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CYBERPSYCHOLOGY & BEHAVIOR Volume 10, Number 5, 2007 © Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. DOI: 10.1089/cpb.2007.

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Gender Differences in Taiwan University Students’ Attitudes toward Web-Based Learning
RU-SI CHEN, Ph.D.1 and CHIN-CHUNG TSAI, Ed.D.2

ABSTRACT This study explored gender differences on university students’ attitudes toward Web-based learning in Taiwan. A Web-based Learning Attitude Survey (WLAS) was developed. The WLAS consisted of five scales, including access, social structure, content, pedagogy, and community relationship toward Web-based learning. By using an online survey, this study gathered the responses of 1,866 Taiwanese university students (940 males and 926 females) whose ages ranged from 18 to 23. The results showed significant gender differences in the aspects of social structure, content, and community relationship involved in Web-based learning. Interestingly, although females might consider the Internet a masculine-dominated technology, they displayed more favorable attitudes than males did regarding the impacts of socioeconomic status (the social structure scale) on students’ performance of Web-based learning. Moreover, females possessed more positive attitudes than males toward the helpfulness and variety of the content for Web learning. However, they did not think the virtual interaction on the Internet could develop adequate teacher–student and peer relationships (the community relationship scale). Some follow-up interviews were also conducted with selected students, and the implications derived from this study were discussed.
ing with teachers by e-mail.7 They found the computer-enriched environment was positively correlated with students’ attitudes toward computers in general, their role in teaching and learning, and their ability to facilitate communication. It was also proposed that the university students having more positive attitudes toward using the Internet as a learning tool tended to favor using the Internet for learning and to be actually involved in Web-based learning environments.8 Therefore, exploring university students’ attitudes toward Web-based learning is quite an important research issue. First, interactivity is an essential feature for successful Web-based learning. One of the powers of interactivity in a Web-based environment was the capability to provide efficient and appropriate in-

INTRODUCTION
Attitudes toward Web-based learning

O

Web-based learning has become a widespread practice in education.1,2 Since Web-based learning consists of both asynchronous and synchronous communication features, if used properly, it can enable students to be more involved in the process of learning.3–6 Recently, some researchers have focused the pedagogical usefulness of information technology, or Internet technology (IT), and examined university students’ attitudes toward and usage of computers in the learning environment, such as using the Internet for searching information and communicat1Department 2Graduate

VER THE LAST FEW YEARS,

of Early Child Care and Education, Yu Da College of Business, Taiwan. School of Technological and Vocational Education, National Taiwan University of Science and Technology, Taipei, Taiwan.

