MOBILE COLLABORATION AT THE TABLETOP IN PUBLIC SPACES

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1 Jacqueline Brodie and Mark Perry DISC, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex, UB8 3PH, UK. {Jacqueline.Brodie, Illyenkov invites us to consider the differences between a lump of wood and a (wooden) table. The table comes into being by way of purposive human activity we are able to distinguish between these two objects by virtue of the cultural affordances endowed in the wood by the craftsman the table to be useful must embody basic level affordances such as able to support the weight of crockery and the affordances arising from the embodiment, that is, be of a size to allow people to sit at it (Turner and Turner, 2002:95) Abstract This paper examines the critical role that the "tabletop" can play in face-to-face collaboration of mobile workers and discusses the relationship between digital tabletop displays and the mobile device. We present fieldwork observations of current mobile collaboration at the tabletop in public spaces and draw from these observations some implications for future off the desktop technology. Research Vision Introduction Our research has examined what mobile workers do when they collaborate face-to-face away from the office, how this differs from more traditional forms of collaboration and how this kind of collaboration can be augmented by technology (Brodie and Perry, 2001). While the initial focus has been on the mobile device as the prime means of augmenting collaborative work on the move, through fieldwork we have began to identify the critical role that the "tabletop" can play in face-to-face collaboration of mobile workers (e.g. at airports and on trains). Attempting to understand the relationship that the tabletop can have with both mobility and face-to-face collaboration we find that on the one hand, the micro-mobility (Luff and Heath, 1998) of digital artefacts, and thus their role in collaboration, can be assisted by the presence of a table, for example, allowing the easy movement of a laptop computer towards another user to facilitate the occasional sharing of a laptop screen during collaboration. On the other hand, mobility on the larger scale is often not served by the traditional tabletop because the form factor of current tabletops 1 and mobile devices combine to afford limited patterns of work and hinders group dynamics through constraining the physical mobility of the individuals and orientation of the information involved in the face-to-face collaboration. To demonstrate the role that the tabletop plays in collaboration we present some examples from fieldwork and end with offering some implications for an integration of digital artefacts at the tabletop in public spaces that lend themselves to more productive and effective mobile face-to face collaboration. Vision It has been established through our research and other work that the form factor of current mobile devices (especially when used in combination with one another) can hinder mobile collaboration (e.g. Luff and Heath, 1998; Brodie and Perry, 2001). This creates a complex scenario of current use where both mobility and collaboration can be further constrained by the relationship mobile technology develops with existing tabletops when workers are on the move. We could turn to wearable computers in our future vision to solve the mobility problem that arises - as some have done in their desire to replace the restrictive desktop 1 Rarely do we see a user s lap being used to support a laptop computer 1

2 model of computer use (c.f. Korteum, 1996). However, this is not necessarily the most appropriate direction to pursue in supporting collaborative activities in these contexts because it makes digital artefacts individual ownership devices and restricts the democratic use of these devices. Instead we propose a vision of the future where integrated connectivity of mobile devices and augmented tabletops (and other suitable networked room-ware technology, such as large digital displays) allow the user the freedom to collaborate when and where they want to. A prototyped example of an augmented table, allowing flexible working patterns for collaborators, is the InteracTable (Streitz et al., 1999). This device is designed for display, discussion, and annotation and supports groups of users sitting or standing. However, mobility of the InteracTable is limited because of its size, and so Streitz et al. developed the ConnecTable: an augmented tabletop that facilitates smoother and more flexible collaboration in small groups (Tandler et al., 2001). The height of this small e-table can be altered to accommodate standing or sitting. The display can also be tilted to reflect the different angles that would be needed for best viewing. By coupling several ConnecTables together (since they are on wheels), they can be arranged to form a larger display area. Mobility is achieved by employing a wireless network connection facilitated by an independent power supply. For our part we would hope that in the future, it is with such room-ware devices that the mobile device will develop a strong relationship. Workshop Issues The following are some key issues that have arisen or been inspired from our field observations and we would like to see them discussed or brainstormed at the workshop: What form should/could the relationship between mobile devices and augmented tabletops take to effectively support face-to-face collaboration of workers on the move? What part could Norman s (1988) perceived affordances play in this? The lack of flexibility of current digital technology, including orientation flexibility (e.g. cannot easily turn the displayed information on a laptop upside down), decreases the share-ability of this resource in meetings. Paper is usually chosen for ad hoc and mobile meetings since the micro-mobility of paper allows more inclusive participation than digital technology can currently provide (see, for example, Figs 1 and 2). How can we overcome this through an augmented table display and mobile devices? How best to evaluate the effectiveness of such a technological pairing? Figs. 1. and 2: paper-based collaboration on the train What methods are appropriate for understanding and modelling user s activities and their communities in mobile environments in order to achieve a more ecologically appropriate approach to the design of new display technology? 2

