Successful (cooperative) work requires that the involved workers develop a common understanding of the modalities of their interaction. According to Strauss, common understanding emerges from continuously and unconsciously conducted activities for alignment of understanding. In situation perceived to be complex or problematic by the involved persons, Strauss suggests that alignment activities have to triggered and conducted deliberately. Individual perceptions affect both, the identification of the need for alignment and alignment itself. Strauss does not explicitly address this aspect in his theory. Approaches that support alignment based upon Strauss’ work thus also largely ignore the individual, cognitive dimension of alignment. Ignoring the individual dimen- sion, however, has negative impact on the success of work processes. Accordingly, this work aims at extending the scope of alignment support by explicitly considering the per- ceptions and needs of individuals. The theory of mental models here is used to extend Strauss’ concepts and develop effective support for developing a common understanding of work processes.
Following the theory of mental model development by Seel, the cooperative creation of diagrammatic models as representations of mental models can aid their alignment and the development of a common understanding. Suitable methods for building representations of mental models include structure elaboration techniques and concept mapping. Both methods have properties that are support the cooperative creation of models. In this work, they are integrated to form a method that is useable in the context of the alignment of cooperative work. The main feature for cooperation support is that modeling takes places on a simultaneously accessible and physically manipulable modeling surface. The method thus is complemented with a tabletop interface – a horizontally mounted interaction surface that is augmented with computer support – to effectively support the alignment of individual views on cooperative work processes.
Tangible tokens are used to cooperatively build models on the interaction surface. By physically placing the tokens, the model can be manipulated simultaneously by several people. Token identification is based on visual markers that are tracked by a camera in real time. The gathered information is interpreted by the system to identify modeling activities. Model information is displayed by back-projecting it onto the surface from underneath. An traditional screen is provided as an additional output channel for information that cannot be displayed directly on the interaction surface. Cooperation is further supported by additional features like reconstruction support for former model states. Persistent model representation is based upon the standardized XML Topic Map format, which allows for a reusable, self-contained representation of generic semantic networks.
The systems’s effectiveness in supporting the alignment of work is tested in an empirical study. In three steps, the system’s usability, its effects on the alignment of mentalmodels and the effectiveness in supporting the development of a common understanding of work processes are examined. The results of the study show that the system is com- prehensible and useable. Positive effects on both, the cooperation among people during modeling and the alignment of individual views of cooperative work, have been observed.