Re: Effective tool for collaborative work?

Russell Bly (
Mon, 14 Apr 1997 20:45:39 -0400

>Hi. I am part of a team at the American University
>conducting research on the effectiveness of CU-SeeMe for
>collaborative work. After several observations of team
>problem solving tasks using CU-SeeMe, our initial findings
>show that the learning curve is steeper than anticipated and
>users become easily frustrated with technical problems.


Your comments seem to be a little open ended. You mention that the
learning curve is steeper than expected. Out of curiosity, what was
expected? Remember that just a few short years ago, people were
amazed at the concept of getting just one graphic image downloaded
in 10 minutes. CSM is new state of the art technology. Any new
computer package will have a learning curve.

We are currently using CSM to deliver live video/audio from one of our
graduate level Engineering Management courses with great success.
Our surprise was that the learning curve was not only on the student's
end, but the faculty had to adjust to the technology as well. However,
the learning curve of CSM was actually less than the learning curve of
incorporating PowerPoint multimedia slides into the distance learning

The problem of easy frustration is not unique to CSM. Two years ago,
students were frustrated because they couldn't get Kermit to work. Last
year we switched to PPP and students were again frustrated. I do not
think this indicates a weakness in the technologies. Perhaps it is a weakness
in support and education. Our department's solution was to pull support
from our computing support units and move the support in-house.

Expectations must be managed as well. CSM is not for reviewing
movies on line or following the instructor on a chalk board. We have
found that CSM works best when support materials can be obtained.
For example, all PowerPoint slides are posted on the web prior to class.
CSM video is used primarily to synchronize slides which the remote
students have already printed. As for your questions, here are my

>* Do you view the software as a collaborative tool?
If expectations are managed AND collaboration is designed with CSM
as part of your collaboration package AND support is present, absolutely

>* What are some of the benefits?
Too many to list them all, so here are 3

Cheap real time audio and video

A taste of the future of telecommunications

Better view of the "Virtual Team" and the complexities
associated with designing work for that team

>* What are some of the limitations?
Low resolution, does not work well for materials not designed for the medium,
bandwidth is limited (for now).

>* Can you compare CU-SeeMe to working or learning
>in-person or in-class?
In our beta test, CSM is used to eliminate tape delay sites. With our old
students could not interact, faculty had to retain 3 weeks worth of class
intellectual property rights were compromised, and much control was lost.

With CSM, students interact (mostly through the chat window), students stay
tapes cannot be duplicated, faculty have regained control of their course.
As for outcomes,
we'll know by the grades in about 4 weeks. All indications are that the
grades will not be significantly different.

>* Any general comments?
Design the work with CSM as a component, not as a primary means of
collaboration. There
are many times when e-mail or teleconferencing is appropriate.
>Thank you for taking the time to share your opinions with me.