Publication Date

1-1-1978

Approximate Date

1978-01-01

Report Number

8

Abstract

Computerized Conferencing is a new form of communication in which the participants type their comments into a computer terminal, and receive their instructions and the comments of others printed on their terminal. This is a report on the results of a pilot study which was aimed mainly at exploring and solving the methodological problems presented by the need to adapt the procedures for conducting and coding face-to-face discussions to studies of this new medium. It represents the first set of controlled experiments on group discussions via a computerized conference.

The independent variable in this pilot study was mode of communication (Computerized Conferencing vs. Face to Face discussion). Dependent variables measured various aspects of the process and outcome of the discussions conducted by groups of five students on updated versions of the Bales human relations problems, including Interaction Profiles, inequality of participation, whether or not the group reached a consensus by the end of the 40 minute discussion period, and subjective satisfaction.

There were some uncontrolled sources of variation in this pilot study, and a very small total number of trials (twelve). Therefore the findings should be interpreted as suggestive of promising ones for further research rather than as a set of "proven" or "disproven" hypotheses. This report summarizes some of the qualitative differences between the communication modes which were observed as well as the differences which were measured quantitatively and can be subjected to statistical analysis.

The most important of the findings are:

  1. Almost all subjects were able to learn to use a simple subset of the computerized conferencing system after only twenty minutes of training and practice.
  2. The trials themselves went quite smoothly; the ability to control and monitor the communications process and to obtain a complete record for later detailed analysis reaffirmed the experimenters' initial supposi­tion that computerized conferencing is a promising medium for controlled experiments.
  3. In terms of face to face vs. computerized conferencing, differences were observed in amount of communication, proportion of overt agreement or disagreement, inequality of participation, and probability of reaching consensus on a problem solution within a forty minute time period. There were no significant differences in subjective satisfaction with the group discussion process.

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