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ANALYZING COMPUTER-MEDIATEDCOMMUNICATION INPROFESSIONALENVIRONMENTS:AN ACTIVITY THEORYAPPROACHClay Spinuzzi, University of...
An illustration: Circulating  knowledgeSpinuzzi, C. (2010). Secret sauce and snake oil: Writingmonthly reports in a highly...
Challenges of studying CMC inprofessional environments CMC is not an end in itself, but a way to  accomplish cyclical wor...
Field studies   Software developers (1997)   Traffic safety workers (1998-1999)   Telecommunications workers (2000-2001...
Research questions How do Semoptco‟s workers produce monthly  reports? What tools and texts do they use? How do they sha...
Data collection methods   Site interviews (with manager, 40m and 30m)   Pre-observation interviews (20-30m)   Naturalis...
Data coding and analysismethods   Coding. Starter codes, open coding, axial coding    for all data sources.   Triangulat...
Analytical constructs   Genre ecologies   Communicative events   Sociotechnical graphs   Operations tables   Activity...
GenresSee:   Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech genres and other       late essays. Austin: University of Texas Press.       Mi...
Genre (Spinuzzi 2008, p.17)10        “not just text types”        “typified rhetorical responses to recurring         so...
Search Engine Optimization“Search engine optimization (SEO) isthe process of improving the volume orquality of traffic to ...
The central genre: Monthly reports                 20pp monthly reports                 10-12 reports per month         ...
Integrated writers“In their perception, writing isa less important andunloved part of their work,yet these writing tasks a...
Genre ecologiesSee:   Spinuzzi, C. (2003). Tracing genres through       organizations: A sociocultural approach to       i...
Genre ecologies   Comediated (report + annotations + IM +    BRILLIANCE + conversation + WikiAnswers +    …)   Official ...
Constant coordination &      consolidationIM:                                   Email:   Who‟s here?                     ...
Activity systemsSee:   Engeström, Y. (1990). Learning, working, and       imagining: Twelve studies in activity theory.   ...
Activity system   Based on work in activity theory: Vygotsky,    Leont‟ev, Engestrom   Understands human activity as med...
previous report, highlighting and annotations, emails to client, talks with other specialists, WikiAnswers, spreadsheet of...
previous report, highlighting and annotations, emails to client, talks                      with other specialists, WikiAn...
Activity networksSee:   Engeström, Y. (2008). From Teams to Knots: Studies of       Collaboration and Learning at Work. Ne...
Activity network   Based on Engestrom   Activities can be chained, with the output of    one activity becoming the input...
Activity network   Based on Engestrom   Activities can be chained, with the output of    one activity becoming the input...
hdo.utexas.edu
Activity network   Based on Engestrom   Activities can be chained, with the output of    one activity becoming the input...
Team              Description            Objective      Composition             Genres Project     Teams that launched and...
Activity networks   Spinuzzi, C. (2012). Working Alone, Together:    Coworking as Emergent Collaborative Activity.    Jou...
Analytical constructs   Genre ecologies   Communicative events   Sociotechnical graphs   Operations tables   Activity...
Challenges of studying CMC inprofessional environments   CMC is not an end in itself, but a way to    accomplish cyclical...
Publicly available online services(PAOS)   Divine, D., Hall, S., Ferro, T., & Zachry, M. (2011). Work    through the Web:...
Activity streams   Hart-Davidson, W., Zachry, M., & Spinuzzi, C.    (2012). Activity streams: Building context to    coor...
Impacts of new forms ofcollaboration   Long-term trends: outsourcing noncore    functions, including to independent contr...
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Conf 2012-empirikom3
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Conf 2012-empirikom3

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My Empirikom 2012 presentation in Aachen, Germany. I discuss my work with analytical constructs (genre ecologies, activity systems, activity networks), illustrating them with a case and showing how they might point to better understandings of computer-mediated communication in professional environments.

