With the WWW having become an integral part of daily life, this research seeks to identify and understand some of the factors that underlie decisions to select and use various websites. Project C.O.P.E. researchers take our stance for this research in the humanities rather than the Information or Computer Science approach. We are feminist scholars who combine technological knowledge with experience and expertise in teaching aesthetic content.
C.O.P.E., the acronym for Content, Organization, Preference, Evaluation, also provides the framework for the research. The central focus of this study is an examination of the impact of gender on the selection and use of websites. Throughout this study there was an interweaving of each of these four elements as the research team evaluated previous research and framed the various aspects of this research design.
Content and how it is presented underpins the research design for each of the four phases. Each website constructed by the research team was thoroughly analyzed as to design elements, presentation style, aesthetics, and content. Websites chosen for Phase 3 underwent the same scrutiny.
Organization of both the websites designed by the team and those chosen for Phase 3 focused on navigational aspects and ease of use. Underlying this dimension was the idea of "pleasantness" of use and the subjectivity of user responses to organizational design.
Preference for website design and organization of content was backed by an examination of other research of user preferences, preferences that involved color, gender, overall impact, and learning styles. These studies, presented in a series of bibliographies, provided both direction and the scholarly basis for the study. In actuality, only a small number of previous studies dealt with gender differences in website preferences. These studies (Agosto, 2002; Benbunan-Fich, 2001) led us to the realization that there is a substantive need for more research into gender differences in respect to web design and navigational preferences.
Evaluation, as with any research study, allows for insight into both the process of the research and the evaluations made by the study participants. Each phase of the study involved the evaluation of specific website design elements by those students participating: color, hue, link choices, ease of navigation, method of presentation of material for learning. Research questions not only asked "what" but also asked "why" so that an understanding of the reasons for choices and the gender differences in types of choices could be studied. In each phase of the research, participants were asked to assess both the websites themselves and their responses to those websites.
DISSEMINATION OF RESEARCH
Another important consideration
was how to disseminate the research. From the very beginning, it was decided
that, in addition to the traditional method of writing papers for publication,
the research methodology and findings would be developed as a website.
This method of dissemination was backed by research findings (Carroll
& Marable, 1999; Hundt, 2000; Sanders, 1999; Saywell & Cotton,
1999; Taylor, 2001) with web-based dissemination being a relatively new,
but proven, means of sharing research information.
This project, initiated in 2001 and completed at the end of 2002, has been a group effort from the beginning. We began with an extensive review of the literature which looked at both color research and gender and technology research. Important studies were identified and annotated bibliographies developed. The PI's of the Human Computer Interface Project met with the principal investigator of this study to identify which portions of that study were relevant to Project C.O.P.E.. Once these initial steps were completed, the research team developed the actual research methodology for each of the four phases of Project C.O.P.E..
Different subjects were used in different phase experiments. The breakdown is as follows: In Phase I, 37 males and 53 females; In Phase III, 36 males and 14 females; In Phase IV, 51 males and 19 females. Phase II is more complex: In Moonscape, we had 30 males and 20 females. Some participants did not indicate their gender in the Technopet test; and since it was the first time we used an online questionnaire, we did not track their IP address, so we only had 16 males and 15 females. The participants in each phase were primarily Information Technology and Informatics (ITI) students who were juniors and seniors. A small number of graduate students (all female) participated in Phase I. The ITI students were the students in the newly established undergraduate program and were considered a fertile target for the research. They were all in the same basic course.
Phase 1: Color Preference Test
The first phase of testing focused on color preference in web design. Initial research into color preference showed that blue is generally the most popular color and that this popularity crosses both gender and cultural lines (Chattaphadhyay, Gorne, & Darke, 2000; Holtzschlag, 2000; Khow, 1995; Lee & Barnes, 1989/90; Pantone, 1999). Additionally a research using computer games and children showed that boys prefer blue and green and girls prefer red and yellow (Passig & Levin, 1999). These colors from the Passig and Levin study, as well as a picture of the moon taken by Lin Lin, became the basis for the first set of websites. Introductory text, links, and a questionnaire were developed to complete the site. An additional, less "artistic," more technological, site was similarly developed using a robotic pet.
It was considered important to determine if subject content influenced the choice of color so that of the two sites that were developed, one was "artistic" and one was "technological." Links developed fell into three broad categories: aesthetic, technological, and societal. As a result, two parallel websites were developed which used four identical color choices and links that reflected societal, aesthetic, and technological interests.
In this initial phase, blue
was shown to be the overwhelming favorite color for both males and females
for both the artistic and technological sites. There was more variance
in link choices with females showing more variance in preference and males
generally preferring the technological links over the societal and aesthetic
Phase II: Shades of Difference
Since blue was shown to be the overwhelming favorite for both male and female participants for both Moonscape and Technopets, it was decided that the next step of the research would be to determine whether the shade of blue was a factor in the preference towards blue. The review of literature had shown that the chroma (saturation) of color plays a part in color preference (Chattapadhyay, Gorn, & Darke, 2000; Khouw, 1995). The same web content used in Phase 1 was used but the color choices were changed to various hues of blue. ITI undergraduates showed marked preferences to bold, deep hues of blue.
The third phase of testing examined gender preference and web design. Returning to the original three content delineations of technological, social, and artistic; four existing web sites were chosen for each of these three general areas that were used in the development of the mock websites in Phase 1. The selected websites reflect these three aspects and were specifically chosen because of both their content and their web design. Undergraduate ITI students and graduate Library and Information Science (LIS) students were asked to spend several minutes browsing each group of sites before selecting the site they preferred. Study participants used a Likert scale to rate their choices based on pre-determined criteria such as ease of use, familiarity with site, content, design, accessibility, color scheme, and organization. Background for this study can be found in the research of Joiner, 1996; Gorriz and Medina, 2000; Whitely, 1996; Lin and Liu, 2001; Benbunan-Fich, 2001; and Bachiochi et al, 1997.
Initial results showed some marked differences in site preferences between males and females. There is no significant gender difference in technology and aesthetic site preference. However, there is significant gender difference in social site preference.
Phase IV: Alternative Presentations of Identical Content
Styles of learning and presentation
of material became the focus for the fourth and final stage of the project.
Using Science Fiction, a topic which combines Science and Technology with
the Arts, four websites reflecting differences in teaching/learning styles
were designed. Students were asked to determine the characteristics of
science fiction by looking at a linear model of teaching, a concept formation
model, as well as two inference models, one using text and the other using
illustration. Each of the four learning modules were constructed so that
students could show what they had learned about the characteristics of
science fiction. After using each of the four models, every student chose the
learning/teaching model that most facilitated his/her learning. As with
the previous three C.O.P.E. phases, this study sought to determine not only
if one style of information presentation was preferred but also if there
were gender differences in the preference. Research pertaining to learning
and teaching styles is extensive, but there are only a few studies relating
to gender differences and learning on the web (Campbell, 1999; Margolis,
Fisher, & Miller, 1999; Passig & Levin, 1999). These studies were
used as background for this portion of the research.