Master’s Thesis – Sandbox

January 2006 to May 2008

The values present both in modern organizations and in research on these organizations reflect the organizational culture that has developed gradually over time. For example, research on organizations regularly focuses on the aspects of work that can be most easily quantified, such as the hierarchy within the organization or the physical arrangement of the office. Less defined aspects of organizations, such as the support for visibility and reflection, are more difficult to study and potentially less valued by the organizational culture. Similarly, the scientific management movement that spurred the Industrial Revolution is a very visible example of the high value that has been assigned to quantifiable efficiency within the workplace itself. Though the scientific management movement was soon contradicted by findings that showed the importance of psychological factors such as individual recognition, the ultimate response within organizations was to quantify additional aspects of the work environment, to varying degrees of success. The values that give efficiency and quantification this prominence in the workplace and in organizational research also impact the design and use of computing technology in the workplace. Computing has become a significant element in the modern organization, but the accepted role for computing technologies is often restricted to the automation of analytic tasks formerly accomplished by workers. In this way, computing technology becomes a surrogate for a human brain, attempting to model the way a specific type of work has traditionally been done. The mental processes involved in work, however, are not simply analytical. David Levy (2005) contends that the excess of information available for analysis in contemporary work environments cannot be meaningfully processed without allowing workers time for reflection and contemplation. This time may help workers draw connections that are still difficult for computers, or it may provide workers with opportunities for collaboration and diversification. The elevation of the importance of visibility and reflection within the workplace may have more success if undertaken in conjunction with the installation of technology designed for this purpose. Because current organizational studies typically omit activities with complex motivations, initial studies on the subject must gather data for the purpose of grounded (inductive) theory generation. The study described herein addresses traditional organizational research topics as well as the presence and use of non-task-based activities in the workplace. The study takes a broad look at a university department encompassing approximately 60 individuals, utilizing surveys and interviews to collect a variety of background information. As an additional intervention, a prototype technology devise with ludic intentions was introduced to the department, and its use provided further insight into the role of technology in the workplace. Ultimately, a series of testable hypotheses are proposed to guide further research into visibility and reflection in the workplace.

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