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Conf 2012-empirikom3

  1. 1. ANALYZING COMPUTER-MEDIATEDCOMMUNICATION INPROFESSIONALENVIRONMENTS:AN ACTIVITY THEORYAPPROACHClay Spinuzzi, University of Texas at Austin
  2. 2. An illustration: Circulating knowledgeSpinuzzi, C. (2010). Secret sauce and snake oil: Writingmonthly reports in a highly contingent environment. WrittenCommunication, 27(4), 363–409.
  3. 3. Challenges of studying CMC inprofessional environments CMC is not an end in itself, but a way to accomplish cyclical work objectives CMC genres are part of an ecology of genres, providing additional ways to communicate, ways that interact with other genres To understand how these ecologies of genres work in professional environments, we must understand the activities they mediateTo investigate, I (and many others inprofessional communication) have turned to fieldstudies.
  4. 4. Field studies Software developers (1997) Traffic safety workers (1998-1999) Telecommunications workers (2000-2001) Proposal writers (2005) Office workers (2006) Search marketing firm (2008) Coworking (2009-2011) Nonemployer firms (2009-2011)
  5. 5. Research questions How do Semoptco‟s workers produce monthly reports? What tools and texts do they use? How do they share information and procedures as they produce reports? How do they ensure that the reports address critical rhetorical concerns such as audience analysis and ethos?These research questions implied a fieldmethods to characterize the ecology of genresbeing used to mediate the work.
  6. 6. Data collection methods Site interviews (with manager, 40m and 30m) Pre-observation interviews (20-30m) Naturalistic observations (3 1-hour observations of each participant) Post-observational interviews (semistructured, about 30m, after each observation) Artifact collection (documents, photos of work environment and texts)
  7. 7. Data coding and analysismethods Coding. Starter codes, open coding, axial coding for all data sources. Triangulation. Compared data:  Across data types, same incident. Examined how the same incident was represented in two or more data types.  Across participants. Examined how the same phenomenon was represented in two or more participants‟ data.  Across visits. Examined how different actions were taken at different points of the work cycle. Member checks. Solicited comments from participants on a draft analysis.
  8. 8. Analytical constructs Genre ecologies Communicative events Sociotechnical graphs Operations tables Activity systems Activity networks CDB tables
  9. 9. GenresSee: Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech genres and other late essays. Austin: University of Texas Press. Miller, C. R. (1984). Genre as social action. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 70(2), 151–167. Russell, D. R. (1997). Rethinking genre in school and society: An activity theory analysis. Written Communication, 14(4), 504–554.
  10. 10. Genre (Spinuzzi 2008, p.17)10  “not just text types”  “typified rhetorical responses to recurring social situations”  “tools-in-use”  “a behavioral descriptor rather than a formal one”  Through their use, genres “weave together” different kinds of work
  11. 11. Search Engine Optimization“Search engine optimization (SEO) isthe process of improving the volume orquality of traffic to a web site or a webpage (such as a blog) from searchengines via „natural‟ or un-paid(„organic‟ or „algorithmic‟) searchresults ...” Wikipedia, “search engine optimization”
  12. 12. The central genre: Monthly reports  20pp monthly reports  10-12 reports per month per specialist  Written in the first 10 business days  = approx 20-24pp/day
  13. 13. Integrated writers“In their perception, writing isa less important andunloved part of their work,yet these writing tasks areoften vital.”hdo.utexas.edu
  14. 14. Genre ecologiesSee: Spinuzzi, C. (2003). Tracing genres through organizations: A sociocultural approach to information design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Spinuzzi, C. (2008). Network: Theorizing knowledge work in telecommunications. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  15. 15. Genre ecologies Comediated (report + annotations + IM + BRILLIANCE + conversation + WikiAnswers + …) Official and unofficial genres (report vs. annotations; external emails vs. IMs; BRILLIANCE vs. task lists) Genres develop in one activity, but are often imported into another
  16. 16. Constant coordination & consolidationIM: Email: Who‟s here?  Can the client adjust/add Can you answer my quick content to the website? question? Can we plan for this  Does the client know how this meeting? new development will affect Can you meet me face to face? their SEO?Internal Blogs:  Does the client trust me? What have I discovered about BRILLIANCE (info system): SEO?  What actions have we taken on What are the best practices for this project? this service (e.g., YouTube)?  What results came from those actions?
