Interdisciplinary Collaborations Module 4: Collocation vs. Distance

Collocation vs. Distance

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"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

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