My research interests stem from a curiosity about users and their experiences, both in how they interact with their technology and how technology suits them. People struggle every day with ordinary technology, whether it is a teacher trying to implement video for the first time in the classroom or researchers trying to collaborate through Google Doc. The desire to improve the design of everyday things unites scholars in the industry and the academy in an expansive interdisciplinary are called User eXperience (UX). UX methods allow scholars to examine the needs of users systematically and is a necessity in the field of technical communication–a domain dependent on addressing the needs of audiences/users. My research leverages this user-domain interplay.
The user and technology system
Through my research, I investigate users, teams, and groups as they go about working/playing/studying and communicating in various contexts. On the whole, as a technical communicator, I concentrate on improving communication successes. My goal is to create technical and social interventions that assist in improving performance for users and of users. For example, I have examined leadership theory to test its applicability for teams in novel environments, evaluated the types of rude and toxic online behavior that impact human performance, observed the kinds of team sharing that improve collaboration, and investigated how users plan and deploy digital tools to suit their communication needs.
Real life inhabiting virtual domains
Today’s virtual domains include online environments where people play and/or work. Humans in virtual contexts miss the interpersonal cues evident in face-to-face interactions. Not only that, theories like media naturalness (Kock, 2005) and online disinhibition (Suler, 2004) say that we behave differently in virtual contexts indicating, perhaps, that there is more than a casual difference between real life and online settings. Intrigued by the intensity of gamers in virtual games, I wondered whether our leadership and collaboration theories would manifest similarly online. In a recent article (Robinson 2016) published in TCQ—one of five premier TechComm journals—I was able to examine data from virtual worlds teams, and I found that some leadership theories did not operate similarly in online realms.
Additionally, measuring language—which is a reflection of behavior—in a virtual environment is another way to understand our online behavior. Another article (Robinson and Lawrence under review) is an effort to contextualize and quantify rude and toxic behavior online potentially allowing us to identify this behavior through algorithms and institute change. The study revealed that a specific kind of face-threatening comments might indeed be responsible for the negative perception of online gaming environments.
Digital resources in the academy
Many studies point to the tremendous effect that technology has on teams performing Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (Klitmøller & Lauring, 2013). I wondered how this applied in our field of writing and communication as many instructors eschew the use of technology and articulate valid and defensible reasons for doing so. I formed a small group of researchers and secured a Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) Research Initiative grant to initiate a study which included surveys, interviews, and the collection of teacher artifacts. This first article concentrated on the surveys from over 400 teachers; the study was remarkable in the way it described and tracked sixteen (16) tasks that teachers use for teaching, six (6) teacher actions the describe usage of these tasks, and twenty (20) digital resource/tools categories to better understand teacher usage among the plethora of tools available. This survey revealed many concerning issues; instructors still overwhelming taught themselves how to use digital resources—in keeping with earlier findings (Anderson, 2006); teacher predominantly leverage LMS technology and ‘typical’ technologies to teach, and the decisions teachers make about resource use are primarily driven by the type and complexity of task. The article (Robinson, J., Dusenberry, L., Hutter, L, Lawrence, L., Frazee, A. and Burnett, R., forthcoming) will appear in the premier journal Computers and Composition in fall 2019. In a follow-up article, I focus on the 60 teacher interviews from the study to examine the question, “What is digital pedagogy?” This manuscript is under development. Follow up articles examining more of this data are planned in the State of the Field series.
Interlaced writing in collaboration
In contrast to the findings mentioned above, my collaboration experiences in the academy are overwhelmingly positive. A recent publication features a case study of my colleagues and our collaborative methods and successes as an all-female team. Stemming from a conference paper at ATTW—the national conference of technical writers—this case study discusses best practices for working and writing virtually. Spurred by our collaborative successes and a recent article (Duhigg, 2016) highlighting interpersonal relationships as pivotal to the success of teams, my collaborative team ran an experiment to see if education about collaboration could improve the outcomes of technical teams. We surveyed over 300 students across three universities to measure our training’s impact on psychological safety—a concept that, along with norming, was thought to empower collocated teams to withstand the stresses of group work including mitigation of conflict, social loafing, and poor satisfaction (Suler, 2004). We found that long term teams’ psychological safety improved over time regardless of the type of intervention, but this fact is likely mitigated by the initial level of PS. The resultant article is in preparation with an anticipated publication in 2020. A follow-up article is planned to further examine this rich team data.
Designing for improvement
Technical communication is based on user-centric practices and understanding the best ways to meet the needs of the users/readers/watchers/audiences. UX, however, is a fledgling field, and due to its interdisciplinary nature, it is difficult to aggregate the most recent and pertinent scholarship. Wondering about the future of UX and its trajectory, we conducted a systematic survey of empirical research in UX since 2000. Our article (Robinson, Lanius, and Weber 2016) reviewing these trends, helps to answer questions about the directions in the industry. Subsequent articles provide an overview of trending regional differences in UX and an analysis of academic and industrial methods in the UX field: Robinson and Lanius 2017, Robinson forthcoming 2018, Robinson, Lanius and Weber 2020). In conjunction with the new master UX certificate program development, I appealed to my department to create a UX facility to promote and facilitate further exploration into human systems. The VUElab resulted from this inquiry.
