Past research has shown that females have more negative attitudes toward engineering and technology than do males. These negative attitudes may explain the decreasing number of females choosing technical careers. Past studies have shown that a change in learning environments and the methods by which learning takes place might foster a change in this situation. A multimedia case study incorporating a real-world engineering and technical problem faced by a power plant was developed in order to provide a new learning environment for engineering and business students. This research investigates whether the use of this material by female and male students led to differences in perceived higher level cognitive skills and, if so, seeks to identify the factors that cause the difference. A research model was developed to show the potential relationships between gender and higher level cognitive skill improvement with two intervening variables: the learning-driven factor and the content-driven factor. The learning-driven factor is composed of constructs that show the intrinsic value of the instructional materials to the end user.
The learning-driven factor also explains how the multimedia instructional materials were used as a tool to challenge the end user in learning difficult management and engineering topics, in connecting theories and practice, in improving students’ understanding of basic concepts, and in providing the students a platform on which to learn from one another. The content-driven factor is composed of constructs that measure the extrinsic value provided to the end-user by the use of multimedia instructional materials. The end user has no control over the design of this factor. This factor constitutes the technical quality of the multimedia instructional material, how easy it is to use and locate information contained on the instructional material, and how the design of the instructional material helped to make it easier and more feasible to complete assigned tasks in a timely manner. Two questionnaires collected information from 140 students who participated in the experiment (99 men and 41 women). A structural equations model was used to compute the coefficients of the relationship indicated in the research model. An analysis of the results from the model shows that both groups perceived an improvement in the learning-driven factor. Female students valued the learning-driven factor more highly than did their male counterparts, suggesting that it is improvements in the actual learning process triggered by the system that is more important for this group. The results suggest that when designing new learning environments, it is important for the female students to be challenged and have opportunities both to learn by themselves and to learn from others. These results have implications for teaching programs, such as the provision of opportunities for group learning, especially for female students.
Mbarika, V., Sankar, C.S., Raju, P.K. (2003). Identification of Factors that Lead to Perceived Learning Improvements for Female Students. IEEE Transactions on Education. Vol. 46, # 1, pp. 26-36.