room.
The third system was Option Finder, a keypad system with 30 wireless keypads. Two graduate business classes provided the exploratory venue to assess the viability of these toolsin the classroom environment. 100 first course was a graduate seminar on collaborative technologies. One ofthe foci ofthis seminar was to examine how collaborative technologies can be used to enhance the meeting process. Issues addressed in this course included technology and design issues, organizational and implementation issues, and applications.
This class focused on the exploration of the various characteristics of collaborative systems, concentrating on how these technologies mightbe applied to the meeting process to support group work. Students acquired an understanding of collaborative technologies, how groups can leverage collaborative systems, and critical success factors for the use of these systems and team-building skills. FIGURE 2 TECHNOLOGY BASE DIAGRAM Nature of /Technology Support Representative System 1)Support for members, workstation for facilitator 2)2) Keypad for each member, workstation for facilitator )3) Workstation for each member and for the facilitatorDSS tools, COPE Innovator, Multisurvey, Option Finder, QuickTally VisionQuest, GroupSystems, TeamFocus, SAGE, SAMM The second class was a model-based Decision Support Systems (DSS) course. This class focused on analytical modeling of semi-structured and unstructured problems. Team problem-solving and modeling were major components of this course. This course introduced the students to collaborative technologies, not for the sake of laming the technologies themselves but rather to apply them as they might be used is their work environments.
Past studies support the viability of these tools in the traditional meeting environment. This study seeks to assess the use of these tools in the classroom. The collaborative techuologies class sought to expose students to the collaborative technologies themselves while the Decision Support Systems class sought to leverage the technologies to enhance the problem solving and analytical modeling process. COLLABORATIVE TECHNOLOGIES, MEETING, AND DECISION MODELS Meeting Models and Collaborative Technologies
The objective of the graduate seminar in Collaborative Technologies was for students to learn about various collaborate technologies and to learn how to apply those technologies within the work environment. In order to achieve this two meeting models were used as frameworks for exploration of and implementation of both the meeting process and the use of technology. The first model was the Team Performance Model (Figure 3) by Drexler et. al. (1988). this model represents a macro view of the meeting process and can be used from the moment teams are formed.
The model summarizes the basic dynamics of teams and involves seven phases, which provide important steps in the team building process. The model contributes to the task outcome of the meeting as well as the relationship outcome. Part of any meeting is building a relationship among the participants to provide a foundation for trust and commitment (Chidambaram, 1996; Jarvenpaa and Leidner, 1998, Beranek, 2000; Warkentin and Beranek, forthcomiog). Each of these phases of the model can be consciously approached duriog a meeting, and the meeting facilitator or leader can determine how the needs for that phase can be met.
FIGURE 3 THE TEAM PERFORMANCE MODEL Creating StagesSustaining Stages Orientation (why I am here)Renewal (Why continue) Trust Building (Who are you)High Performance (Achievements, success) Goal/ Role Clarification (what are we doing)Implementation (Who does, what, where and when) Commitment (How) The second model breaks the meeting process into an outcome or goal-oriented process (Figure 4) that transforms a present state into a desired future state (Bostrom and Anson, 1992). Both models represent Zigurs’ (1992) ‘task-oriented’ and ‘socioemotional’ views of the meeting process.
The Drexler model views the meeting in its entirety regardless of technology used (or not used). The Bostrom! Anson model represents the task-oriented view of a meeting and application of technology to various portions of this task. FIGURE 4 GROUPSYSTEMS TOOL MAPPING Meeting Activities Group System Tools GENERATE Create, list identify EBS IDEA ORGANIZER GROUP WRITER GROUP OUIUNER GROUP DICIONARY ORGANIZE Structure, refine, and cluster EBS Relate, categorize IDEA ORGANIZER GROUP MATRIX GROUP OUTLINER EVALUATE Select, eliminate
QUANTITATIVE VOTE (Ranking) ALTERNATIVE EVALUATION QUESTIONNAIRE GROUP MATRIX QUALITATIVE GENERATE TOOL GROUP MATRIX COMMUNICATE Any general tools with access to Present, distribute, clarify individual comments canbe used discuss,exchange,explain (e. g. topiccommenter) Source: Bostrom and Anson, 1992 To teach the students how to apply these technologies within an organization, and to understand how the two meeting models might be utilized within an organization, tudents were placed into groups of four or five.
