I research how interactions with such systems are constructed, to inform the design of new systems and to help people understand the implications for their personal and professional communications. We talk to one another ever more through mediating technologies, such as online forums and blogs, mobile phone conversations and webcam video. Our ability to act as we wish depends on how well we are able to engage with one another through these technologies.
Some technologies are more efficient than others in helping us to get information across to others, and by the same token, for them to convey their message back to us. Think about the difference between receiving written instructions by email compared to being told what to do on the phone. Through the representations and transformations of information their designers have defined, these systems change what we are able to do and how we are able to do it. They mediate our understanding of one another.
Besides clarity and precision, there are other things that matter to people when they talk to one another. Things like being able to tell if the other person is unhappy or if they know we care. Even more importantly, it isn't always obvious what needs to be said. In conversation, people work together to exchange relevant information and to work things out. 'Message passing' assumes that we all know in advance exactly what we want to say. Conversations are much more commonly about working things out than simply delivering prepackaged messages. Communication technologies have come to be important in social relationships too.
Computer mediation of our dealings with others is very powerful in our everyday lives. It affects our sense of belonging, capacity for reaching agreement, toleration of dispute, demonstration and recognition of concern, and mutual comprehension. A scientific approach to the study of mediation can show how different technologies can cause different problems for people, and offer different potential benefits in all of these ways. So knowledge about how features make a difference can then be used to design new kinds of communication technologies, or else to help people to get the most out of what has already been invented. Knowledge of this kind has implications for personal relationships, business efficiency and democratic participation in the functioning of society.
In addition to research of this kind, I am also concerned with the science base for research on people and ICTs. That means I conduct projects with a methodological focus (finding new ways to find out new things). I am equally interested in methods whether they are quantitative (using numbers to describe and compare) or qualitative (using other observational data, especially linguistic information).
I was appointed as the first Research Ethics Officer for the
Department of Computer Science at Bath in 2006. I devised
guidance on ethical research practice for my colleagues and students at all levels of study.
I put together a self-checking scheme to help identify and manage ethical issues that may arise in CS research that involves public participation. If you are a current member of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bath who is preparing a proposal for funded research, you can find information about what you should do on the Departmental Intranet.
The connection between my research and teaching is in understanding how to define and reason about systems which are made up of human and software components. Besides the 'headline work' of a particular human activity, for example defining a new taxation policy, people also have to do a lot of 'cooperation work' just to be able to understand, cooperate and integrate their separate viewpoints. Software can be designed to aid in both the headline and cooperation parts of the work of any group wants to do. In that way, the quality and nature of 'the group' changes from being purely about human action to being about an integrated human-computer action. It depends on combinations of human intelligence ('nondeterministic wetware') and computational intelligence ('deterministic software'), working as a unified sociotechnical system.
Converstations always take place for a reason. Sometimes we engage in them for several reasons and sometimes the original reason is lost, or rather superceded, as our conversations take new twists and turns. My research considers how groups of people collaborate with one another, the way they articulate their understanding and concerns to one another, especially their 'stories', and depends upon knowledge of the spaces they inhabit and how they maintain their identities.
It is hard to work within an environment that relies on email conversations and still stay in touch with the broader context of which they are a part. To work through email is in some sense to be act in a world that is detatched. Famously, an internal email memo, no doubt sent in haste and without reflection, read: It's a good day to bury bad news.
This message was sent at a time when, outside of the rarefied atmosphere of that organisation, and the ultra-rarefied atmosphere of email-in-haste, was absorbed in the horror of the 'bad news' itself.
So what is this 'tone'? It is the emotional force of the message as it is read. How often have you thought, when you have received an email: How Rude!. Or had an overly terse reply to an email that you have sent, that makes you ask yourself: Was I so very rude in what or how I wrote to them? There seems to be more scope in text-based communication for emotionally significant misunderstanding than when we speak on the phone or meet for real. It's hard to manage, on occasion, the yawning spaces between words. These occasions are nearly always when we have to deal with contentious matters. People do this by searching among a set of possible interpretations (or simply jumping for the first meaning that comes to mind). One way of thinking about this is that every message tells a story and the interpretations we are able to place on messages therefore depends upon the number of narratives we are able to use to make sense of them.
Daniel Gooch is investigating social presence (the feeling of being emotionally close to another individual) and how to mediate this through communication technologies.
James Dove is investigating how people support one another, asking how people with particular problems are able to find benefit in communicating with one another online. He is considering:
the advancement of knowledge, the dissemination and extension of sciences and arts, the provision of technological, liberal and professional education