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Computer-supported and face-to-face collaboration on design tasks

Anderson, Anthony and Sanford, Alison and Thomson, Avril and Ion, William (2007) Computer-supported and face-to-face collaboration on design tasks. Discourse Processes, 43 (3). pp. 201-228. ISSN 0163-853X

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The development of computer-supported collaborative work (CSCW) tools in the field of design enables remotely-located participants to collaborate on design tasks using shared design tools and video-mediated communication to facilitate interaction. The effectiveness of computer-mediation in supporting the process of grounding reference during a collaborative design task was examined. 28 less experienced (second year undergraduate) and 28 more experienced (fourth year undergraduate) students of engineering design undertook a joint computer-assisted design task either face-to-face or remotely, via a computer-mediated video link that gave a view of the interlocutor’s face and upper body plus good quality audio links. Whilst task performance was equally good overall in the two contexts (albeit with a significant interaction between context and previous experience in the case of task performance such that the senior students performed significantly less well in the CSCW context than they did in the face-to-face context), and the total amount of speech uttered did not vary across contexts, analysis of the students’ use of referential utterances and pointing gestures showed that the junior students exhibited enhanced use of pointing and pointing-accompanied verbal references compared to the senior students, and particularly so in the remote condition. The results were interpreted as indicating that the less experienced students adopted a more cautious communicative strategy in the remote condition, which possibly indicates a lesser degree of confidence that their utterances were grounding successfully.