COMPARING AND CONTRASTING EDUCATIONAL WEBSITES: ARE THEY VISUALLY READABLE?
Using visual rhetoric as the research design, educational websites used by educators and students, the researchers investigate readability of both text and images (Foss 2004, 2005; Kenney 2005; Ott & Dickinson, 2009). Visual rhetoric allows scholars to assess symbolic processes (Kenney, 2005). Because conventions for design of readable websites are in the process of being established (Kirk & Kiekel, in press), scant research exists addressing the visual and statistical readability of websites teachers use in classrooms. All aspects of visual communication are discussed including images, topography and legibility, navigation, and statistical readability.
Images found on websites used for educational purposes are important to the readability of the site. Appropriateness, function, placement, familiarity, number, and animation of images are important to being able to read and comprehend images. Whether or not the words and images complement each other and are aligned with the text is a significant aspect of readability. Other aspects of readability include whether or not the images serve their purpose, consideration of the end-user, interactivity, comprehension, and cognitive load.
Navigation of the website must be considered with regard to the overall readability of websites. Homepage organization, consistency of pages and navigational controls, appropriate links, interactivity, user orientation, site maintenance, and inclusion of blinking and flashing elements have an effect on readability (Abilock, 2005; Hsu, 2006; Sutherland-Smith, 2002; Williams & Stimatz, 2005).
Legibility is another factor that plays a role in readability. Typographers have a large number of font choices when creating educational websites that can have an effect on the overall readability (Baines & Haslam, 2005; Carter, Day & Meggs, 2002; Faigley, George, Palchik & Selfe, 2004; Frascara, 2004; Frutiger, 2008; Gordon, 2001; Rabinowitz, 2006; Walker, Schloss, Fletcher, Vogel, & Walker, 2005). The choices designers make include familiarity, serif versus sans serif typefaces, type styles, type size, color, value, contrast between text and color, texture of type, point size of letterforms, alignment, line spacing, word spacing, line length, widows and orphans, use of space, letterspacing, leading, and intrusion into rhythm of leaded lines.
Statistical readability is calculated for two related educational websites using the Fry (1977), Flesch Kincaid Grade Level (Kincaid, Fishburne, Rogers, & Chissom, 1975) and Flesch (1974) Reading Ease formulas. Although Fry recommends using only three representative examples from text to calculate readability, he also advises that the more representative samples taken, the more reliable the readability results.
Exploring the visual and statistical readability of two websites that may be used by teachers for instruction or accessed by students, the researchers investigate which website might be more appropriate for classroom instruction. Recommendations for improvement of the design of the websites are given.