Each student group was given a set of scenarios involving various teams and team tasks which needed to be performed. Each student group developed a meeting agenda for each of the scenarios. The agenda needed to include phases from the creating and sustaining stages of the Drexler model. Which phases were needed and how 16 they were implemented depended on the composition and history of the scenario team. For instance, a team with a long history of working together may not need the orientation or trust building phases.
Also, the student groups needed to establish what would be accomplished by the scenario teams and how it would be accomplished in each phase. An example for the trust building phase would be for the student group to determine how much time needed to be allocated to trust building and what trust building exercises might be employed, see Duarte and Snyder (1999, P113-115) for a discussion of trust building techniques. While establishing the agenda, the work groups also determined what technological tools might be needed and at what point these tools would be needed.
The Bostrom and Anson (1992) meeting model offers a framework for the use of collaborative technologies within a meeting. The steps to reach the desired future state can consist of generating information, organizing information into alternatives, evaluating and selecting information and then communicating that information. One or a combination of any or all of these steps can take place at any point in the meeting. These steps are then mapped onto a variety of software tools used in a collaborative technology.
Figure 4 shows how the steps of generating, organizing, evaluating and communicating information can be bolstered by the use of existing software tools from one of the collaborative technologies used, Group Systems. The student groups determined which software tools from Group Systems would be required and at which phases within the Drexler model these tools should be used. The agendas developed by each of the student groups were then shared and discussed with the entire class. Decision Making Models
The objective of the Decision Support Systems class was for students to learn and apply a systematic approach to model building. The introduction of collaborative technologies was based on past experience with students which indicated that most students struggle with understanding the first two phases ofthe model building (problem defmition and model formation), and thatcollaborative technologies are particularly well-suited to these kinds of tasks. In addition the familiarity the students gained with these tools might encourage them to introduce the tools into their respective work environments.
Incorporating collaborative technologies into the decision-making class involved a two-step process. Step 1: As the focus of this course is on building analytical models to assist in problem solving, decision making frameworks are studied. Once a problem or symptom of a problem is recognized the students can apply the decision making frameworks in the context of the modeling process. The most well-known decision making framework, or model, is Simon’s intelligence, design, and choice model (Simon, 1960).
There are several other wellknown models that, while they use different terminology, categorize themselves nicely into these three stages (Almaney, 1992; Kepner and and Tregoe, 1965). Table I shows these three organizing frameworks. Step 2: In this step we consider the decision making frameworks in light of the modeling process. The modeling process includes four phases: I) problem defmition, 2) model formation, 3) model validation and 4) model implementation. Electronic brainstorming was particularly useful for the first two phases.
Electronic brainstorming promotescreative generationof topics and possible solutions, dependent on the intentofthe session. TopicCommenter, a form ofelectronicbrainstorming allows participants to develop a list of topics, and then brainstorm ideas about each topic. Once the participants sufficiently defme the problem, they can then use electronic brainstorming to determine the most appropriate variables or components of the problem which should be represented in the analytical model. The two tools used in The Decision Making class were the SAMMTM system, a workstation teclmology, and OptionFinder, a key-pad tool.
The coupling of the two teclmologies illustrates how to leverage the strengths of the different tools. An actual leveraged buy-out case (LBO) provided a real world application. The SAMMTM system was used to collectively brainstorm and develop a list of critical factors that lead to the success or failure of a LBO, and then to refme and categorize the factors. The class then used the keypad system (Optionl’inderw) to support the modeling process in evaluating the critical factors based on their importance and measurability.
A tool such as OptionFinder™permits each group member to anonymously vote on their assessment of the level of importance and measurability respectively. The immediate graphical display ofthe voting session served as a stimulus for discussion, highlighting the convergence ordivergence ofthe group’s understanding of the problem. The iterative process of voting and discussion servedto surfaceunderlyingassumptionsand highlight the dimensions of the problem which ultimately resulted in a well formulated model with full buy-in from all group members. REACTIONS TO USE OF THE COLLABORATIVE TECHNOLOGIES
This project included a survey ofall students involved in both classes. The survey provided us with feedback of the students’ perceptions ofthe viability ofthe use ofthis technology for the classroom. Since the nature of this study is exploratory no attempt was made to compare the results of the survey between the two classes. The questions posed were open-ended questions requiring written answers (qualitative data). The responses were then transcribed, coded and content analyzed by both authors. This follows the procedure used in Niederman et. al. (1996).
