Economics Network CHEER Virtual Edition

Volume 13, Issue 2, 1999

The Sixth European Conference on Computer Supported Co-operative Work

12 – 16 September 1999 – Copenhagen, Denmark

The main focus of the CSCW community is to report on and share information regarding computer supported co-operative work. In so doing it brings together academics and researchers from a number of technical and social disciplines. Research principally falls within one of the following areas:

The work we consider to be of particular interest to UK higher education practitioners is that which focuses on collaborative technologies to facilitate distance communication and the sharing of knowledge. Research is continuing into the networking requirements to achieve effective, co-operative working environments; suitable within a wide diversity of settings, including teaching and research. In addition, the aim to develop (and evaluate) software that can provide an appropriate, multiple user platform for access and manipulation, through the use of common information spaces, continues.

Multidisciplinary involvement and collaboration is a feature of CSCW and was evident in much of the research work reported on at this European gathering. There seemed a genuine desire on behalf of the ‘more-technical’ community to give due consideration to the ‘human’ element of human-computer interaction, together with an acknowledgement and use of many social science research methodologies.

Those who have experience of international telephone calls, especially to the antipodes, will know how hard it is to carry out a conversation when there are transmission delays, even if only a second or two. In their paper, Meaning-Making Across Remote Sites: How Delays in Transmission Affect Interaction, Ruhleder and Jordan reported on the same phenomenon, within the increasingly used world of video conferencing. Traditional, face-to-face conversation incorporates two features important for understanding, namely ‘turn taking’ and the assimilation of non-verbal cues. The authors reviewed existing findings relating to communication patterns and use their own research to illustrate the way in which transmission delays can adversely affect the meaning of conversations, by disrupting the turn taking pattern. It was found that the provision of video was not sufficient to completely overcome disruptions in communication, the visual cues available being limited to the quality of the camera and, for example, features such as viewing angle.

In a similar vein, Mark, Grudin and Poltrock (Meeting at the desktop: an empirical study of virtually collocated teams), focused on the use of technology to facilitate both communication and information sharing between geographically distributed group members. The use of Microsoft NetMeeting™ by four distributed teams within an organisation was studied over a period of three months. The use of the technology for both purposes was generally found to be worthwhile, however, difficulties with the technology, co-ordinating interacting, maintaining engagement and a tendency for low levels of involvement due to multi-tasking were also evident. Introducing the roles of technology facilitator and meeting facilitator to better structure meetings improved overall communication standards and understanding.

On a more cautious note, there was still some evidence of research development being completed on the basis of ‘this has not been done before, let’s do it’, rather than ‘there appears to be a genuine need for something to facilitate this form of collaborative work’. The cynic in me says that this occurs all too frequently elsewhere and perhaps the comment may therefore be seen as a little harsh. Nevertheless, practitioners do not appear to have made full use of their own collaborative community and the interdisciplinary knowledge available. That many of the reference sections for individual papers comprised a very high proportion of citations from ECSCW and CSCW conference publications would appear to support this view.

The impetus for greater use of technology in almost every aspect of life seems relentless. Frequently, a new tool is heralded as the latest device for saving time or enhancing some aspect of work. Evaluations are often narrowly focused. It is hoped that multidiscipline communities similar to CSCW can make the most of their strengths to encourage well-founded rationales and to encompass relevant research from many interrelated fields.

Kate Garland
University of Bristol

Bødker, S., Kyng, M. and Schmidt, K. (eds.) (1999) Proceedings of the Sixth European Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, 12 – 16 September 1999, Denmark, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.

Report on the first annual conference on world wide web applications: preparing for the new millennium

Held at the Centre for Research in Web Based applications, Department of Information Studies, Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg, South Africa. 9th and 10th September 1999

This multi-disciplinary conference was the first of its kind in South Africa, attracting over 300 delegates in diverse fields and with a multi-purpose approach to accessing, using, manipulating and developing the World Wide Web. Librarians, scientists, computer specialists, educators, economists, journalists and commercial marketing people met for the two day conference hosted by Professor Pieter Van Brakel, of the Department of Information Studies at the Rand Afrikaans University in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. Twenty-six papers were offered across plenary and parallel sessions with the consequent difficulties of choosing the appropriate session.

