Drew Harry Thesis Defense: Designing Complementary Communication Systems

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Drew Harry

We have long assumed that being face-to-face is the best environment for social interaction. But is "being there" the best we can aspire to? One common approach to improving face-to-face contexts is to add new communication channels—a strategy often described as creating "backchannels." In his work, Drew Harry uses a series of novel complementary communication systems to show both how adding communication platforms to collaborative situations can be useful while also arguing for a new conceptual model of side stages (in the Goffman sense) that contrasts with the traditional model of backchannels. He will describe a series of projects that embody this approach and explore its limits. This will include work on virtual world meetings and presentations, an audience interaction tool for large groups (, a tablet-based system for small group discussions (Tin Can), and a platform for connecting huge distributed audiences (ROAR). In each of these projects he will trace his three major research themes: understanding how conversational grounding operates in these environments, how non-verbal actions complement text-based interaction, and how people make decisions about how to manage their attention in environments with multiple simultaneous communication channels.

Host/Chair: Chris Schmandt


Judith S. Donath, Wanda J. Orlikowski

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