VUE all the time
The eValuation and User Experience (VUE) lab located in the CTC has resources to support various kinds of human-centered research. From recording student responses to medieval manuscripts to evaluating industrial designs, the VUElab has accommodated 38 groups since its founding with a majority (57.9%) of UAH faculty/Lecturer/Adjuncts reserving the lab and the remainder reserved by staff and graduate students.
Looking backward and moving forward
As a technical communicator, I employ a unique basket of skills, including technical expertise, insight into usability and user experience, facility with digital media, and extensive knowledge about technical communication as well as qualitative and quantitative research methods, including ethnography, quantitative content analysis, and survey research. I leverage these diverse skills to publish in a variety of contexts including the writing and composition field, user experience circles, and technical communications and technology journals. Figure 1 provides a visual overview of how my research intersects, and the journals I have published in as well as the journals I intend to publish in. Moving forward, I plan to leverage the VUElab to explore users through biometric sensors to better delve into the passive responses that humans have to stimulus. Equipment like eye tracking glasses and other technologies permit the exploration of the physiological and behavioral responses to human communicative experiences. I intend to continue my inquiry into user collaboration and teaming activities, pursuing answers to questions such as, How does communication affect collaboration? What is the perception of leaders from a biometric/socioemotional perspective? How does virtual teamwork impact the socioemotional response of members? and How does race, gender, or body type affect students impression virtual instructors?
Anderson, D., Atkins, A., Ball, C., Millar, K. H., Selfe, C., & Selfe, R. (2006). Integrating Multimodality into Composition Curricula: Survey Methodology and Results from a CCCC Research Grant. Composition Studies, 34(2), 59–84.
Caya, O., & Pinsonneault, A. (2005). Virtual Teams: What We Know, What We Don’t Know (pp. 1–12). International Journal of eCollaboration. Retrieved from http://bi.galegroup.com.ezproxy1.lib.depaul.edu/essentials/article/
Caya, O., Mortensen, M., & Pinsonneault, A. (2009). Understanding Virtual Team Performance: A Synthesis of Research on the Effects of Team Design, Processes, and States. MIT Sloan School of Management, 4738-09.
Duhigg, C. (2016, February 25). What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team. Retrieved February 26, 2016, from http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fmagaz… 1/21
Dusenberry, L., Hutter, L., & Robinson, J. (2015). Filter. Remix. Make.: Cultivating Adaptability Through Multimodality. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 45(3), 299–322. http://doi.org/10.1177/0047281615578851
Hawisher, G. E., Selfe, C. L., Kisa, G., & Ahmed, S. (2009). Globalism and Multimodality in a Digitized World: Computers and Composition Studies. Pedagogy Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature Language Composition and Culture, 10(1), 55–68. http://doi.org/10.1215/15314200-2009-020
Klitmøller, A., & Lauring, J. (2013). When global virtual teams share knowledge: Media richness, cultural difference and language commonality. Journal of World Business, 48(3), 398–406. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jwb.2012.07.023
Kock, N. (2005). Media Richness or Media Naturalness? The Evolution of Our Biological Communication Apparatus and Its Influence on Our Behavior Toward E-Communication Tools. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 48(2), 117–130.
Kress, G. (2005). Gains and Losses: New Forms of Texts, Knowledge, and Learning. Computers and Composition, 22(1), 5–22. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2004.12.004
New London Group. (1996). A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60.
Norman, D., & Nielsen, J. (2016). The Definition of User Experience.
Robinson, Joy. (2014). Communication, Leadership, and Virtual Teams. Illinois Institute of Technology. Print.
Robinson, J. (2016). Look Before You Lead: Seeing Virtual Teams Through the Lens of Games. Technical Communication Quarterly, 10572252.2016.1185159–31. http://doi.org/10.1080/10572252.2016.1185159
Robinson, J., Dusenberry, L., & Lawrence, H. M. (2016). Collaborative Strategies for Distributed Teams: Innovation through Interlaced Collaborative Writing (pp. 1–9). Presented at the Proceedings. IEEE International Professional Communication Conference.
Robinson, J., and Lawrence, H. (2017), Don’t be an A$$: Quantifying and Contextualizing Toxic Language in Games. IEEE Professional Transactions. Manuscript submitted for publication (copy on file with author).
Robinson, J., Dusenberry, L., Lawrence, H., and Hutter, L., Frazee, A., Burnette, R. The State of the Field: An analysis of composition and writing teachers using digital tools (copy on file with author).
Robinson, J., Lanius, C., and Weber, R. (2017). Mapping the Territory of UX Research. Communication Design Quarterly, (5)3.
Suler, J. (2004). The Online Disinhibition Effect. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 7(3).
Wujec, T. (n.d.). Draw How to Make Toast. Retrieved January 29, 2017.