It was a first in that an essentially South African audience had the pleasure of listening to addresses by British and European colleagues focusing on international developments. The also dealt with the specific problems of the continent of Africa, and South Africa in particular, in addressing issues of connectivity, bandwidth, power supplies, telecommunications monopolies and investment in internet connections. The conference highlighted the sophisticated opportunities opening up for developing countries in accessing information and business developments in the USA and Europe and the limitations the obstacles faced by rural and urban African users. The challenge for South Africa is to extend its more advanced links into other parts of the continent and to evolve effective working relationships; perhaps the most pressing and urgent need is for the cost, routing and speed of connectivity to improve.

It was history in the making when Dr Robert Cailliau, of CERN, Geneva, one of the fathers of the World-Wide Web, delivered a key–note address on the origins of the Web, its progress during the last decade, current problems and future opportunities. The second speaker from CERN was Ms Maria Dimou-Zacharova who discussed CERN’s role in web development research and discussed CERN central servers’ configuration. She elaborated on CERN guidelines and recommendations on Web authoring and site management.

England was represented at the conference by Dr Victor Newman, Director of the Centre for Knowledge Development at Cranfield University and by Dr David Raitt, Chairman of International Online Information Meetings, London. Dr Raitt delivered the opening address of the conference on Today’s Information Industry: applications and trends on the Internet. An overview of many newer applications and trends on the Internet: home shopping, bandwidth & broadcasting; palm portals, the position of advertising on the Web free internet access, cybercafes and ways of enhancing communication gave the academics in the audience food for thought as to how we could package distance education. Whatever the application the user has a unique opportunity to conduct business in a more efficient, convenient and fruitful manner.

Dr Victor Newman ‘s keynote address took us into the realms of Knowledge Work –the limitations of Knowledge Management, raised questions about the organisation of knowledge and knowledge management through the Internet and on the Web.

Two Economics papers were presented:

Kathy Munro, Prabhat Vaze and Harry Zarenda of the Department of Economics, University of the Witwatersrand, presented the one paper of relevance for academic economists in discussing the Use of the WWW in the teaching of economics. The paper dealt with the diverse opportunities offered by the WWW in the teaching of economics at university level. It sought to introduce South African academic users to a range of search engines, links to academic sites in economics, the development of web pages and the use of American publishers’ support material for introductory economics textbooks. Our audience was also made aware of the work of the CTI in Economics at Bristol and CHEER. We specifically sought opportunities for South African universities’ co-operation and the importance of a more widespread awareness of CAL and the role of the Web in extending our students’ horizons at undergraduate and postgraduate level. An interesting debate followed on the affordability of both the hardware and the software in a third world environment and the huge gains to be achieved in narrowing the information divide between information rich and information poor societies through access to the Web.

Bernard Serfontein of the Department of Economics at the University of South Africa discussed “Creating Content for the Internet”, discussed the barriers to using the WWW in the South African academic environment. As a pioneering distance education /correspondence university UNISA is uniquely position to seize the technology of the Internet in developing materials. The second part of the paper dealt with the use of Java Script to create moderately interactive teaching material and demonstrated a joint project between the Department of Economics at UNISA and Brigham Young University, Utah.

Overall the conference debated the wider context for the use of the web in business, communications and the tertiary environment. The conference was valuable in bringing together enthusiasts in CAL and introduced us to educators at other universities using online education in secondary school education projects, in web based course development in anatomy, to creating a virtual academic community in Africa.

All conference papers are to be published in future issues of the South African Journal of Information Management available at

The success of this first conference generated great enthusiasm for the 2nd conference planned for 7th & 8th September 2000 at the Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg. We would particularly like to invite a wider group of academic economists to participate and, if possible, offer a session dedicated to Economics.

Anyone interested can contact Kathy Munro of Wits University by e-mail:

Katherine Munro
University of the Witwatersrand
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