Enhancing collaboration efficiency through tailorability in synchronous groupware

The rapid advancements in the implementation of the internet in the past decade has brought about similarly expeditious ameliorations in other technological areas like mobile devices and internet of things. With the ever augmenting internet and mobility demands, software vendors are competing to bring about newer and more innovative applications that are more or less dependent on a ‘functioning’ internet connection and that are available for various types of mobile devices. The use of video telephony – like Apple’s Facetime or Whatsapp’s video chat – becomes a common communication support as compared to a decade ago. The adoption of video conferencing systems as a means of communication and cooperation in larger institutions has also increased noticeably. Unfortunately, despite the considerable transformations of software applications in general, video conferencing applications are; as perceived by this dissertation, incapable of supporting the dynamics of interaction in a distributed group work settings and inflexible as they still require potential users to install their software locally or add plugins or addons when delivered through web-browsers.

Initially, this dissertation was inspired by PASSENGER – a synchronous groupware application for a small group cooperating in a software design activity – that was developed at the Institute of Computer Engineering. PASSENGER was implemented for Windows operating systems and employed a floor control mechanism to support distributed synchronous cooperation. The floor control mechanism allows only one participant to take control over the video or audio channel and the shared workspace that is displayed and shared to all participants. Due to this characteristic, PASSENGER cannot support the dynamics of interaction. Its limitation to Windows operating systems is a hindrance for flexibility and mobility, since its users must adapt Windows operating systems to cooperate with one another. These impediments became the incipient aim of this dissertation – to distinguish improvement possibilities for PASSENGERS while taking into consideration the current developments and the future demands of synchronous groupware systems.

As a possible improvement for PASSENGER, this dissertation acquaints the notion of tailorability – a way to provide flexibility – where users are empowered to configure their collaboration environment according to their momentary collaboration needs. To prove that tailorability supports the dynamics of interaction, an experimental study was designed and performed using a partially tailorable synchronous groupware OmniJoin. It is assumed that if tailorability supports the dynamics of interaction, then the efficiency of collaboration should be better than that of a non-tailorable collaboration environment. The alternative hypothesis defined for this study is: tailorability increases the efficiency of collaboration. For this study, an online tutorial on the subject Operating Systems and Computer Networks (OSCN) was offered to students. The study was analysed statistically using Mann-Whitney U Test and resulted in the verification of the alternative hypothesis. This leads to conclusion that a tailorable synchronous groupware could be implemented and studied further.

For the implementation of a tailorable synchronous groupware, trends of today and future software applications are taken into consideration. One aspect is the delivery of the synchronous groupware application through the web-browser. However, in order to increase the flexibility of the system, the installation of plugins and add-ons are avoided. At the time this dissertation was written, WebRTC was the only protocol that supported the development of plugin/add-on-free synchronous groupware applications. This proposal application is named Tailor-SMaDe. Tailor-SMaDe is also equipped with activity monitoring and collaboration analysis tool which was aimed to be used for the further study in collaboration efficiency.


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