Date of Award

2016

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Applied Communication Theory and Methodology

Department

College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Bracken, Cheryl

Subject Headings

Communication

Abstract

The technology affordances of university website homepages were evaluated to inform the development of prototypical examples of accessible public university and exclusive private university homepages. Affordances are characteristic of the environment that, when perceived, afford or provide opportunities for action (Gibson, 1986). In addition, affordances, such as hyperlinks, also prompt heuristic processes that lead to judgments that are based on peripheral cues rather than substantive information. Integrating the MAIN model (Sundar, 2008) and the Two-Factor Theory (Herzberg, 1966; Zhang & Von Dran, 2000), eye tracking and survey methodology were used to assess differences in perception and credibility judgments of the prototypes developed to represent the website homepages of accessible and exclusive universities.

A content analysis was used to assess hyperlinks and other design features of the website homepages of the 10 most accessible and 10 most exclusive Ohio universities. Consistent with prior research, results indicated relatively little variation among the hyperlinks and design elements of university website homepages. The features were used to develop prototypes representative of the two types of university homepages. Those prototypes served as the manipulated independent variable in an experiment and, although the manipulation was correctly perceived, the differences were not statistically significant. Correspondingly, the credibility measures, although consistent with theoretical predictions, were not statistically significant based on the type of prototype viewed. This study thus did not provide evidence of a relationship between number of hyperlinks and credibility.

Perceived hygiene and motivator factors however, were significantly positively associated with credibility, consistent with two-factor theory. Additionally, prior experience, particularly with university websites, was associated with the extent to which credibility assessments were not neutral. Participants with more experience were significantly more likely to make non-neutral assessments of credibility than those with less experience, results which are consistent with theory underlying the MAIN model and provide evidence of heuristic processing. This work provides evidence that two-factor theory complements the MAIN model, with potential theoretical and practical benefits. Universities can apply them to develop websites that better meet with user expectations and are thus perceived more favorably.

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Communication Commons

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