Comparative Study of Two Electronic Textbook Interface Design Metaphors Relative to Learner Self-Efficacy, Attitudes, and Learning Orientation

Dissertation by David Unfred, 2003

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Chapter V


There are indications that learning orientation, gender, and electronic textbook interface designs have significant effects on the attitude variables used in this study. Data also suggests that electronic textbook interface design can also impact performance outcome among novice users of a specific metaphor used in an electronic textbook interface design.

The study population was unique from a typical university population. Descriptive population statistics suggest that a majority of students represented in the summer terms were at the beginning of their university careers. This assumption is supported by statistics concerning age and classification: 73.6% of the population was between 17-19 years of age and 71.8% were freshman. The study's population also would also be considered novice electronic textbook users with 85% indicating no or only one previous experience with an electronic textbook.

Other information supporting the novice character of the study's population came from personal communication with the developer of the Learning Orientation Model (Martinez, 2002). Martinez indicated that the study's population had a higher percentage of participants demonstrating Conforming and Resistant learning orientations than the author had previously experienced with university students.

Learning Orientation as a Diagnostic Tool

The intent of the Intentional Learning Theory, the Learning Orientation Model and Learning Orientation construct is to focus on individual emotions and intentions with respect to the why, when and how learning goals are organized, processed, and achieved. The Learning Orientation construct is concerned with the conative, affective and social aspects of how an individual learns, rather than focusing primarily on cogitative constructs (Martinez, 1999; Martinez & Bunderson, 2000).

It was not goal of this study to examine the Learning Orientation Model and the learning orientation construct in terms of predicting individual performance, but rather to test whether the construct could be useful as a diagnostic tool for determining learner preference for a particular electronic textbook design interface.

The learning orientation construct continuum of Likert-like values was partitioned between the learning orientation group identified at Transforming-Performing learners and Conforming-Resistant learners in order to facilitate an evaluation of the constructs diagnostic abilities. From a pragmatic perspective perhaps the most critical criterion (in terms of priority) of any educational design is whether or not it is used. Researchers have found that acceptance of a hypermedia system is increased when the system design has reliable information about the needs and desires of potential users (Bidarra, Chambel, & Guimaraes, 2000).

In focusing on the social, conative and affective aspects of an individual's learning process the learning orientation construct may find utility as a diagnostic of what Reigeluth has termed preferability (Reigeluth, 1999; Reigeluth & Frick, 1999). The concept of preferability implies that an instructional program will be successfully implemented when a threshold combination of the three variables has been achieved. In this environment effectiveness is the degree to which the electronic textbook has attained the instructional goal. Efficiency evaluates the effectiveness to which resources (for example, the user's time) are utilized.

Attitude, the enjoyment vector, is represented both in terms of the electronic textbook's attractiveness or its ability to draw and hold the learner’s attention, and in terms of appeal, the affective value of how "enjoyable" the user finds learning with the particular instructional-design. This threshold of preferability can also be applied to an instructional program that is bounded by an expository textbook in print or a digitally mediated one. It will be recalled from the previous discussion of learning orientations that students exhibiting a Conforming learning orientation generally are less successful on-line learners because of the preference for highly structured environments (Martinez & Bunderson, 2000).

The more extreme Resistant learning orientation indicates a lack of belief in the importance of academic learning and lack of personal motivation toward the attainment of academic goals (four participants in the study were indicated as having a Resistant learning orientation). By contrast learners with Transforming and Performing learning orientations exhibit greater success in less structured learning environments where self-motivation and self-directed learning are needed.

In this study Learning Orientation construct successfully correlated with specific attitude and self-efficacy subscales used in this study relative to treatment (3-D Book or Internet Browser interface design) and gender. Learning orientations were analyzed as two groups: Transforming-Performing (T-P) learners and Conforming-Resistant (C-R) learners. In general the T-P group, although considered novice textbook users in this study, had a less favorable attitude toward the 3-D Book design than the more familiar Internet Brower interface. The preference of the T-P group for the Internet browser could be expected on the basis that the Internet Browser was familiar to the study's population.