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Therefore. Furthermore.9 Therefore. with the conclusions that on average female university students reported less time spent using the Internet. and university students agreed that rural areas were being left behind with respect to IT. Females used e-mail more than did males. sex differences in cognition or communication. such as communication via e-mail. and information searching for personal or school purposes. male university students on average were often found to be more experienced in computing and to have more positive attitudes and self-efficacy toward computing than females.13 In sum.18 Moreover.11 Rural residence. university students in the Webbased instruction reported that the quality of interaction with teachers and peers was high. race. and attitudes. but this gap may be the product of socioeconomic and other factors. Some studies might indicate women and men used the Internet equally but used it in different ways. content that favored men. greater computer anxiety. and gender were found to significantly influence their access to computer and Internet. by posting more frequently.17 Males used the Web more than did females. minority. it was found that rural students had access to the Internet less often than urban students. whereas no other significant gender differences were noted regarding students’ other Internet activities. and it was related to their stronger incentive for searching information. not of gender itself. less positive attitudes toward the Internet. a significant gender difference was found on all the measures of attitudes. female college students showed stronger beliefs in equal-gender ability and competence in the usage of computers but expressed low confidence in their own ability to work with computers. as well as differential interests.19 Gender differences were also detected in self-efficacy and cognitive process in a technology-rich environment. the community relationship and interaction involved in Web-based learning was a focus for this study to explore students’ relevant attitudes. and by writing more opinionated discourse as compared to female communicators. this study examined students’ attitudes toward Web-based learning in terms of access. and other related issues. For instance.20 In a study investigating gender differences regarding Internet use by Greek high school students both in school and out of school environments. Gender differences in students’ attitudes and behaviors toward Web-based learning Gender difference is often a major concern for researchers interested in students’ abilities and attitudes toward the computer or Web-based learning. As revealed in a previous study. and males were found to report higher levels of computer or technology self-efficacy than females. where gender differentiation and power displayed in communication persisted similar to other communication modes. inher- ently “gendered” technology embodying male values. or other factors—in addition to socioeconomic factors. found that male communicators displayed power behaviors by writing longer postings. Moreover. as female students in various levels of education tended to know less about IT. a previous study. these qualitative differences might impact educational opportunities for learning in relevant Web-based instruction.646 CHEN AND TSAI teraction and feedback to the students. The gap in Internet usage might exist between men and women. and lower computer self-efficacy than males. anxiety.14 The reasons that women were less intensive Internet users might involve stereotyping. social structure. the social structural factors involved in Web-based learning should be carefully explored when assessing students’ attitudes toward Webbased learning. Research indicated that structural factors of society could influence the students’ benefits from Web-based learning. According to the results in previous studies.10 In another study. the findings in previous studies showed that gender was a factor with a substantial influence on students’ achievement and usage in technology-based learning environments.12 Gender biases and societal stereotypes.16 Cyberspace remained a male-dominated atmosphere. exploring a new channel of communication (cybertalk). The digital divides were created not only by the expenses associated with new technologies but also by the difficulties of learning to use new and unfamiliar technologies. Web surfing. it was reported that rural. and self efficacy toward the Internet. and female people were less likely to have home computers or to be connected to the Internet. There were also significant gender differences with respect to confidence about computers and stereotypical views of computer users. and then produce the digital divides. It was also indicated that the concerns about gender equity expressed by many educational practitioners were well founded. It has been argued that female university students were less likely than males to take advantage of computer learning opportunities. and perceive more problems with software. may contribute to a lower level of participation by females. enjoy using the computer less than males.21 . chat or videoconferencing. pedagogy. As Internet usage has become more important.15 Moreover. it was revealed that boys used the Internet for entertainment and Web page creation more than girls did. and it was consistent with their stronger motive for interpersonal communication. experiences.

