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This study examined the relationships between social action, technology effects, and technology capabilities using the strengths of three theoretical perspectives: a priori or objective, situated action, and adaptive structuration. First, a model of collective experience and perception depicting the most socially relevant and salient elements of collaborative work contexts was produced using self-guided focus groups and survey responses. Analyses ultimately provided the nature of the relationships between 11 elements of that context including the technologies supporting collaborative work. Results supported structuration-based perspectives where technology is situated within contexts of use that affect and are affected by relevant aspects of those contexts.
Next, participant groups resolved problems within the context described by the collaborative work model using one of three basic interfaces: face-to-face, voice conferencing, and text-based chat. Group activity unfolded longitudinally, thus allowing for the emergence and expression of situated social forces for action, interaction, and technology effects. Finally, individual and collective perceptions of how technology affected each of the other elements in the model, and how those elements impacted perceptions of technology, were then analyzed based on a series of in-depth interviews.
In general, variations in non-verbal cues accounted for most of the results, suggesting that objective differences between technologies could account for social and task-related outcomes in collaborative work settings. However, specific outcomes associated with the individual elements of the model indicated that chat produced fewer negative consequences than the voice conference, contradicting expected findings based on a priori theories. A functional perspective was proposed to help discriminate between media alternatives and enhance interface design. Specifically, three social affordances: interactivity, social awareness, and propinquity, better accounted for perceptual variability and collaborative task effects observed during the study. These affordances are defined in light of the results and the practical and theoretical implications are discussed.
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