American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Interdisciplinary Collaborations Module 4: Collocation vs. Distance

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Collocation vs. Distance

"Recent developments in the evolution of information technology suggests that laboratories as physical settings may have become less essential for scientific collaboration than was formerly the case."

(Finholt & Olson, 1997)

Why Collocation Works

"Collocated work: team members are at the same physical location, either temporarily because they have traveled to a common location or permanently because they are at a common site."

Olson & Olson, 2000)

Characteristics of Collocated Work (Olson & Olson, 2000)

  • Key benefits of collocated interactions
    • Multiple channels for communication
      • Information through voice, facial expression, gesture, etc.
      • Many ways of conveying message
    • Nuanced information
      • Subtle dimensions of information
      • Small difference in meaning detected
    • Personal Information
      • Identity of participants known
      • Factor in characteristics of source
    • Rapid feedback
      • Quick corrections for disagreements or misunderstandings
      • Facilitates common ground

Characteristics of Collocated Work

  • Informal "hall time"
    • Impromptu interactions
    • Social bonding
    • Implicitly aware of others' progress
  • Shared Local Context
    • Experience similar situations (time zone, holidays, local events)
    • Easy socializing and mutual understanding
  • Co-reference
    • Easy to establish joint reference to objects, problems

Characteristics of Collocated Work

  • Establish compatibility easily and at low personal cost (Kraut et al., 1988)
  • Face to face contact to make personal judgments of compatibility (Kraut et al., 1988)

Distance Works Too

  • Collocation can be expensive or impractical
  • Recent technology enables collaboration without regard to physical setting (Collaboratories) (Finholt & Olson, 1997)
  • Especially effective when subgroups can be collocated (Olson & Olson, 2000)

Distance Works Too: Collaboratories

  • Collaboratories are "a combination of technology, tools, and infrastructure that allow scientists to work with remote facilities and each other as if they were collocated" (Finholt & Olson, 1997)

Distance Works Too: Collaboratories

  • May rely upon:
    • Telephone
    • Video conferencing
    • Remote control of distant instruments
    • Shared data viewers
    • E-Mail
    • Graphical database interfaces
    • File transfer
    • Network connections
    • Chat rooms
    • Virtual reality options
  • Must have someone to "debug" equipment

Benefits of Collaboratories (Finholt & Olson, 1997)

  • Faster and more abundant access to data and results
  • Make remote scientists more accessible to one another
  • Non-elite scientists gain access to resources
    • Elite scientists
    • Specialized instruments
  • Offer a way for students to speed immersion into important networks
  • Particular benefit to undergraduates, graduate students, and non-elite scientists

Challenges of Distance

  • Distance raises cost of communication
    • Short messages become uneconomical
    • Difficulties deemed too minor for a phone call go unresolved (Finholt & Olson, 1997)
  • Quality of communication is lowered (Olson & Olson 2000)
  • Implicit information must be made explicit
    • Methodology
    • Outside contacts only receive summaries of collocated meetings

Challenges of Distance

  • Technology issues
    • Audio
      • Must identify reference object
      • Speaker must identify himself
    • Video
      • Conferencing tools clumsy and limited
      • More formal protocols
        • Reticence to interrupt flow of conversation for clarification
        • Turn taking
      • Apparent distance (proxemics) affects behavior (Olson & Olson 2000)
        • Small image ? stilted conversation
        • Closer image ? more natural conversation
  • Not the same as face to face communication

Challenges of Distance

  • Time zone difference (Olson & Olson 2000)
    • Biological schedule (circadian rhythms)
    • Few hours of overlap for international projects
      • High tension during overlap
      • Feelings of futility during non overlap
  • Difficult to establish common ground (Olson & Olson, 2000)
    • Different cultural context
      • Political events
      • Sports events
      • Holidays

Modules in the Series:

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