3 What kind of feedback (notification) after action or action of others, can we provide at the interface of tabletop displays for each user (e.g. graphical, sound) and how will each user know the feedback is for them? Could mobile devices aid this by acting as an individual collaborators input/feedback mechanism? Current Research Direction The work-surface in collaboration Before turning to look at our research in detail let us note some important findings about collaboration and its characteristic need for a common work-surface. This will guide us in our understanding of what is occurring when people use tabletops, augmented or otherwise, in public spaces to aid their collaborative activities. It has been argued that artefacts (and the awareness they provide) in the workspace are what glue together collaboration and give the social cues for how this collaboration should progress (Gutwin and Greenberg, 1996). Among such materials, Greenberg (1990:1) highlights common work-surfaces that allow people to annotate, draw, brainstorm, record, and convey ideas during the meeting s progress. Although most work can be described as collaborative, the majority of computer-based activities actually focus around software designed to be used by a solo user at any one time. To overcome technological constraints, people collaborating together talk and gesture around a computer screen, often taking turns interacting with their single-user application by sharing the use of the keyboard or other input device (Greenberg, 1990). As an alternative route to bring about more effective collaboration people often turn to more low tech support, such, as paper, to mediate their collaboration (e.g. Sellen and Harper, 2001). We can see these important issues coming through when we turn to look our research data. The Research In order to get an extended insight into face-to-face collaboration while on the move, observations were carried out in several locations (nationally, in the UK and in the USA), over a period of six months, on trains, at airports and on aeroplanes. These observational episodes averaged approximately two hours in duration. Individuals and groups of mobile workers were observed collaborating locally with colleagues, friends and family. This observational data was supplemented by an earlier study of 15 interviews with mobile workers. Key Findings of the Research 1. Extensive use of flat surfaces and tables in mobile face- to-face collaboration. The people observed used a range of devices including laptops, PDA s and mobile phones to collaborate in environments far removed from the physical location of their traditional workspaces, if indeed they had one. The mobile workers observed made extensive use of flat surfaces in their use of mobile technology in public spaces. Local collaboration was characterised by the use of the tabletop either with or without technology present. Clearly, those collaborating on the move do not only find that they need to have flat table surfaces to work on, but that they recognise this before they begin working and make a conscious effort to ensure that they have one. Such a need seems to stem from their awareness that collaboration can involve multiple activities and as such they will need different artefacts to support these multiple activities over time - such as a notepad, notebook, laptop, PDA or mobile phone, which they can spread out on the table as they collaborate (see for e.g. Fig 3). 3

4 Fig 3:Screen based tabletop collaboration on a train However, the use of non-augmented tabletops means the users are fixed to adopting seating patterns (hindering mobility in their environment) or poor ergonomic positions to share one small computer screen that necessitates explicit turn-taking and restricts possible physical actions. 2. Current forms of mobile face-to-face collaboration can be undemocratic and hence less effective and productive because of the technology involved. Fig. 4 below shows two academics carrying out ad-hoc collaboration while at an airport. They were working, talking and gesturing around a laptop computer screen. We can see that the nature of their relationship dictates that the senior party is in control - both of the interaction and of the device. He moves it towards the younger researcher when he needs her input in the changes that he is making and moves it away from her when he does not. Only at one instance does she take control of the laptop keyboard to alter some information on one of the PowerPoint slides and only after he asks her to do this. The rest of the time he controls the pace of their collaboration. It is interesting to note that a meeting such as this can alternate between collaborative activities and then individually orientated action and how body language and device orientation is used to co-ordinate these transitions. Fig 4: Collaboration around a laptop in airport departure lounge 4