  17. 17. Activity systemsSee: Engeström, Y. (1990). Learning, working, and imagining: Twelve studies in activity theory. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit Oy. Russell, D. R. (1997). Writing and genre in higher education and workplaces. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 4(4), 224–237. Spinuzzi, C. (2011). Losing by Expanding: Corralling the Runaway Object. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 25(4), 449 – 486.
  18. 18. Activity system Based on work in activity theory: Vygotsky, Leont‟ev, Engestrom Understands human activity as mediated, collective, oriented to a cyclical objective, motivated, developmental Serves to provide top-level context for specific (conscious) actions and underlying (unconscious) operations Serves to expose systematic contradictions: sources of tensions, disruptions, innovation
  19. 19. previous report, highlighting and annotations, emails to client, talks with other specialists, WikiAnswers, spreadsheet of projects, BRILLIANCE notes, Word template, draft report, emails and talks with account manager, final report, cover email to client, presentation to client, IMs, blogs { 3. Tools (How do they transform the 4. Actors objective?) 1. Objective 2. Outcome (Who transforms (What does the (Why do they the objective?) work cyclically transform the { transform?) objective?) { { SEO specialists, account Activity systems are managers - Strategic Clients search Improved client - Long-term engine ranking transactions - Objective-oriented 6. Rules - Cyclical (What rules do they use?) 7. Division of Labor { (How are duties spread out?) { 5. Community specialists: write reports, set goals, find Report components, no Stakeholders (Who else is new ways to improve SEO.deceptive or irrelevant results involved in the account manager: clarify reports, explain wider circle?) when results are poor, interface with { client. Clients, clients customers, search engineshdo.utexas.edu
  20. 20. previous report, highlighting and annotations, emails to client, talks with other specialists, WikiAnswers, spreadsheet of projects, BRILLIANCE notes, Word template, draft report, emails and talks with account manager, final report, cover email to client, presentation to client, IMs, blogs Report template must be changed { to keep up with SEO changes; project tracking methods are not optimized for complex projects. 3. Tools 4. Actors 1. Objective 2. Outcome { { { SEO specialists, account Clients search Improved client managers engine ranking transactions Search engines often Competitors change algorithms. compete for SEO rankings. 6. Rules 7. Division of Labor { { Report components, no specialists: write reports, set goals, find deceptive or irrelevant results 5. Community new ways to improve SEO. Stakeholders account manager: clarify reports, explain Rules keep changing { when results are poor, interface with because search engines Clients, clients customers, client.keep changing algorithms. search engines Clients dont always understand their part in improving SEO; search engines react to other hdo.utexas.edu contingencies.
  21. 21. Activity networksSee: Engeström, Y. (2008). From Teams to Knots: Studies of Collaboration and Learning at Work. New York: Cambridge University Press. Gygi, K., & Zachry, M. (2010). Productive tensions and the regulatory work of genres in the development of an engineering communication workshop in a transnational corporation. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 24(3), 358–381. Spinuzzi, C. (2011). Losing by Expanding: Corralling the Runaway Object. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 25(4), 449 – 486.
