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The Value of Shared Visual Information for Task-Oriented Collaboration
By: Darren R. Gergle, CMU 2006

The Internet has paved the way for not only a large increase in the number multinational corporations and business partnerships but also provided seemingly unlimited access for global communication. Therefore it is both practical and necessary that this technological medium is capable of supporting the tools that facilitate remote interaction.

As Gergle states, although researchers have long hypothesized that sharing visual information is an important element for successful collaboration, early studies provided evidence that video footage of conversations between remote participants had little to no advantage over audio. More recently the focus has shifted to sharing visual and video information about dynamic tasks, events, and objects that are raised within the collaborative environment.

Gergle’s methods for analyzing the benefits of shared visual information are strongly rooted in the following theories. The Grounding Theory states that visual information provides the scaffolding for meaningful conversations, in that it provides evidence of what people know and are aware of while facilitating the discovery of a common ground. Situational Awareness Theory deals with the importance of visual information in defining and coordinating and current state of activities within a group, which allows subgroups and/or individuals to react quickly and appropriately.

Gerge conducted a series of eight studies using the puzzle study paradigm. Here participants were paired into teams of two, the Helper and the Worker. The Helper’s job was to verbally describe and guide the Worker to construct a virtual 4-piece puzzle from a set of 8 possible square pieces. Independent puzzle variables that differed between studies and teams are as follows:
• Visual Immediacy: (60-230ms), (230-850ms), (850-3300ms), 3 second delay, no delay, or no shared window, snapshots
• Viewspace Alignment: aligned, skewed (helper)
• Viewspace Size: none, 1, 4, all blocks visible
• Viewspace Control: automatic (cursor), helper controlled, worker controlled (box)
• Lexical Complexity: stable color, color drift (ever 5 seconds block changes perceivable color - constantly changing in small amounts), plaid, change-color(constant change every 6-8, 2-3, or 1 second)
• Visual Complexity: 2D, 3D puzzles

Results of Gergle’s research indicate that the utility of a shared visual environment was strongly correlated with the complexity and dynamicity of tasks. Visual space was also more meaningful when participants found it difficult to linguistically describe their environment. A shared visual environment also provided immediate and accurate feedback to participants as to whether their partner or collaborator had successfully understood them, and these methods also increased the efficiency of dialogue between parties.

Gergle’s thesis was well-written, thorough, and entertaining. I felt that he did a nice job defining rather abstract and non-intuitive puzzle attributes in his studies, such as lexical complexity, viewspace alignment, and dynamically changing environments. I am very interested in how his work could be used as a stepping stone in researching how shared visual information can be utilized in less obvious (not purely visual, i.e. puzzles) environments. As well as reseaching how visual information can be represented in a way which facilitates comprehension across a wide variety of domains.

Last modified 3 December 2007 at 9:26 pm by jane