Dynamics of Collaboration and Community Building Profiled from Email Records

By Kirstie Edwards, Simeon Yates and Anne-Florence Dujardin.

Published by The Technology Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Email is a form of “written conversation” (Danet 2001 p57) capturing the intentions of the writer in anticipation of the reader’s expectations and needs, for a particular purpose, in a particular context and relationship, i.e. capturing our social behaviour. We have tested the feasibility of extracting information from email records to describe the dynamics of collaboration and community building, as a non-intrusive way to study behaviour in professional writing contexts. Coding markers of communication behaviour in emails, for example representing involvement and sociability, allowed micro-analyses of adaptations with time, task, sender, receiver, and other writing influences. These data were all extracted from email records. Mapped against Nystrand’s (1989) social interactive model of writing, the dynamics reflected writers’ adaptations for receivers, relationships, purposes and contexts, thus contributing to our understanding of social-interactive behaviour and its influences in professional practice. Social dimensions of teams contribute positively to team performance (Kelly and Duran 1985; Mortensen and Hinds 2001; Root 1988; Tucker and Panteli 2003). The sense individuals have of a virtual or semi-virtual team’s community is therefore influential on performance. We describe a case study in an academic context. Results show that email communication behaviours are adapted in a social interactive way conforming to Nystrand’s social interactive model of writing, and that social dimensions of teams can be identified from email communications. The method provides a useful way of monitoring communities of professional practice to understand the influences on social dynamics and community building. Ongoing measures of team dynamics describing pro-social behaviour have the potential to provide critical information related to performance and to prompt intervention when appropriate.

Keywords: Email, Social Interactive Writing, Dynamics of Collaboration, Social Dimensions

The International Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp.111-124. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 953.335KB).

Dr Kirstie Edwards

Associate Lecturer, Faculty of Arts, Computing, Engineering and Sciences, Media and Communication, Antwerp University, Sheffield, Belgium

Kirstie Edwards is an independent scientific and technical editor. She has been researching written communications with Sheffield Hallam University for the past six years, where she has also been teaching Editing and Collaborative Work on the MA course in Technical Communication since 2004.

Dr Simeon Yates

Director, Cultural, Communication and Computing Research Institute, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK

Simeon Yates is Director of the Cultural, Communication and Computing Research Institute at Sheffield Hallam University. Current and previous research topics include socio-linguistics of on-line interaction, science in the media, and gender and new media use.

Anne-Florence Dujardin

Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Arts, Computing, Engineering and Sciences, Media and Communication, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK

Anne-Florence Dujardin is Senior Lecturer on the MA course in Technical Communication at Sheffield Hallam University. Her research interests are in information design and e-learning.

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