They came from 84 uniFactor analysis This study used exploratory factor analysis. found that more than 80% had home Internet access.22 Although there was a gender gap in frequency and intensity of use. and sociology of education. This study first developed an online questionnaire to survey university students in Taiwan about their attitudes toward Web-based learning. As a result. was used and an online survey was undertaken for data collection. regardless of race or gender. social structure. Community relationship scale: assessing attitudes regarding the extent to which students believe that the virtual community provides adequate student–teacher and peer interactions. the validity and the reliability of the questionnaire were examined and students’ different responses in the questionnaire were analyzed.23 In a study for Taiwan high school adolescents. 4. pedagogy.or Web-based learning to enrich their teaching or enhance students’ learning. developed by two researchers.23 Male and female students searched for health information in almost equal numbers. presented with bipolar agree/disagree statements in a 5-point Likert scale. the valid number of student cases was 1.925 Taiwanese university students whose ages ranged from 18 to 23. 2. carefully considering gender differences that may impact the effectiveness of this teaching medium. The respondents in this study consisted of 1. the Web-based Learning Attitude Survey (WLAS). exploring the problem of community college students’ use of the Internet for health-related information. Access scale: assessing the attitudes concerning the extent to which students have opportunities to access Web-based learning. and community relationship. This left 940 male and 926 female students in the final sample pool. Questionnaire exploring students’ attitudes concerning Web-based learning To assess students’ attitudes toward Web-based learning. Purposes of the study Taiwan universities and colleges rely increasingly on IT. Pedagogy scale: assessing the attitudes concerning the extent to which students perceive positive impacts from Web-based learning. principle component analysis with varimax rotation. In a relevant study. it was found that there was no longer a gender gap in being online. Content scale: investigating the perceptions about the features of the Web-based learning content designed by teachers or developers.24 These results implied that gender differences regarding the Internet technology or Web-based learning might be narrowing. it appeared to have diminished over time. The attitudes in this study included the access. but no significant gender differences were found in terms of the affect and behavior aspects of using the Internet. female adolescents expressed higher Internet self-efficacy than males.866. To develop the WLAS. social structure. These items were developed after consulting with some experts in Web-based learning. information technology. Following is a detailed description of the five scales: 1. The role of gender on the responses was further explored. These scales included a 36 items as the initial pool of items. content. and community relationship involved in Web-based learning. a Chinese Web-based learning questionnaire. it is important for educators to explore university students’ attitudes toward Web-based learning.24 More importantly. and the responses were coded as 1 strongly disagree to 5 strongly agree. the WLAS primarily consisted of five scales (seven or eight items for each scale). with a fairly large sample size. was implemented in this study.GENDER DIFFERENCES IN STUDENTS’ ATTITUDES 647 Subsequent studies indicated few or no gender differences for students’ attitudes toward Internet or Web-based learning. Finally. Another study. to clarify the structure of the attitudes toward Web- RESULTS . University students have more freedom in making technology choices and implementing Web-based learning. 5. versities in Taiwan. were composed of those who had divergent academic backgrounds and came from different demographic areas of various socioeconomic statuses. Then. Social structure scale: exploring students’ attitudes regarding the role of social structure factors on Web-based learning. pedagogy. 3. The researchers proposed the following five scales for Web-based learning attitudes: access. some female students were interviewed to elicit more information about their views on Web-based learning. content. In this respect. a pool of items was collected to fulfill the aforementioned purposes of this study. males expressed significantly more positive attitudes than females on the usefulness and perceived control aspects of the Internet. After excluding students with some nonresponses. METHODOLOGY Sample A questionnaire. The surveyed students.

.80.58 0. content.52 0.64 0.67 0.63 2: Social structure 0.87.88. Students’ scores in the scales Table 3 shows students’ average item scores and standard deviations on the five scales of the WLAS.50 0.46 5: Community relationship 0. Table 2 shows the retained items on the WLAS.53 0. This result implied that most students not only perceived the pos- TABLE 1.74 0. According to Table 3. social structure.79.80 0. In this way. 0. the initial 36 items were reduced to 19 items (as shown in Table 1). and community relationship— accounted for 69. Loading less than 0.74 0. content. The retained 19 items.76 0. The reliability ( ) coefficients respectively for these scales were 0. 0. and 0.59 0.72. The respondents’ attitudes were grouped into five orthogonal factors: access. and eight items in the WLAS were scored in a reverse manner.76 with an overall 0.79 0.76 0. The eigenvalues of the five factors from principle component analysis were all larger than one.63 4: Pedagogy 0.87 0. 0.40 on the nonrelevant factor.68 3: Content 0. social structure. Thus.40 omitted. suggesting that students in general agreed that the opportunity to access Web-based learning is open to everyone. pedagogy.96 per item). as initially proposed.72 0.72 0. with five factors—access.76% of variance.53 0. and community relationship.65 0.53 0.88. students scored highest on the access scale (an average of 3. ROTATED FACTOR LOADINGS AND CRONBACH’S ALPHA VALUES FOR THE FIVE FACTORS (SCALES) OF THE WLAS Factor 2: Social structure Factor 3: Content Factor 4: Pedagogy Factor 5: Community relationship Item Factor 3 6 7 8 Factor 9 10 11 13 Factor 15 17 20 21 Factor 23 25 26 28 Factor 29 31 32 Factor 1: Access 1: Access 0. suggesting that these scales had satisfactory reliability in assessing students’ attitudes toward Web-based learning.76%. They also believed that the proliferation of Internet technology could reduce the digital divide between cities and rural areas. students having higher scores on the scale showed better attitudes toward Web-based learning.60 Total 0.648 CHEN AND TSAI based learning. pedagogy. total variance explained in 69.40 on the relevant factor and less than 0. An item was retained only when it loaded greater than 0.