One of the assumptions of the study (based on survey information) was that all participants were experienced users of the Internet and therefore familiar with the functionality of the Internet Browser interface. Research has noted that as the novice user gains experience using a hypertext/hypermedia system, the dimension of being "lost-in-hyperspace" diminishes. Learning accelerates as experience with the usability of the process is gained (Rushinek, Rushinek, & Stutz, 1985). Ford and Chen (2000) also found that prior experience with the computer mediated interface was related to differences in both navigation behavior and learning performance.

The T-P group represents the more successful learning orientations in a digitally mediated (on-line) environment. As users experience in the use of the Internet browser functionality, the T-P group of novice electronic textbook users may prefer the familiarity of the Internet browser interface. In terms of the possible importance of the book "metaphor" in electronic textbook interface design the attitude expressed by the C-R group was of interest.

The C-R group reflects the learning orientation that is generally less successful in a less structured, digitally mediated environment. The group's preference for the 3-D book design over the Internet Browser may represent the importance of the "book" metaphor among this segment of novice users of an electronic textbook. This observation finds support in the initial research with respect to the types of learning situations preferred by each of the learning orientations (Martinez, 1999).

In this study the finding was that C-R learners were more favorable toward the 3-D Book interface may reflect a preference for a structured, non-risk environment. The familiarity of the "book" metaphor is one possible explanation for the C-R group which requires a more structure learning environment, and may help explain the preference of this interface design over the Internet browser design. Metaphor is a powerful medium that can used to transpose the meaning of one object to another (Adriano, Adriano, & Ricarte, 2000).

In this digital representation of the book, the visual 3-D book functions as an iconic metaphor imitating the appearance of a real object (Rozik, 1998). The C-R group may be more comfortable with the perception of the iconic metaphor as a "book," as opposed to the Internet browser, perceive the iconic metaphor as being a "book." A recent study in which a library metaphor was used to allow novice learners to search a hypertext database was bounded by the assumption that the learners would be more adept in locating information (Last et al., 2001). Last and associates found that the lack of search tools and resources that exist in the real library led to frustration on part of the users.

In contrast one of the advantages that the C-R group experienced with the 3-D book metaphor was that the 3-D book interface functioned similar to a real book. The user was able to turn pages and even skip to tabbed sections. Although the "page turning" and "page skipping" activities were in effect hyperlinks within the 3-D book interface design, the appearance was a reasonable representation of interactivity with a printed textbook.

It is interesting that Duchastel (1986) argued that computerized text actually limits the range of reading strategies available to individual readers. With printed text, he argues, a reader can go literally any where in the textbook, whereas within a hypertext environment progression is bounded by nodes (pages separated from each other) and the links between them. It is possible that use of a particular metaphor in an electronic textbook interface design, e.g., a 3-D book metaphor, could also "restrict" strategies employed by a segment of users.

Learning Orientation and Self-Efficacy

Researchers have noted that in particular situations the self-efficacy construct refers to judgments regarding the capability to perform specific tasks (Ertmer et al., 1994). A question at the beginning of this study was whether participant self-efficacy beliefs would be significantly affected by different interface designs for an electronic textbook. Participants selected for the study were experienced users of printed textbooks and most would be expected be experienced users of the Internet.

In the context of the research design the question is rather novice users would have similar confidence in different electronic textbook environments. Other research has noted similarities between self-efficacy belief and attitudes, sometimes suggesting that the two are measuring the same construct (Brehm & Kassin, 1998).

The primary association made from this study is that learning orientation can be a predictor of attitude and self-efficacy, particularly where novice learners are introduced to digitally-mediated learning environments; e.g., the WWW or electronic textbooks. If this association were validated, than researchers would have a standardized tool for learner self-regulation and self-efficacy studies.

