Understanding computer-mediated discussions: Positivist and interpretive analyses of group support system use

Eileen M. Trauth, Leonard M. Jessup

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

212 Scopus citations


This research considers whether interpretive techniques can be used to enhance our understanding of computer-mediated discussions. The case study considered in this research is the use of a group support system (GSS) to support employee discussions about gender equity in a university. Transcripts of the four discussions were analyzed using two analysis techniques: a positivist approach, which was focused on the GSS sessions themselves, and an interpretive approach which broadened the scope to include contextual considerations as well. What emerged from the positivist analysis was the conclusion of effective group behavior directed toward consensus around alternative solution scenarios. What emerged from the interpretive analysis was evidence of multiple, rich types of information at three levels: cognitive, affective, and behavioral. The interpretive analysis also uncovered the absence of shared consciousness about the issue and imbalanced participation in the sessions. Comparison of the results of both approaches showed that, while the positivist analysis provided useful information, the interpretive analysis provided a different understanding of the same evidence and new information not found in the positivist analysis of the group discussions. This research adds to the body of knowledge concerning the effects of virtual group meetings on the type of information that is shared and the value of a combination of positivist and interpretive analyses of GSS data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-78
Number of pages36
JournalMIS Quarterly: Management Information Systems
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Anonymity
  • Computer-mediated communication
  • Ethnography
  • Gender
  • Group decision making
  • Group decision support system
  • Hermeneutics
  • IS research methodologies
  • Information richness
  • Interpretive methods
  • Positivist methods
  • Virtual group

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Management Information Systems
  • Information Systems
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Information Systems and Management


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