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Computer supported cooperative work

The term computer supported cooperative work (CSCW) was first coined by Greif and Cashman in 1984, at a workshop attended by individuals interested in using technology to support people in their work (Grudin 1994). According to Carstensen and Schmidt (2002), CSCW addresses "how collaborative activities and their coordination can be supported by means of computer systems." On the one hand, many authors consider that CSCW and groupware are synonyms. Ellis (1993) defines groupware as "computer-based systems that support groups of people engaged in a common task (or goal) and that provide an interface to a shared environment." On the other hand, different authors claim that while groupware refers to real computer-based systems, CSCW focuses on the study of tools and techniques of groupware as well as their psychological, social, and organizational effects. The definition of Wilson (1991) expresses the difference between these two concepts:

CSCW [is] a generic term, which combines the understanding of the way people work in groups with the enabling technologies of computer networking, and associated hardware, software, services and techniques.

A lot of confusion in the field of CSCW raises from the different interpretations of the terms collaboration and cooperation. Once again, many authors simply consider both terms as synonyms, while others (cf. Dillenbourg, Baker et al. 1995) draw a distinction between them:

Cooperation and collaboration do not differ in terms of whether or not the task is distributed, but by virtue of the way in which it is divided; in cooperation the task is split (hierarchically) into independent subtasks; in collaboration cognitive processes may be (heterarchically) divided into intertwined layers. In cooperation, coordination is only required when assembling partial results, while collaboration is « ...a coordinated, synchronous activity that is the result of a continued attempt to construct and maintain a shared conception of a problem ».

The concept of cooperation is often used in relation to the concepts of coordination and communication. First, the splitting of a cooperative task into independent subtasks naturally leads to a need for coordination. In this context, coordination can be defined as "the management of dependencies between activities and the support of (inter) dependencies among actors" (Bordeau and Wasson 1997). Then, communication can be defined as a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behaviors. According to Brehmer (1991), "communication is the cement of the organization, and the greater the need for coordination and cooperation, the greater the necessity for communication."


Tools used in the context of CSCW include


  • Bannon, L. and K. Schmidt (1991). CSCW - four characters in search of a context. Studies in computer supported cooperative work - theory, practice and design. J. M. Bowers and S. Benford. Amsterdam, North Holland.
  • Bordeau, J. and B. Wasson (1997). Orchestrating collaboration in collaborative telelearning. Artificial intelligence in education. B. Boulay and R. Mizoguchi, IOS Press: 565-567.
  • Brehmer, B. (1991). Distributed decision making: some notes on the literature. Distributed decision making : cognitive models for cooperative work. J. Rasmussen, B. Brehmer and J. Leplat. Chichester, England ; New York, Wiley.
  • Carstensen, P. H. and K. Schmidt (2002). Computer supported cooperative work: New challenges to systems design. Handbook of Human Factors. K. Itoh. Tokyo, [in press].
  • Coleman, D. and R. Khanna (1995). Groupware : technologies and applications. Upper Saddle River, NJ, Prentice Hall PTR.
  • Dillenbourg, P., M. Baker, A. Blaye and C. O’Malley (1995). The Evolution of Research on Collaborative Learning. Learning in humans and machines. Towards an interdisciplinary learning science. P. Reimann and H. Spada. London, Pergamon: 189-211.
  • Ellis, C. A., S. J. Gibbs and G. L. Rein (1991). "Groupware: some issues and experiences." Communications of the ACM 34(1): 38-59.
  • Ellis, C. A., S. J. Gibbs and G. L. Rein (1993). Groupware some issues and experiences. Readings in groupware and computer-supported cooperative work. R. M. Baecker, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, Inc.
  • Grudin, J. (1994). "Computer-supported cooperative work: Its history and participation." IEEE Computer 27(5): 19-26.
  • Wilson, P. (1991). Computer supported cooperative work : an introduction. Oxford, England Norwell, MA, Intellect ; Sold and distributed in the U.S.A. and Canada by Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Last updated: 12-22-2004 06:14:44