January 1997

Root Page of Article: What is CMC? An Overview of Scholarly Definitions , by Pixie Ferris

Applications of CMC

The term "CMC" covers a wide range of functions and applications, and encompasses such areas as electronic messaging (Johansen, Vallee & Spangler, 1979), office automation (Rice & Case, 1983; Benest & Dukic, 1993), distributed decision-making (Wellens, 1993), electronic boardrooms (Pinsonneault & Kraemer, 1989), and teleconferencing, in addition to informatics (Santoro, 1995), computer supported cooperative work or CSCW (Bowers & Senford, 1991; Scrivener & Clark,1994), decision support systems and group support systems or GDSS (Jessup & Valacich, 1993), and computer assisted instruction or CAI (Santoro, 1995). The terms informatics, CSCW, GDSS, and CAI are important as they are associated with particular areas of study within CMC.


In CSCW and GDSS, the computer has a passive role, acting solely as a medium for message exchange among participants. GDSS encompasses two specific applications of CMC. Although any system that supports decisions could be called a decision support system, the term Group Support Systems has come to mean computer software and hardware used to support group functions and processes (Easterbrook, 1992; Miranda, 1994).

Group Support Systems are associated with the term Group Decision Support Systems, but the latter term is broader in scope than the former as it encompasses technologies for within-group, outside-group, and information-managing communication. In addition to CMC, these technologies include phones and videophones (McGrath 1986; Rorhbaugh, 1986). The term "Computer Supported Cooperative (or Collaborative) Work" is similar to Group Decision Support Systems, and encompasses computer systems, software, and hardware (Scrivener & Clark, 1994) in addition to such traditional methods of communication as face-to-face interaction, audiosystems, and videosystems (McGrath and Hollingshead, 1994).


In the area of informatics, the computer has a more active role because it is the "repository of maintainer of organized information" (Santoro, 1995, 15). Here information is retrieved, manipulated, and utilized by people but is structured by the computer. Internet resources including the World Wide Web, library resources, electronically accessed CD-ROM databases and other data archives fall within this application of CMC. Computer assisted instruction involves the pedagogical uses of CMC. This includes the managing and structuring of information through computers (Santoro, 1995). Note that although the four areas of informatics, GDSS, CSCW and CAI are very similar, each has a different body of research.

The Scope of CMC Research

CMC has an important impact on communication in general. As such, CMC research has attracted scholarly attention in the last three decades. The scope and acceptance of this research has increased in recent years. As Wagner, Wynne & Mennecke (1993) point out, over thirty universities in America have CMC research programs, while universities in Europe, Australia, and Canada are also conducting their own research. If your institution offers a program of study in CMC, please register it in the CMC Studies Center.

CMC research has increasing commercial importance. Corporations such as IBM, NCR, and AT&T have contributed millions of dollars to many private and public institutions to support CMC research. The recent proliferation of books and articles providing overviews and annotated bibliographies on the subject (see, for example, Bannon, Robinson, & Schmidt, 1991; Bowers & Benford, 1991; Jessup & Valacich, 1993; McGrath & Hollingshead, 1994) also demonstrates the growing interest in CMC research. ^

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