b Internet resources provide little help to students. itive impacts of Internet access but also preferred to take optimistic attitudes toward Web-based learning. the better their children’s performance in Internet technology. RETAINED ITEMS Item no. it was proposed that at least a certain group of students had concerns about the effectiveness of virtual interactions in Web-based learning environments. Opportunities for Web-based learning are open to everyone. Exploring gender differences on the scales This study compared male and female students’ scores on the five scales of the WLAS. The content of Web-based learning represents only the mainstream culture. The virtual community on the Internet can provide students with more freedom for interactions. Thus. Perhaps they would rather be involved in the learning processes of authentic environments. the . Student’s Internet technology equipment can influence their performance in Web-based learning.b People with high socioeconomic status have the ability to determine the development and structure of the content of Web-based learning. Web-based interaction is more attractive than face-to-face interaction for me.b The activities of Web-based learning focus on educational aims and pedagogical needs.b The higher parents’ social economic status is. The community relationship scale remained relatively low (an average of 2.b The virtual interaction on the Internet can promote a superior teacher–student relationship. The method and degree of IT integration can influence the model and content of Web-based learning. The information literacy of aboriginal students is inferior.79 per item) compared with the others. The proliferation of Web-based learning can reduce the use of other methods of teaching and learning. Everyone can afford software and hardware equipment for Web-based learning.b The higher parents’ educational degree is.GENDER DIFFERENCES IN STUDENTS’ ATTITUDES 649 ON THE TABLE 2.b The information literacy of male students is better than that of female students. in a reverse way.b All school subjects can be mediated by Internet technology to facilitate students’ learning. The results of t tests are presented in the Table 4.a 3 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 17 20 21 Scale Access Access Access Access Social structure Social structure Social structure Social structure Content Content Content Content WLAS Question The proliferation of the Internet can reduce the digital divide between cities and rural areas. the better their children’s performance in Internet technology. 23 25 26 28 29 31 32 aThis Pedagogy Pedagogy Pedagogy Pedagogy Community relationship Community relationship Community relationship bScored item number indicates the item order in the initial version of the WLAS. The Web-based learning model is the best choice of contemporary learning models. As shown.

female students expressed statistically more favorable attitudes toward Web-based learning than males did. and gender were not essential factors for determining the development and success of students’ information or Internet literacy. females believed that the Internet may not cause negative impacts on social status or equity related to education. on the community relationship scale. on the social structure and content scales.02 0.85 1.64 0.87 2.17* 0.82 0. Nevertheless. In summary.66 Community relationship *p 0.001).84 4.62 3.61 3. (Because the items in this scale were all scored in a reverse manner.96 3. Scale STUDENT’S SCORES ON THE SCALES OF THE WLAS SD 0. In other words.05.001. Student responses also indicated significant gender differences on the content scale.61 3.650 CHEN AND TSAI TABLE 3. It suggested that they had similar attitudes toward the proliferation and development of Internet technology as a better tool to reduce the digital divide. a higher score indicates a certain extent of disagreement for the statements about the impacts of social structure variables on Web-based learning). Males showed relatively more preferences toward the virtual learning partners or interactions in Webbased learning environments. female students displayed better attitudes on the social structure and content scales. but males perceived better on the community relationship scale.14 4.80 0. they showed more agreement with the perspective that the activities of Web-based learning could correspond to educational aims and pedagogical needs. .70 3.65 0. Female students displayed more favorable attitudes toward the content on Web-based learning constructed by teachers or developers than did males. The results also revealed that male and female students’ scores on the pedagogy scale did not show statistical differences. When compared to males.64 2. Table 4 reveals that the females’ mean score of the social structure scale was significantly higher than that of males (p 0. Scale Access Social structure Content Pedagogy GENDER COMPARISONS Gender Male Female Male Female Male Female Male Female Male Female ON THE SCALES OF THE WLAS t value 1.94 3.98** Mean 3.82 0.73 0.49** 2.94 0.79 0.79 Access Social structure Content Pedagogy Community relationship results of this study did not reveal any significant differences between males and females on their perceptions regarding access.66 0.99 0. and everyone could afford the software and hardware equipment required for Web-based learning.71 SD 0. proposing that both males and females believed in the potential helpfulness and pedagogical values in Web-based learning.66 3.81 0.70 # of items 4 4 4 4 3 Item mean 3. parents’ socioeconomic status. the mean score for males was higher than that for females. Females tended to show more agreement with the perspective that ethnicity.71 3.51 3. **p 0. TABLE 4.63 2. they also recognized the usefulness and variety of Webbased learning content. However.98 3.