  22. 22. Activity network Based on Engestrom Activities can be chained, with the output of one activity becoming the input of another (ex: software) Activities can be overlapping, sharing one or more point Activity networks put activity systems into relation, allowing us to see how inter-activity contradictions drive the development of activities in tandem
  23. 23. Activity network Based on Engestrom Activities can be chained, with the output of one activity becoming the input of another (ex: software) Activities can be overlapping, sharing one or more point Activity networks put activity systems into relation, allowing us to see how inter-activity contradictions drive the development of activities in tandem
  24. 24. hdo.utexas.edu
  25. 25. Activity network Based on Engestrom Activities can be chained, with the output of one activity becoming the input of another (ex: software) Activities can be overlapping, sharing one or more point Activity networks put activity systems into relation, allowing us to see how inter-activity contradictions drive the development of activities in tandem
  26. 26. Team Description Objective Composition Genres Project Teams that launched and The account Account manager, 1- Instant maintained campaigns. Team 2 specialists. messaging (IM), members were in separate Assigned by CEO. email, meetings, physical spaces. conference calls, drop-in visits…Apprentic Colocated buddy/ mentoring The Account Managers; Informal e-ship teams. In SEO, gave way to apprentice pairs of specialists conversations in support teams during the study. workspace, IM Support Colocated, formal three-person Oversight, Senior specialist, 2 Drop-in visits, IM, teams to determine load and awareness specialists email, status of accounts. of service BRILLIANCE notes, meetings.Functional Teams encompassing entire The All department Reporting departments: SEO, paid departments members parties; lunches; search, etc. function IM; email; internal blogs… Values Cross-boundary teams, The cultural Self-chosen from Values team initiated during the study, that value across the company. meetings; email. worked on enacting core valuesTaco club Pairs who shared breakfast Cross- Self-chosen pairs of Taco club tacos on Wednesday departmental workers from meetings; email.
  27. 27. Activity networks Spinuzzi, C. (2012). Working Alone, Together: Coworking as Emergent Collaborative Activity. Journal of Business And Technical Communication, 26(4). Spinuzzi, C. (2013, accepted). How Nonemployer Firms Stage-Manage Ad-Hoc Collaboration: An Activity Theory Analysis. Technical Communication Quarterly.
  28. 28. Analytical constructs Genre ecologies Communicative events Sociotechnical graphs Operations tables Activity systems Activity networks CDB tableshdo.utexas.edu
  29. 29. Challenges of studying CMC inprofessional environments CMC is not an end in itself, but a way to accomplish cyclical work objectives CMC genres are part of an ecology of genres, providing additional ways to communicate, ways that interact with other genres To understand how these ecologies of genres work in professional environments, we must understand the activities they mediate
  30. 30. Publicly available online services(PAOS) Divine, D., Hall, S., Ferro, T., & Zachry, M. (2011). Work through the Web: A Typology of Web 2.0 Services. In A. Protopsaltis, N. Spyratos, C. J. Costa, & C. Meghini (Eds.), SIGDOC’11 (pp. 121–127). New York: ACM. Divine, D., Morgan, J. T., Ourada, J., & Zachry, M. (2010). Designing Qbox: A Tool for Sorting Things Out in Digital Spaces. GROUP’10 (pp. 311–312). New York: ACM. Ferro, T., Hall, S., Derthick, K., Morgan, J. T., Searle, E., & Zachry, M. (2009). Understanding How People Use Publicly Available Online Services for Work. SIGDOC ’09 (pp. 311–312). New York: ACM.
  31. 31. Activity streams Hart-Davidson, W., Zachry, M., & Spinuzzi, C. (2012). Activity streams: Building context to coordinate writing activity in collaborative teams. SIGDOC’12: Proceedings of the 30th Annual ACM International Conference on Design of Communication. New York: ACM. 279-287. McCarthy, J. E., Grabill, J. T., Hart-Davidson, W., & McLeod, M. (2011). Content Management in the Workplace: Community, Context, and a New Way to Organize Writing. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 25(4).
  32. 32. Impacts of new forms ofcollaboration Long-term trends: outsourcing noncore functions, including to independent contractors More projectification Results-only work environments (ROWEs) More distance work (from home offices, coworking spaces, coffee shops) More ways to communicate/more layers of CMC communication
  33. 33. Questions?

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