5 Another feature of this collaboration was the need for the collaborators to carry around a large rucksack to house the laptop in. Augmented tabletop displays may reduce this necessity of carrying large input devices like laptops in favour of smaller devices like PDA s. Conclusions The fundamental challenge facing off the desktop device design is we need to appreciate that moving computing off the desktop, its home for the last 30 years, encourages us to reflect on the way dynamic users interact with their colleagues, how they interact with their hand-held and fixed devices, and how these devices interact with each other. Being aware of the need for digital devices to be flexible (for example, allowing changing input modes seamlessly from fingers, stylus devices, virtual keyboards and voice recognition to avoid breakdowns ) means we need to think about digital devices in a holistic light and in their natural out in the wild context of use. No one is suggesting such a change in developing technology will be easy. We can easily get it wrong when we focus on the wrong things to augment, like the augmented table below observed in a Florida hotel (Figs 5 and 6). Figs. 5. and 6: Simple augmentation of a hotel table in Florida Hotel. Unfortunately, by being in the middle of the table, the power supply divided the users and was inappropriate for supporting collaborative activities on it. New ubiquitous technology presents a test to our commitment to bring about the real digital revolution and facilitate the emergence of anytime, anywhere workplaces. At the forefront of our mind must be the recognition of the richness of experience that off the desktop technologies can provide for the user and their community during collaborative activities on the move. Such an experience is only curtailed by the limits of the current hardware and our own imaginations. We need to rethink software and hardware from a more mobile paradigm, while keeping support for traditional CSCW practices such as collaboration, coordination and so on in the off-the-desktop technology we envision. Similarly we need to avoid designing digital technology so the affordances of the devices on their own or in combination take on the affordances and metaphors of the desktop model (c.f. Norman, 1988). This is a problem we seem to have at present, in part because of our reluctance to let go of software and input devices traditionally associated with the desktop model of computing use, like QWERTY keyboards. Introducing flexibility into our designs and a focus on the user is seen as crucial if computer supported cooperative work is to finally progress beyond the desktop. Authors' Backgrounds and Motivations Jacqueline Brodie: Jacqueline Brodie is a PhD research student in the Information Systems and Computing Department of Brunel University. Jacqueline s research activities include face-to-face collaboration and remote collaboration supported by digital technology. She is 5

6 keen to attend this workshop because of the opportunity to explore the mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship mobile devices could develop with augmented tabletop displays. Mark Perry: Mark Perry is a lecturer in the Department of Information Systems and Computing at Brunel University. His research activities involve investigating collaboration through the use of distributed cognition with the applied aim of supporting the design of CSCW technologies. Recent activities have looked into the design and use of information appliances and in particular, mobile and hand-held devices, as well as large digital displays. References Bellotti, V. and Bly, S. (1996). Walking away from the desktop computer: distributed collaboration and mobility in a product design team. Proceedings of CSCW 96, September 17-20, Boston, Mass: CM Press. p Brodie, J. and Perry, M. (2001) Designing for Blue-Collar Work. Mobility, Collaboration and Information Use. ACM Siggroup Bulletin, 22 (3), p Greenberg, S. (1990) Sharing views and interactions with single-user applications, Proceedings of the conference on Office information systems, ACM Press New York, NY, USA Pages: Gutwin C. and Greenberg, S. (1996) Workspace awareness for groupware. Proceedings of the CHI '96 conference companion on Human factors in computing systems, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Pages: New York: ACM Press. Kortuem, G. (1996). Software Architecture and Wearable Computing. Internal Report: University of Oregon, Department of Computer and Information Science: Wearable Computing Research Group. p.ps Luff, P. and Heath, C. (1998).. Mobility in Collaboration. Proceedings of CSCW 98, November 14-18,Seattle, Washington, USA, p New York: ACM Press. Sellen A. and Harper R. (2001) The Myth of the Paperless Office, MIT Press. Streitz, N.A, Geißler, J, Holmer, T, Konomi, S, Müller-Tomfelde, C, Reischl, W, Rexroth, P, Seitz, P, and Steinmetz, R (1999) i-land:an interactive Landscape for Creativity and Innovation Proceedings of CHI 99, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., May ACM Press, New York. pp Tandler, P, Prante, T, Müller-Tomfelde, C, Streitz, N.A, and Steinmetz, R (2001) Connectables: dynamic coupling of displays for the flexible creation of shared workspaces. Proceedings of the 14th annual ACM symposium on User interface software and technology, Orlando, Florida. Turner, P. and Turner S. (2002). An Affordance based Framework For CVE Evaluation. Proceedings of the 16th British HCI Conference. London, UK, September, pp London, Springer. Winograd, T. and Flores, F. (1987). Understanding computers and cognition: a new foundation for design. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley. 6

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