ST7: I think the information literacy of male students is better than that of females because males have more ability and confidence in learning and using computers. It was found from examining the qualitative data that some students shared a view that social structure was an important factor for the successful outcomes of Web-based learning. In terms of gender. they responded as follows: ST2: In aboriginal areas. ST12: I think gender differences in Internet technology or Web-based learning do not exist now because many females know how to advance their information literacy. but she highlighted that gendered stereotyping is outdated and females should actively participate in Web-based learning. Now they have more opportunities to learn by Internet technology than in the past. because they consider the Internet a masculinedominated technology. All of the interviews were recorded by a digital recorder. students had few opportunities for Internet access because their parents could not afford the software and hardware equipment required for Web-based learning. There is much information on the Internet. some good for males’ discussions. I consider that the performance of Web-based learning is based on the level of one’s desire. some adapted to female styles. . I can look up relevant information on the Internet. and some appropriate for both males and females thinking together. For instance. Participants were directly asked for their perceptions about the relationship between gender differences and Web-based learning: ST4: I don’t think gender bias is prevalent in Webbased learning. But students of parents with lower socioeconomic status may have fewer opportunities for Webbased learning because they have no computers or have limited or no access to the Internet. They prefer learning in an authentic and friendly environment. In modern society. I would not have sufficient Internet equipment. Some students.” Based on the interview responses above. Then the questions addressed the formal and informal experiences on their Web-based learning in higher education. The interviews allowed the students to develop their biographies on previous educational experiences with computers and Internet. if I want to learn something about school subjects. indicated the importance of parents’ ability to afford software and hardware and parents’ socioeconomic status. . She expressed negative attitudes toward females’ personal ability and competence to work with computers. The interviewees were encouraged to construct their own stories and opinions about Web-based learning. They do not like to use computers to solve problems in learning. the female students highlighted the importance of social structure factors for Web-based learning. . when asked what they thought to be the most important determinant of having access to Web-based learning. and ST12 held positive attitudes about females’ abilities in Web-based learning. everyone has her freedom and opportunities to develop her abilities and performance in schooling. for example. 12 female students across different scores of WLAS were chosen to participate in individual in-depth interviews. ST4.GENDER DIFFERENCES IN STUDENTS’ ATTITUDES 651 ST8: I know that many female students expressed high anxiety about the Internet and showed negative attitudes toward the computer or Web-related learning. investigating their views about the digital divide. the interview questions explored students’ views about the relationship between Internet technology and educational equity. Moreover. ST10: I don’t think I experience gender discrimination regarding the Internet technology or Web learning. because the infrastructure of the Internet superhighway has not been well constructed. ST10. But I think these are traditional and out-of-date viewpoints. ST3: I think socioeconomic status is the most important factor. ST2 and ST3. ST7 thought female students had disadvantages in using computers. ST8 probably perceived the Internet as a masculine-dominated technology. Follow-up study—interviews with selected students In order to obtain more information for female students’ attitudes toward Web-based learning. Female students frequently feel more helpless about computers because of the socially constructed barriers of gender stereotype and gendered discrimination of Chinese traditional culture such as “girls should not develop their talents in technology. For example. They did . There is no rule to limit what female students can or cannot do in Web-based learning. If I lived in a rural area or aboriginal region. They express positive attitudes about their own personal ability and competence to work with computers. Internet technology can empower females and encourage them to excel in traditional male-dominated work.

