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I gave a keynote address at an annual research symposium on built environments held by the College of Architecture at Texas A&M. My colleague Carrie Dossick and I spoke on how visualization and communication tools can address problems at construction jobsites.
Engineering teams collaborating in virtual environments face many technical, social, and cultural challenges. In this paper we focus on distributed teams making joint unanticipated discoveries in virtual environments. We operationalize a definition of “messy talk” as a process in which teams mutually discover issues, critically engage in clarifying and finding solutions to the discovered issues, exchange their knowledge, and resolve the issue. Can globally distributed teams use messy talk via virtual communication technology? We analyzed the interactions of four distributed student teams collaborating on a complex design and planning project using building information models (BIMs) and the cyber-enabled global research infrastructure for design (CyberGRID), a virtual world specifically developed for collaborative work. Their interactions exhibited all four elements of messy talk, even though resolution was the least common. Virtual worlds support real-time joint problem solving by (1) providing affordances for talk mediated by shared visualizations, (2) supporting team perceptions of building information models that are mutable, and (3) allowing transformations of those models while people were together in real time. Our findings suggest that distributed team collaboration requires technologies that support messy talk—and iterative trial and error—for complex multidimensional problems.
This article briefly reviews theories of materiality emerging in communication technology studies and organizational communication and then suggests three ways that journalism scholars might apply these theories to studies of news production. How journalists work, how journalism is shaped within newsrooms, the ways the news industry is changing, and ultimately, the effects of digital transitions can all benefit from including a focus on the ‘objects of journalism’. First, objects, such as documents, help scholars describe the social settings where objects are found. Second, the objects of journalism help scholars uncover lines of authority, contexts of news routines, and richness and persistence of news practices. Third, studying the objects of journalism can help explain the persistence of so-called residual practices that might otherwise seem dysfunctional in digital news. Materiality theories can help journalism scholars explain the impact of the transition to digital news on the work and practices of journalists and the news industry as a whole.