The effects of dynamic content and interactive screen design on the engagement of learners in a college Web-based computer history lesson



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Texas Tech University


The World Wide Web (the Web) presents a unique challenge to instructional designers of web-based courses. This study examined if the design of an instructional web page affects instruction by keeping the user engaged on the site. The elements examined were text-based content and screen design.

Information Processing Theory informs this study using cognitive strategies to affect the transfer of information from short-term memory to long-term memory. Research on text-based content has created debate concerning whether or not the inclusion of interesting text assists or hinders learning (Gamer, Alexander, Gillingham, Kuhkowich, & Brown, 1991; Gamer, Brown, Sanders, & Menke, 1992; Gamer & Gilhngham, 1991; Gamer, Gilhngham, & White, 1988, Goetz & Sadoski, 1995; Hidi & Bau-d, 1988; Sadoski, Goetz, & Fritz, 1993; Schraw, 1998, Wade, 1992). Screen design gains attention, organizes information, and informs with visual imagery. Two distinctly different screen designs developed for this study premised on Modernist and Postmodernist diametrically opposed aesthetic views.

The research design for this study was a randomized block factorial design with each factor (content and aesthetics) consisting of two levels and a block for gender. The dependent variables were the end of lesson quiz, navigation (files accessed), and the time onsite (time spent within the Web site). Mukivariate Analysis of Covariance (MANCOVA) was appropriate due to the use of two factors and three dependent variables (Kirk, 1995).

The data analysis revealed no significant difference in the scores of the quiz administered at the end of the lesson. However, there was a significant difference in the content factor of the treatments on the dependent variable of time onsite, specifically seconds spent per page. According to prior studies on the inclusion of interesting text elements, users spend more time reading when content interest is included (Gamer et al., 1988, 1991, 1992; Gamer & Gillingham, 1991; Hidi & Baird, 1983, 1986; Wade & Adams, 1990; Wade, Schraw, Buxton, & Hayes, 1993). This could explain the difference m the seconds spent per page between the two levels of content.

Studies on navigation within a hypermedia environment have shown users typically become lost (Grabmger, 1996; Hannafin, 1984; Hannafin, Hannafin, Hooper, Rieber, & Kini, 1996; Jonassen, 1996; Jonassen & Hannafin, 1987; Winn & Snyder, 1996). However, in this study the data collected revealed all users' were successful in navigating the Web-based lesson. The lack of a significant difference m the total time spent within the Web-based lesson indicates no user became lost within the hypermedia environment.

This study indicates that in order to understand the impact of screen design aesthetics and varying levels of content elaborations on learner retention, further research is necessary m the area of instructional design for the Web. User's navigational path preferences and prior background knowledge are two additional factors that need further investigation to develop effective Web-based lessons.



Internet in education, Higher -- Computer-assisted instruction, Education, Interactive computer systems, Web sites -- Design