The effects of hypermedia on the comprehension of science text among sixth-grade students

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Donald Leu


Curricula, Teaching, Educational software, Literacy, Reading instruction, Science education

Subject Categories

Curriculum and Instruction


The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of interactive, hypermedia software on the comprehension of sixth grade students reading a science passage. Specifically, two main questions were addressed: (1) Does hypermedia create a more supportive environment for comprehension when compared to traditional content area textbooks? (2) Which elements of hypermedia provide the most assistance to readers?

More learning in and out of school is dependent on getting information from texts (McKeown, Beck, Sinatra and Loxterman, 1992). It has been estimated that approximately 80 percent of the knowledge to which students are exposed comes from textbooks (English, 1980). Recent research in the area of text structure has shown that a significant increase in comprehension occurs when elements of "considerate text" are applied to the writing of textbooks (Armbruster, 1984; Armbruster & Anderson, 1985). As the computer becomes an increasingly important learning tool in the classroom, it is important to give attention to the structure of software programs being made for instructional use.

A study by David Reinking (1988) found that student's comprehension increased with the use of computer-mediated text. In computer-mediated text, learners have the ability to control the text to facilitate understanding (Jonassen, 1988). One form of computer-mediated text is interactive hypermedia. Interactive hypermedia programs provide assistance for students with poor decoding and comprehension skills (Hillinger, 1992). Information is presented using video, sound, text and graphics; its non-linear structure allows the student to proceed through a lesson accessing information as needed (Leu, Gallo & Hillinger, 1993).

To study this issue, 90 sixth grade students from a suburban middle school were selected. They received one of three different treatment conditions: reading traditional static text, reading the original passage on the computer screen with additional color graphics used in the hypermedia version, and the hypermedia version which contained supportive interactive features. The topic of the selection was seasonal change. The first question was analyzed using a one way analysis of variance. The second question was analyzed using a 1 x 5 analysis of variance.

The results of this study are useful for both researchers and practitioners. While the use of hypermedia alone did not make a significant difference in the comprehension of a scientific principle, it may be that the inclusion of refutational text with hypermedia may provide a more supportive environment for some kind of comprehension. It seems that the development of new programs including the interactive elements and refutational text will help to increase comprehension of all students. The average learner will have the ability to explore areas of interest which can be accessed by the touch of a finger. The more reluctant reader who has hesitated to tackle an assignment due to past experiences of frustration and failure associated with the reading task will be motivated to continue to participate in the learning process.


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