Coding consisted ofdetermining issues for each of the questions and then determining classes from these issues. A summarization ofthe results is presented in Tables 2-4. TABLE I DECISION-MAKING FRAMEWORKS AUTHOR STAGE 1 STAGE 2 STAGE 3 Simon Intelligence Design Choice Almaney Description Diagnostic Prescriptive K&T Purpose of the decision Generate alternatives Evaluate alternatives Volume l, Number 1 17 TABLE 2 POSITIVE ASPECTS Positive Asoects of the Use of Collahorative Teehnolozies Speeded uo the orocess 27/132* 20% Anonymity 24/132 18% Less domination 6/132 5% Innovative thought w/out fear 9/132 7%
Fast Feedback II/132 11% Structured and focuses process 9/132 7% Improved meeting skills Structured meeting process 11/42** 26% Focused the meeting 9/42 21% Leveled the meeting ground 6/42 14% * ** total number of positive comments made total number ofparticipaots TABLE 3 NEGATIVE ASPECTS Negative Aspects of the Use of Collahorative Technologies Lack of interaction / discussion of the comments 21/81* 26% Difficult to learn / intimidating 8/81 10% Not enough time to complete the process 7/81 8. 5% 18 * total number of negative comments made
Journal ofInformatics Education and Research TABLE 4 SUGGESTIONS Suggestions for Use of Collaborative Tecbnologies Suggestions to improve the process More discussion 13/55′ 24% More training 11155 20% Clarify ground rules 9/55 16% More time for the process Suggestions to improve the technology Better graphics 12/55 22% Better interfaces Positive Aspects of the Technology The students were asked to indicate positive aspects of the use of the technology. Speed of the process and anonymity ranked the highest overall for positive aspects of the technology.
Corrunents indicating that the collaborative technology speeded up the process accounted for 20% of the total corrunents for positive aspects (note: most respondents had more than one corrunent for each question). Anonymity accounted for slightly fewer corrunents (18%), but if benefits of anonymity such as less domination (6 corrunents) andinnovative thought without fear (9 corrunents) were included, the aspect of anonymity would comprise 30%of all comments. Other noted positive aspects were fast feedback (11%) and structured and focused the process (7%). These four factors accounted for 68% of all corrunents.
When asked specifically about the impact of collaborative technologies on improvement of meeting skills, students felt that the use of the technology could improve meeting skills by providing structure for the process (26%), focusing the meeting (21%), and by ‘leveling the meeting ground’ (14%). Negative Aspects of the Technology The students were asked to indicate negative aspects of the use ofthe technology. There were almost 40% fewer negative comments than positive comments, providing Volume 1, Number 1 anecdotal support for the perceived value of collaborative technologies by the participants.
The major concern the students had about using the technology was the lack of interaction or discussion of the corrunents (26%). Some individual corrunents were ,… need verbal discussions’, ‘ … need more discussion of issues,’ ‘ … ideas not discussed. ‘ The second major concern of the students was that the technology was intimidating and / or difficult to learn (10%). A third concern, there was not enough time for the process, was likely due to limitations in the class time (8. 5%). It should be noted that we believe that these corrunents reflect the time constraints of a traditional classroom.
The factthat only eight ofthe participants suggested that the tools were difficult to learn actually provides some support to state the that tools are really quite user friendly. The message, nevertheless, is to incorporate sufficient time at the beginning of the process to be sure that all meeting participants or classroom students have a basic understanding of the tools. Ways to Improve the Use of the Technology The students were asked to indicate how the use of the technology could be improved (See Table 4).
Students indicated the major method ofimprovement would be to increase the amount ofdiscussion during the technologysupportedsessions (24%). Improvements to the technology were indicated in 22% ofthe comments, such 19 as better graphics and better interfaces. Better nnderstanding of the system technology (“Training for the technology… “, “Explanation of the featnres … “) was cited in 20% of the comments, General comments concerning the meeting process (“Establish gronnd rules .. “, “More time for the process… “) were cited 16% of the time as ways to improve the process. DISCUSSION
Results from our survey indicate that stndents felt that the nse of the technology speeded up the process, and provided faster feedback. The traditional meeting becomes bogged down when there are more than 14 individuals, especially if a discussion and an ensuing decision is to be made. A computer-supported session can substantially speedup the decision makingprocess, as shownin previousresearch (Nunamaker, et. al. 1989, Gray and Mandviwalla, 1999) and supported here. A collaborative technology, while providing a more structured and focused environment, can be used effectively n the classroom to engage the entire class inthe meeting process. Stndents also felt that since the collaborative technology supported anonymity, the discussion was more open, more ideas were generated, there was moreeven participation andstudents couldbe moreinnovativein their responses withoutfear. Wecan reasonably expect similar benefits to be gained in other classroom and corporate environments with similar goals and tasks. Three major problems wereencountered in theuse of the technology. First, stndents indicated they needed more discussionandinteraction.
