Research alerts

XI.2 March + April 2004
Page: 7
Digital Citation

Collaboration usability analysis

David Pinelle, Carl Gutwin, Saul Greenberg

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Researchers in Computer Supported Cooperative Work have recently developed discount evaluation methods for shared-workspace groupware. Most discount methods rely on some understanding of the context in which the groupware systems will be used, which means that evaluators need to model the tasks that groups will perform. However, existing task analysis schemes are not well suited to the needs of groupware evaluation: They either do not deal with collaboration issues, do not use an appropriate level of analysis for concrete assessment of usability in interfaces, or do not adequately represent the variability inherent in group work.

To fill this gap, we have developed a new modeling technique called Collaboration Usability Analysis (CUA). CUA is a task analysis technique designed to represent collaboration in shared tasks for the purpose of carrying out usability evaluations of groupware systems, and is focused on the teamwork aspects of a collaborative situation. It provides both high-level and low-level representations of the collaborative situation and the shared task, and provides ways to represent multiple actors and the interactions between them in shared work. To represent the range of ways that a group task can be carried out, CUA allows variable paths through the execution of a task, and allows alternate paths and optional tasks to be modeled (see Figure 1). While CUA provides task model components to represent individual work, we are primarily interested in the teamwork aspects of group work since this is what sets groupware apart from other applications.

To enable closer links between the task representation and the groupware interface, CUA grounds each collaborative action in a set of group work primitives called the mechanics of collaboration. The mechanics of collaboration are the basic operations of teamwork—the small-scale actions and interactions that group members must carry out in order to get a task done in a collaborative fashion. They are the things that will be common to a shared task even with a variety of social and organizational factors, such as communicating with other members of the group, keeping track of what others are doing, negotiating access to shared tools or empty spaces in the workspace, and transferring objects and tools to others. The mechanics are a useful level of analysis for evaluation-oriented task models because they provide a fine-grained view of teamwork; and since the mechanics are observable, collaboration can be analyzed and broken down into specific actions that evaluators can assess one at a time.

CUA task models provide a framework within which a knowledgeable evaluator can build a discount groupware evaluation. By providing a way for the evaluator to structure their explorations through the usage space, and by providing grounding for each collaborative interaction in a well-known operation, CUA is intended to help evaluators identify and resolve usability problems across the full range of use that the groupware interface will be expected to support.

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David Pinelle

Carl Gutwin

Saul Greenberg

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This abstract is from a recent issue or forthcoming issue of ACM's Transactions of Computer Human Interaction (ToCHI). It is included here to alert interactions readers to what research is being done in the field of Computer Human Interaction. The complete papers, when published, can be found in ACM's Digital Library at

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F1Figure 1. Sample CUA task diagrams for a brainstorming scenario

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©2004 ACM  1072-5220/04/0300  $5.00

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