Situational Awareness In Collaborative Work Environments

Situational Awareness In Collaborative Work Environments

Olga Kulyk, Betsy van Dijk, Paul van der Vet, Anton Nijholt, Gerrit van der Veer
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-264-0.ch042
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This chapter addresses awareness support to enhance teamwork in co-located collaborative environments. In particular, the authors focus on the concept of situational awareness which is essential for successful team collaboration. Mutual situational awareness leads to informal social interactions, development of shared working cultures which are essential aspects of maintaining working relationships. First, an overview of the studies on team coordination and situational awareness support is presented. Second, a collaborative working environment is described for scientific teams in a molecular biology omics experimentation domain. Then, the results of practical case studies are discussed, as well as situational awareness support for scientific teams in collaborative environments. Finally, the authors discuss practical challenges in design and evaluation of group support systems for collaborative working environments and our multi-level analysis approach. The chapter gives new insights into how shared displays support group awareness, and how to design and evaluate interactive systems and visualisations that afford awareness in order to stimulate existing and new forms of collaboration in advanced working environments.
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Discovery is seeing what everyone has seen, and thinking what nobody else has thought

—Albert Szent-Gyorgy



The diversity of multiple disciplines in teams positively impacts collaborative problem solving (Coughlan and Johnson, 2006; Shalley and Gilson, 2004). It is essential to analyse how such collaboration takes place in daily work practices. Team collaboration can be supported by providing an appropriate environment and a certain context (Coughlan and Johnson, 2006). However, introducing a new environment and new technologies, like multiple visualisations on a large display, may increase the cognitive load of team members and influence the way they collaborate (Varakin et al., 2004). Awareness information in such shared workspace environment is always required to coordinate team activities (Dourish and Bellotti, 1992).

The overwhelming amount of visual information on multiple displays, and the multitude of personal and shared interaction devices in new collaborative environments lead to a lack of awareness of team members on ongoing activities, a lack of understanding of shared visualisations, and a lack of awareness on who is in control of shared artefacts. The focus of our research is on the awareness support of co-located teams working on long-term scientific projects in collaborative working environments. Understanding who you are working with, what is being worked on, and how your actions affect others, is essential for effective team collaboration (Dourish and Bellotti, 1992). Such shared awareness helps getting jobs done that cannot be done by a single expert, or by experts that only have a limited range of disciplines covered. Moreover, shared awareness also leads to informal social interactions and development of shared working cultures which are essential aspects of maintaining good working relationships in a team.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Awareness: is the ongoing interpretation of representations of human activity and of artefacts (Chalmers, 2002).

Extreme Collaboration: refers to working within warroom environments where teams work together synchronously in all phases using a variety of computer technologies to maximize communication and information flow.

Group Awareness: is the understanding of who you are working with, what is being worked on, and how your actions affect others, is essential to effective collaboration (Dourish and Bellotti, 1992).

Collaborative Working Environment: is a co-located shared workspace that facilitates groups during meetings. The workspace is enhanced with multiple collaborative systems and media, such as private and shared displays, tabletops, touch screens, cameras and other devices.

Situational Awareness: is the perception of the elements of the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future, and the prediction of how various actions will affect the fulfilment of one’s goals (Endsley, 1995, p.36).

Shared Situational Awareness: is a reflection of how similar team members view a given current environmental situation. Thus, if a team has a high degree of shared situational awareness, we can assume they are perceiving, comprehending, and interpreting the situation’s information requirements in a similar manner (Bolstad et al., 2005, p.1).

Omics Experimentation: is a research area in molecular biology that deals with omes: large or complete arrays of cell components, such as the genome (all genes) and the proteome (all proteins). For example, studies that encompass the whole genome are in general referred to as genomics studies, and studies that examine the expression level of all mRNAs (messenger RNA, which directs the synthesis of proteins) in a given cell population are called transcriptomics.

Task Analysis: is a domain-specific analysis of the current work situation, which combines such classical HCI techniques as contextual interviews, field observations, ethnography and interaction analysis (Jordan, 1996; van Welie and van der Veer, 2003).

Microarray Experiment: examines simultaneously the expression level of all genes of a specific organism, in a cell type in a specific growth or stress condition. Microarray technology is currently one of the most important methods in genomics and is usually applied to unravel complex cellular mechanisms or discover transcriptomics biomarkers: genes whose expression profile can be used for diagnostic purposes or to monitor and predict cellular processes (Stekel, 2003).

Peripheral Awareness Display: is an information system or a graphical representation that resides in the user’s environment and provides information or visual feedback in the periphery of the user’s attention. Monitoring the peripheral display causes minimal shift from the user’s current focus of attention, allowing users to garner information without being distracted from their primary task (Plaue et al., 2004).

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