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Virtual Ideas: Modifying platforms for better collaboration

May 15, 2013

Online collaboration platforms provide a meeting space for productivity. Doctoral candidates Randy Minas and Akshay Bhagwatwar research elements of the user’s experience to understand how these platforms can be more effective.

Randy Minas

Doctoral Candidate Randy Minas

Doctoral Candidate Randy Minas

Randy Minas, a Doctoral Candidate in the Operations and Decision Technologies Department at the Kelley School of Business, brings a different dynamic to the study of information systems. 

Prior to joining the Doctoral Program at Indiana University, Minas received his M.B.A. from Indiana State University and B.S. in Psychological Neuroscience from Vanderbilt University.  Combining his interests in psychology and business led him to the emerging area of Neuro-Information Systems (NeuroIS), understanding how the brain responds to information systems. 

In NeuroIS, researchers observe how individuals process information.  This can be done with a variety of neuroimaging techniques including fMRI, EEG, eye tracking, and NIRS—methodological tools new to the study of information systems.

“NeuroIS is an emergent area in the IS field. Using neuroimaging techniques will help us better understand how the individual responds to different forms of technology,” explains Randy. “It also helps us understand information processing at the individual level. These insights can solve previously intractable problems in the IS field.”

Priming, one psychological technique used by Minas, uses words or pictures to activate an individual’s internal representation of constructs.  For example, in one study, Minas introduced the concept of achievement in order to bring it to participant’s subconscious before a virtual team meeting.  He then examined electronic brainstorming performance of the team to see the number of unique ideas and the quality of ideas, capturing the difference priming made in the team process.

In this study, individual participants arrange words relating to achievement into “newspaper headlines” prior to interacting as a virtual team.  Minas found that when teams were primed with “achievement” words they produced thirty percent more ideas than when they were primed with neutral words.  Priming also improved the overall quality of ideas produced.

In a separate study, Minas used EEG to examine information processing in a virtual team decision making task. He found that when individuals received information from other team members that supported their decision preferences, they thought about it fairly thoroughly, but information that challenged their preferences was quickly read and disregarded.

Learning about individual and team behavior, which affect team processes, can lead to changes in how information systems and virtual team tools are designed. 

Along with his research, Randy is the current Managing Editor of MIS Quarterly Executive. He is an Associate Instructor and also serves as co-officer of the Doctoral Student Association in the Kelley School of Business.

Akshay Bhagwatwar

Doctoral Candidate Akshay Bhagwatwar

Doctoral Candidate Akshay Bhagwatwar

Akshay Bhagwatwar researches three-dimensional (3-D) virtual environments, such as Second Life.  These environments show users as avatars who can walk around in the 3-D world.  Users meet together and can communicate using gestures, voice, text chat, and other tools, such as virtual notepads.

Bhagwatwar conducted a study in which virtual teams collaborated in a typical office space and in a more “creative” virtual space that incorporated various objects designed to induce creativity. 

“We found that participants generated more unique ideas of better quality when working in a virtual space designed to improve creativity as compared to a virtual space designed like a typical meeting room,” explained Bhagwatwar.

Bhagwatwar studies 3-D workspaces to understand a possible connection between the online virtual setting and creative performance of participants.  As a cheap and moldable form, virtual environments deliver a more economical opportunity to research spaces and productivity. 

“Understanding the connection between the design of a virtual workspace, the task being performed, and team performance is critical to the development of virtual spaces that are effective,” Bhagwatwar said.

Bhagwatwar’s next step is to open the black box of how participants interpret the characteristics of a virtual space and how this influences their task performance.  

Akshay Bhagwatwar is a Doctoral Candidate and an Associate Instructor in the Operations and Decision Technologies Department at the Kelley School of Business.

Prior to joining the Doctoral Program at Indiana University, Akshay received his MS in Information Management from the Information School at University of Washington. During the course of the Master’s program, he worked as a Teaching Assistant in the Physics Department at the University of Washington.

Akshay completed his Bachelor of Engineering degree with a major in Information Technology from the University of Mumbai, India.