Ifnot allowed to sufficiently discuss ideas and interact, they felt as if the emphasis was on the technology and not on the meeting process and desired outcome. While in part an artifact of the classroom environment with constraints on meeting length and frequency, the message is very important. Tools do not replace the human component but rather should be used to enhance the interaction. The second problem was a lack ofknowledge of the technology andhow to use it. This implies that more time should be spent providing a foundation on how to use the technology. The third problem was that there was not enough time for the process.
The need to travel offcampus to use both the SAMM system and GroupSystems (the multiple-workstation systems) necessarilyshortened the time remaining for discussion, interaction, and natural completion of the meeting process and task at hand, and likely contributed to this outcome. Certainly to obtain optimal results, adequate time should be allocated for tool familiarization. This 20 will then permit subsequent meeting times to be devoted to the task at hand. It should be recognized that the increased use of group activities and the introduction of computer-supported group activities present two considerations forthe faculty member.
One,groups cantakemoretime,thevolume of material covered may need to be adjusted. Two, using collaborative technologies requires more preparation. The technology magnifies inadequate preparation. Six categories were noted as critical success factors for meeting success by Niederman et. aJ. (1996). Three of these categories are directly controlled by the facilitator: The agenda Planning meetings and having a good agenda have a strong influence on a successful meeting using collaborative technology (Niederman et. al. 1996). The agenda should be clear and concise. Development of an agenda takes into consideration the desired meeting utcomes as well as the partitioning of topics into a seriesofaction steps. Theuse ofanagenda also clarifies both the means of proceeding and the end result. Task and goal factors Development of an agenda for the meeting is influenced by the clarification of the goal of the meeting. An effective agenda can only be established ifthe goal of the meeting is clarified in objective terms. Establishing clear objectives and pnrpose for the meeting and managing realistic expectations were mentioned as the two most important critical success factors undermanagement of task and goal (Niederman et. J. 1996). In addition, recent research has shown that how the task is structnred can have a significant impact on performance. When participants are allowed to analyze each part of a multipart task separately performance can increase (Dennis et. aJ. 1999). The facilitator The facilitator is in a key position to influence, among other things, the behaviors and attitndes of participants, the agenda and meeting structnre, the focus of the meeting, andtheselection ofmeeting tools, electronicor other.
Frequently mentioned key facilitator characteristics include: I) good commnnication skills, 2) understand the group, 3) understand the group’s objectives, 4) flexibility and 5) task focus (Niederman et. al. (1996). While it may seem that these last two items, task focus and flexibility, are at odds, Orlikowski Journal ofInformatics Education and Research and Hofman (1997) reported that facilitators who insist on adhering to a plan ofnsage defined early (the agenda) will have less snccess than those who “roll with the punches” when new situations arise.
This includes knowing when to take the gronp ‘offline’ and have faceto- face discnssions. Maznevski and Chudoba (forthcoming) found that effective teams alternate methods of discussion, including face-to-face, collaborative technology, along with phone and fax as necessary. CONCLUSION This report summarizes our experiences in incorporating collaborative technologies into two business graduate courses. We indicated the frameworks used to present and integrate the tools into the classroom. We also reported the results of a student survey on the effectiveness of these tools.
The positive aspects were a more efficient decision making process, anonymity, faster feedback and a more structured and focused process. Negative aspects included a lack of interaction, difficulty in learning the technology and not enough time. The challenge of time limitations and learning curve are a likely artifact of constrained classroom time. However, similar types of challenges may be anticipated in the corporate environment as well. Methods of improving the process would be more discussion, more training on the technology on the front-end and technical improvements of the technology.
We can summarize the benefits for the participants as follows: In the process of using the collaborative tools, (1) the students gained familiarity with the tools, (2) learned the components of the meeting process and (3) learned how to apply the meeting models to a live scenario. The combination ofthis knowledge affords these students the ability to implement and use these tools effectively in future work environments. The two classes illustrate the diverse applicability of collaborative technologies.