Ben Wigert '06 awarded University of Nebraska Presidential Graduate Fellowship
The University of Nebraska awarded one of its eight 2011-2012 Presidential Graduate Fellowships to HC alum Benjamin Wigert ’06. A PhD candidate in industrial-organizational psychology, Ben currently serves as a research associate and facilitator at the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s Center for Collaboration Science. Among his research interests are facilitation of technology-based collaboration.
Fellowship recipients receive $15,000 plus all academic expenses and were chosen on the basis of academic achievement, personal accomplishment and innovative research.
Ben, who earned Academic All-American honors as an HC Bronco Men’s Tennis player, continues to successfully juggle his academic pursuits and his athletic endeavors. He serves on the Nebraska Tennis Association Board of Directors and as a Special Olympics coach.
He is the son of Dr. Lee ’74 and Diane Wigert and is husband of Christine (Bryant) Wigert ’08. Dr. Wigert serves as Professor of Psychology and Chair of the Psychology Department at HC.
HC Today Extra caught up with Ben for a brief interview in November.
HC Today Extra: What specific research project are you currently working on?
Ben Wigert: I'm currently working on a couple of grants, my dissertation, three journal articles, a textbook and several pet projects. One of the more interesting grants I'm working on, called the BattleSpace project, is a $2.4 million project funded by the U.S. Air Force. The BattleSpace project purports to develop a communication software system that improves battlefield decision making. Essentially, the software allows many parties (e.g., teams, squadrons, departments) to simultaneously communicate while utilizing effective decision making methods to improve the quality and efficiency of group decisions.
At present, optimal collaborative decision making requires a trained facilitator. The BattleSpace project is unique as it is the first attempt at using a software program, rather than a human, to facilitate collaboration. As an industrial-organizational psychologist (I-O), my responsibilities are focused on honing the software to overcome the cognitive and social challenges inherent to group work. I also study how people interact with the technology; specifically, whether the software is intuitive and helpful, or confusing and overwhelming.
Similarly, I have recently studied how teamwork and decision making can be effectively facilitated in virtual worlds, such as Second Life. I will present the results of this study in January at the Hawaiian International Conference for Systems Sciences. Based on this stream of research, I am also authoring a special issue article on effective team performance in virtual worlds.
In general, most of my work entails examining cognitive processes behind effective and innovative decision making, as well as how individual differences, such as personality and thinking style, influence workplace performance. For instance, my thesis advanced a well-known model of cognitive problem solving processes. Also, I was invited to give a special presentation on the influence of perfectionism on performance at the 2011 American Psychological Association Annual Convention and look forward to presenting similar research at the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology Annual Convention in 2012.
HCTE: What drives your interest in technology-based collaboration?
Ben Wigert: Over the past two years, I’ve incorporated my expertise in decision making and individual differences into teamwork, collaborative decision making and leadership studies. This research interest has been supported by my current employer, the Center for Collaboration Science (CCS), where we are addressing the scenario by which globalization and advances in communication technology [have] caused more and more work to be conducted online.
This scenario is particularly challenging because face-to-face collaboration is difficult enough. For instance, cognitive issues such as trying to synthesize and store all information communicated by a group, and avoiding common decision making biases, such as over-focusing on shared information and premature idea evaluation, complicate group decision making. Social issues also create problems as employees may not want to share certain information with their boss [and] ideas may be judged based on who generated them rather than the merits of the ideas and groupthink stifle innovation.
Taking these problems into consideration, we devise problem solving strategies and technology that enhance group collaboration. Using collaboration technology, team members can simultaneously and anonymously contribute ideas to a group discussion. This greatly reduces the decision cycle time and ensures ideas are evaluated based on merit, rather than who contributed them. Using such technology, a large amount of information can be generated, cleaned, organized, dissected and evaluated. Importantly, our next step is to develop technology that allows distributed work groups to effectively use these methods online without the expense and restriction of a human facilitator.
Overall, I find technology-based collaboration interesting because we’ve all wasted a significant amount of time in inefficient meetings. Through continually improving facilitation methods and technology we hope to improve the outcomes and process satisfaction of group decision making.
HCTE: What should readers know about technology-based collaboration?
Ben Wigert: It is important to understand that it’s the process, not the technology alone, that facilitates effective collaboration. Every conceivable facilitation method that can be enhanced by technology was first conducted using paper and pencil. Technology simply makes these processes cleaner and faster. In fact, we find that the technology is often a hindrance to effective decision making when participants are not familiar and/or comfortable with collaboration technology. Basically, technology can be distracting, and if nothing else, is one more thing that can detract participants’ attention from the problem at-hand.
The same rule applies outside the realm of collaboration—technology is a tool, not a solution.