Moderation Tool-Support for Face-to-Face Discussions

Problem Statement

If the size of a discussion group exceeds a certain number of participants, some rules have to be respected by all attendees to ensure a smooth and constructive flow of speech. Usually, a moderator is responsible for managing a queue of statements and prospective speakers signalize their participation request with well defined gestures.

Some of those gestures, representing different statement priorities, are the following:

Hand symbol for classical statement Classical Statement:
Participation by answering a question, introducing a new point or a new topic.

Hand symbol for direct statement Direct Statement:
Respond directly to the current statement - not more than three sentences.

Hand symbol for technical statement Technical Statement:
A "meta-statement" concerning the progress of the current discussion.

Especially in big groups it can happen, that the moderator misses some of the signalizations and participants may feel ignored. In addition the complexity of moderation can prohibit the moderator in actively participating in the talk, even if required.

Digital Assistance

In future meeting environments, every participant owns a mobile device like a PDA, a cell phone, a WLAN-equipped notebook or even a smart wristwatch. In our approach, these possibilities of pervasive computing are used to support and unburden the moderator of her duty.

In addition, several meta-features of a discussion can be supported by the distributed mobile application like anonymous feedback, measuring of speaking time, managing different groups of interest (for example "customer", "engineer", "manager") and so on.

Technical Challenges

Normally, a discussion takes place due to a specific context, e.g. a conference or meeting. This motivates the use of Dynamic Context-Driven Feature Evolution to enable the attendees' smart devices with the required software. A Java-based prototype for this technology was developed in the scope of this project. Furthermore, to ease the tool-usage for participants not too familiar with network technologies, discussions hosted in the local (maybe ad-hoc) network are required to show up (and disappear) automatically on the screen. We used the ZeroConf-Technology with Multicast-DNS and DNS-Service-Discovery to achieve this goal in a platform-independent way. For client-server communication, an Observer-Pattern has been realized using Java-RMI.

First evaluations

A prototype of SmartDiscuss has been evaluated in several different scenarios. It has been well accepted by the participants and first results indicate, that it really can be of help for the moderator and for the rest of the group. We have also learned that a certain number of attendees is required in order to make tool-supported moderation productive. This fact we share with "traditional" moderation approaches.

Future Work

The first evaluations with a prototype running on a mobile computer already indicate some social benefit of SmartDiscuss. Further studies need to be conducted to verify these results. Besides the efforts of making SmartDiscuss run on various smart devices, other moderation scenarios than face-to-face discussions are being identified, e.g. VoIP-conferences. The feedback from early adopters provides us with several possible enhancements to the simple prototype: Reordering of the registered statements should be possible as well as some kind of "topic-thread-visualization" might be of interest.

Research Context

SmartDiscuss was developed as a part of the Context Sensitive Intelligence Project (CSI). Its goal is to explore the theoretical and practical challenges of context-aware computing and to develop a general framework for context-driven applications. The project is directed by Prof. Dr. Armin B. Cremers and Holger Mügge, it receives financial and conceptional support from Deutsche Telekom Laboratories.

Further Information

You are welcome to ask for details. Please contact Holger Mügge or Pascal Bihler.