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Research

Computer-Supported Collaboration

Kosuke Sasaki/Specially-Appointed Assistant Professor, Faculty of Global Management / Full-time Researcher, Chuo University Platform for Research and Development on Higher Education
Areas of Specialization: Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, Human-Computer Interaction and Educational Technology

Introduction

About 30 years have passed since personal computers first came into widespread use among the general public and about 15 years for smartphones. In today's society, not a day goes by without seeing or using one of these devices.

As we all know, computer technology, including personal computers and smartphones, continues to evolve every day with the aim of enriching people's lives. The term AI (Artificial Intelligence) has become familiar in recent times, and computers have always been used to help humans (in a role much like an assistant).

I specialize in Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), an academic field that studies ways to use information technology in order to support connecting people. In this article, I will discuss how computers can be used to connect people.

What is CSCW?

The word "collaborative work" refers to multiple people working together to accomplish something. What does it mean for computers to support cooperative work?

The scope of collaborative work is vast. Humans are social animals; in principle, we cannot live alone. In other words, in order to survive in society, we are inevitably required to work collaboratively.

Let me introduce a simple example of cooperative work. Imagine that you are walking down a narrow hallway. As you are walking down the hallway, another person comes walking towards you from the opposite direction. Now, what do you do? Naturally, you try to avoid bumping into the oncoming person. Similarly, the person walking towards you will also try to avoid collision. "Two people changing direction slightly while watching each other to avoid collision." This is a fine example of cooperative work.

However, the cooperative work of "avoiding collision in a hallway" may not work well in all situations. For example, what if the person coming towards you were to have extremely poor eyesight? What if they were walking while looking elsewhere (their smartphone, etc.) and did not see you? What if you were unable to see the person coming towards you because you did not see the person coming, or if both of you weren't paying attention?

In situations like this, we can rely on technology that notifies us of approaching people. For example, a technology has been proposed that uses sound to alert people of an approaching person and encourage collision avoidance[1]. In this way, CSCW studies how we use various information technologies to support cooperation among people.

Other Cooperative Work Support

There are many other research projects to support cooperative work. I will introduce some examples of research in which I have been involved.

Many people may have had the experience of trying their hand at acting in school plays in elementary or junior high school. School plays are a typical example of many people working together. This includes not only the people performing on stage, but also the people operating the lighting and sound systems. In particular, performers must remember not only their own lines, but also the lines and movements of their fellow performers with whom they share the stage. Performers must remember information such as how they should move in response to a line spoken by another performer. Even in these situations, computer technology can support performers. For example, cuing information such as "it is my turn to speak after a certain performer's line" can reduce the burden on performers[2].

Next, let's consider a situation in which two people are conversing. Conversation is one of the most well-known forms of cooperative work. A conversation is often likened to playing catch. Of course, just one person talking continuously is not considered a conversation. If one person is a native speaker and the other person is not, the native speaker will inevitably speak more, making the non-native speaker's opinions less likely to manifest in the conversation. In such cases, if a third-party computer agent encourages non-native speakers to converse through facilitating comments such as "So, what's your opinion?", non-native speakers will be more likely to participate in the conversation. The act of intervening in a conversation is important in itself, and it is more important to consider various ways to intervene more effectively[3].

Have you ever heard the term "PBL" in a university class? It generally refers to two terms: "Project-Based Learning" and "Problem-Based Learning." This article will consider Project-Based Learning. In the learning format called PBL, students are not instructed from A to Z by teachers; rather, students take the initiative in finding problems to solve and promoting learning activities. Of course, this does not mean that teachers can completely relinquish control of their classes. Instead, they must monitor whether students are moving toward their goals and whether they are facing any problems, and then provide guidance as necessary. This can also be seen as collaborative work between teachers and students. However, teachers are busy and it is not realistic to keep a constant watch on every student all the time. Therefore, a method has been proposed to estimate the learning status of students through the use of learning activity reports which are periodically submitted by students. In the future, this method is expected to be automated, which is anticipated to reduce the burden on teachers and enable them to provide higher quality instruction to students[4].

We often encounter cooperative work in our daily lives. How can we use computer technology to assist such work? As long as cooperative work and computers remain a part of our world, the study of CSCW will continue.

Conclusion

This article introduced the academic field of CSCW, including some concrete examples. The goal of CSCW is to use computer technology to more smoothly and effectively support the cooperative work that takes place in every aspect of our daily lives and social activities. The scope of application of CSCW is extremely broad. As technology advances, we will be able to engage in more creative and productive cooperative work.

We must not forget that the essence of CSCW is "connecting people." Computer technology is merely a means to an end. The ultimate goal is to create an environment where people can communicate better and utilize their mutual strengths.

As new computer technologies such as AI, IoT (Internet of Things), and XR (Extended Reality) continue to develop, CSCW will constantly increase its importance. Even while relying on the power of technology, we must always maintain a "human-centered" perspective and move forward toward the realization of a richer, more harmonious society. CSCW is a field of study that serves as a guidepost for this journey.


<References>

[1] Seita Kayukawa, Keita Higuchi, João Guerreiro, Shigeo Morishima, Yoichi Sato, Kris Kitani, and Chieko Asakawa. 2019. BBeep: A Sonic Collision Avoidance System for Blind Travellers and Nearby Pedestrians. In Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '19). Paper 52, 1-12.
[2] Kosuke Sasaki and Tomoo Inoue. 2019. Coordinating Real-Time Serial Cooperative Work by Cuing the Order in the Case of Theatrical Performance Practice. Mobile Information Systems, 4545917, 10 pages.
[3] Tomoo Inoue, Kumiko Kawai, Boyu Sun and Kosuke Sasaki. 2021. Visual Appearance is not Always Useful: Voice is Preferred as a Mediating Conversational Agent to Support Second Language Conversation. Informatics Society, 12, 3, 177-185.
[4] Kosuke Sasaki, Zhen He and Tomoo Inoue. 2023. Using Video Activity Reports to Support Remote Project-Based Learning. JUCS - Journal of Universal Computer Science. 29, 11, 1336-1360.

Kosuke Sasaki/Specially-Appointed Assistant Professor, Faculty of Global Management / Full-time Researcher, Chuo University Platform for Research and Development on Higher Education
Areas of Specialization: Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, Human- Computer Interaction and Educational Technology

Kosuke Sasaki was born in Hokkaido in 1990. He graduated from the College of Media Arts, Science and Technology in the School of Informatics, University of Tsukuba in 2014. He completed the Master’s Program in the Graduate School of Library, Information and Media Studies, University of Tsukuba in 2016. He received his M.Sc. in Informatics from the University of Tsukuba. After serving as a Part-Time Lecturer at Shumei University, he assumed his current position in 2022.

In 2022, he received the IWIN2022 Best Paper Awards. He is a regular member of the Information Processing Society of Japan (IPSJ) as well as a steering committee member for the IPSJ SIG (Special Interest Groups) on GN and CN.

Current main research topic is supporting teacher feedback in PBL in remote learning environments.