did not strongly agree that ethnicity.19. and gender influenced their achievement in Web-based learning. More importantly. I can directly sense my teacher’s and classmates’ facial or emotional expression. many students also felt that gender should not be an important factor influencing performance in Web-based learning. socioeconomic status. based on the WLAS responses. males tended to have more favorable attitudes toward Web-based learning than females did on the community relationship scale. they did not demonstrate high preferences for online interaction. such as access and pedagogical values of Web-based learning.15.26 Female students did not always show unfavorable attitudes toward Web-based learning. This questionnaire will also assist teachers who highlight the pedagogical purposes and values in implementing technologyintegrated instruction. and Web-based attitude studies. many of them did not think contemporary females should hold such a view. Furthermore. compared to males. In summary. They focused on the social inequity about the Internet and Web-based learning and considered ethnicity. but I prefer face-toface interaction.19. and they perceived the helpfulness.25 This study found that male and female students held statistically similar attitudes on the dimension of access to Internet technology for learning. I don’t want to spend much time connecting to the Internet to find useless information. In some aspects. Female students did not show positive attitudes toward community relationship in Web-based learning. ST11: Maybe it [Web-based learning] contains attractive materials. Face-to-face interaction is better than Web-based interaction. female students tended to display better attitudes toward the social structure and content involved in Web-based learning. On the social structure scale. However. When I have questions. and educational values provided by the content of Web-based learning environments. suggesting the gendering of computer (Internet) technologies. . maybe it is fun . They considered their success or failure in Web-based learning to be their personal responsibility.15. When I need help. and characterizing females’ relationship to the computer as problematic or disadvantaged. . The interview also explored females’ views about community relationship in Web-based learning: ST1: I don’t like the online interaction with teachers or classmates. Such awareness might help them attain higher scores than males on some scales of WLAS. Female students. I don’t want to interact through the “cold” screen. many of them became gradually aware that gender should not be an important factor affecting performance in Web-based learning. This result was noteworthy because it contradicted the findings of most studies regarding the relationship between technology and gender— findings suggesting computing as a masculinedominated technology. Moreover. maybe it is easy to participate. In this study. female students showed more favorable attitudes toward the content of Web-based learning than males. socioeconomic status.652 CHEN AND TSAI not think that gender differences still existed in Internet technology or Web-based learning. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION The WLAS was one of the pioneering questionnaires to assess university students’ attitudes concerning Web-based learning. the findings derived from this study did not totally parallel what had been found in prior computer-related. female students expressed attitudes statistically similar to those of males. Although some female students proposed during interviews that these factors are related to Web-based learning. my classmates can help me immediately. we could not find significant gender differences on the WLAS’s access scale. . I can directly find my friends to help me. They preferred authentic learning environments where face-to-face interactions were allowed. this study showed significant gender differences in certain aspects of university students’ attitudes toward Web-based learning in Taiwan. Moreover. and they did not consider females’ failure in Web-based learning (if any) was due to the male-dominated nature of Internet technology. Males showed relatively higher preferences for the virtual learning partners or interactions in Webbased learning environments. females showed better attitudes than males did. however. Although some students believed that gender or social structure still played a role in Web-based learning. I can directly ask my teacher to address my questions in the classroom. and gender as important factors for students’ performance gap in Web-based learning. By and large.20. although they expressed positive attitudes toward the advantages of Web-based learning. Internet. variety. concurring with their lower scores on the WLAS community relationship scale. most interviewed students did not express clearly negative attitudes toward the dimensions of access and pedagogy involved in Webbased learning. In general.

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