Electronic Textbook Interface Design
and Learning Outcomes

Electronic textbook interface design had significance in combination with learning orientations and in combination with gender. As a singular factor, the effect of the electronic textbook interface was significant for the post-treatment achievement variable representing the proportion correct on the ten-question multiple choice exam.

In this study users of the 3-D Book interface averaged a higher proportion correct than did users of the Internet Browser interface. In contrast, the average number of items completed and the average number of items correct on the en-route task averaged higher for the Internet Browser interface than for the 3-D Book (although the difference was not statistically significant).

Research by Dee-Lucas and Larkin (1995) in hypertext environments indicated that readers may extract a detailed topic representation only to the extent that it was explicitly required by the study goal. The lack of relationship between the en-route task and the post-treatment achievement could reflect the study goals of the participants. A further explanation may be that a different mode navigating the information space may be employed. Berry (2000) has suggested “browser mentality” as a term representing the phenomenon descriptive of “intentional strategies employed by individuals in browsing or searching the Web” (p. 49).

One characteristic of browser mentality includes skimming, that is rapid visual search and selection of objects (buttons or hyperlinks) and demonstrating impatience to move to the next page (Neilson, 2000). Browser mentality may have implications for cognitive processing since learners would not have adequate time to reflect on the content (Jonassen, 1988).

Users of the "book" metaphor (3-D Book interface) may be accessing a broader text-based representation in the electronic textbook environment resulting in more focused reading behaviors, rather than the "search" strategies associated the Internet browsing. Researchers have suggested that navigation occurs on two levels. At one level the user navigates the content or information space, and at the other level the user navigates the interface (Eklund & Sinclair, 2000).

Bazin (1996) addresses a similar issue as metatextuality in which the digitally mediated environment can represent situations in which navigation and content both compete as referents. Bazin notes, "… that the difficulty of perfecting and framing the methods for leafing through 'pages' on screen witnesses both an effort to reconfirm the book as non-book, and at the same time (accommodate) the book's permanence" (p. 153). This can lead the user to develop other means of navigation, for example, "nomadic roaming" or surfing which will mitigate moving through the digital content in a manner similar to that being used by the same learner using a textbook.

Gender Effects and Electronic
Textbook Interface Designs

Although this was not an initial focus of the study's design, several possibilities are raised. For years research has noted gender bias with respect to learning technologies (Cockburn & Ormrod, 1993). Citing several researchers Campbell (2000) notes that "Female learning may occur first and foremost in relation to other human beings and living things, whereas males may arrive at an understanding in relation to things as symbols, a framework on which much computer-based technology is based" (p. 133). Another author comments on gender bias during early in the popularity of the Internet the point was made that "… the internet is male territory. Considering [that] it's roots are sunk deep in academic and the military-industrial complex that's hardly surprising" (Wiley, 1995, p. 3).

Electronic Textbook versus Printed Textbook

Media comparison studies have not been enthusiastically embraced by educationalists and educational designers. One reason is that many of the studies have generated results that suggest there is no significant difference in learning achievement between media (Clark, 1985; Kulik, Kulik, & Bangert-Drowns, 1985).

The attitude of users toward the idea of an electronic textbook compared with a print version was not the focus of this study. However, it would be interesting to roughly gauge the acceptance or resistance to the concept of the electronic alternative to the printed textbook used for the course.

The final section of the ETAM attempted to measure the extent of preference for the printed textbook over an electronic textbook. Approximately two-thirds of the participants preferred having the printed form of the textbook used for the course rather than an electronic version.

However when given the option of a significant price differential, the ability to access animation that better explains the content, or the ability to access a particular Web URL referenced in the text, the percentages were reversed. The forced comparison survey suggests that about one-third of the test population had a strong preference for printed text only, another one-third had a strong preference for the electronic version, and the final third's preference would change given price or functionality of the electronic textbook. Media comparison studies that focus on learner preference may have a more significant value than studies that focus on learner performance.

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Updated March 2003
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