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5.1 Awareness

It was noticed that certain differences from real life meetings and classrooms often causes the user to feel uncomfortable or confused about what is actually going on in the session. In a virtual shared space it is sometimes hard for users to acquire the desired amount of awareness about other users and what they are doing. This is especially the case if participants are not familiar with each other, i.e. don't know each other in real life.

5.1.1 Awareness of remote colleagues

Awareness is usually compensated for by providing real-time audio and/or video communication in combination with the shared space. Those aids are however expensive in terms of network bandwidth and hardware. Therefore, other ways should be found to improve the awareness of users. In ''Who's There? A Design for Providing Awareness to Distributed Groups''[7], Susan E. McDaniel suggests we make the following information about participants available to all users in order to raise the awareness about remote colleagues:

The location of the user
The users availability
The users schedule and projects
Information about current or past changes of the above information
It is also most important, when dealing with users who don't know each other yet, to provide sufficient information about who the other users are. Additionally, a user needs to have control over the information provided about them. This information could be presented in two ways:

Status display for session participants: Information mentioned in points (i) and (ii) are already partially implemented. The main session window shows every users location in form of the network address and if a particular session member is currently present or not. However, the location display could be more meaningful to users if it would also show the participants real-life location. For example if the user is currently logged into the system from home, the office or any other meaningful description of the users location. The status window should also display the social status of a user, such as if he or she is a teacher, student, employee, supervisor, administrator and so forth. The presence indicator could also be enhanced by making it possible to participants to set their presence level, such as ''just arrived'', ''going away soon'' or ''will be back in xy minutes''. Altogether, the status display should make it possible for users to get a quick overview of other session participants.

User Profile: Every registered user of the virtual laboratory should have a separate user profile section. This section should contain the users name, address and other useful information, like when he is usually available for session meetings, or which classes the user is attending or on what projects he or she is working on. The user should be able to control which information is provided about him. The profile section should be accessible to other users who want to know more about the particular user. It could help a user to get to know the session members in advance and to prepare himself for an upcoming meeting. Additionally, the contents of the profile section could vary, depending on how and where the laboratory is used (education, meeting tool...). It should therefore exist separated from the session system. Since the profile section has database characteristics with less user interaction, it would be a good idea to implement and make it accessible as HTML pages over Web-Servers.

5.1.2 Awareness of user actions

Especially if many users are present in a session, it is possible that they may lose the overview about what is currently going on in a session. It is also hard for newly arriving participants to get accustomed to an already in progress session.

Some sort of timeline-display could be used to display all performed user actions. It would display a list of events like ''User A rotated image B by xy degree''. The events are displayed ordered according to time they occurred. Let's say a user just drew a figure on an image. Other users see that new figure suddenly appearing. They probably want to know who just created that drawing? It becomes clear by looking at the timeline-display, which displays ''User B created a new drawing on image Z'',

The timeline-display could also be coupled and synchronized with the discussion window. That would make it easier for just arrived participants to get an overview of what the users did and said so far. It would also be a good idea, to make it possible for users, especially teachers and group leaders, to set short but significant statements in the time line. Those statements could be of the form ''We just solved problem xy, now let's talk about yz''. This would further improve the structure of the session.

next up previous contents
Next: 5.2 User Administration Up: 5. Conclusion and Future Previous: 5. Conclusion and Future
Norbert Harrer