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The Benefits of Synchronous Collaborative Information Visualization: Evidence from an Experimental Evaluation
November/December 2009 (vol. 15 no. 6)
pp. 1073-1080
Sabrina Bresciani, University of Lugano (USI)
Martin J. Eppler, University of St. Gallen (HSG)
A great corpus of studies reports empirical evidence of how information visualization supports comprehension and analysis of data. The benefits of visualization for synchronous group knowledge work, however, have not been addressed extensively. Anecdotal evidence and use cases illustrate the benefits of synchronous collaborative information visualization, but very few empirical studies have rigorously examined the impact of visualization on group knowledge work. We have consequently designed and conducted an experiment in which we have analyzed the impact of visualization on knowledge sharing in situated work groups. Our experimental study consists of evaluating the performance of 131 subjects (all experienced managers) in groups of 5 (for a total of 26 groups), working together on a real-life knowledge sharing task. We compare (1) the control condition (no visualization provided), with two visualization supports: (2) optimal and (3) suboptimal visualization (based on a previous survey). The facilitator of each group was asked to populate the provided interactive visual template with insights from the group, and to organize the contributions according to the group consensus. We have evaluated the results through both objective and subjective measures. Our statistical analysis clearly shows that interactive visualization has a statistically significant, objective and positive impact on the outcomes of knowledge sharing, but that the subjects seem not to be aware of this. In particular, groups supported by visualization achieved higher productivity, higher quality of outcome and greater knowledge gains. No statistically significant results could be found between an optimal and a suboptimal visualization though (as classified by the pre-experiment survey). Subjects also did not seem to be aware of the benefits that the visualizations provided as no difference between the visualization and the control conditions was found for the self-reported measures of satisfaction and participation. An implication of our study for information visualization applications is to extend them by using real-time group annotation functionalities that aid in the group sense making process of the represented data.

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Index Terms:
Laboratory Studies, Visual Knowledge Representation, Collaborative and Distributed Visualization, synchronous situated collaboration, group work, experiment, knowledge sharing
Sabrina Bresciani, Martin J. Eppler, "The Benefits of Synchronous Collaborative Information Visualization: Evidence from an Experimental Evaluation," IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, vol. 15, no. 6, pp. 1073-1080, Nov.-Dec. 2009, doi:10.1109/TVCG.2009.188
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