Toward a bi-dimensional measurement of computer experience.

Author:Prince, Brad

    There is a great deal of interest in an individual's computer experience (CE) because there is a strong linkage between past experience with computers and ensuing attitude and consequent behavior in the computing environment (Beckers and Schmidt, 2001; Polzikova, 1995; Maurer, 1994; Chou, 2001; Compeau and Higgins, 1995). If this phenomenon were better understood, educational institutions and employers would be able to more efficiently deploy their computing resources (Taylor and Todd, 1995; Smith et al, 1999). Also, many would benefit from being able to measure an individual's CE because some aspect of CE (typically its time-based, objective component) has been shown to have a significant, positive correlation with constructs such as computer self-efficacy (Harrison and Rainer, 1992; Hill et al., 1987; Igbaria and Iivari, 1995; Potosky, 2002; Hasan, 2003), and a negative correlation with constructs such as computer anxiety (Durndell, 2002; Cohen, 1989; Maurer, 1994).

    Because of its significance, CE has been included in several studies involving the constructs of computer self-efficacy (Harrison and Rainer, 1992; Hill et al., 1987; Igbaria and Iivari, 1995; Potosky, 2002; Hasan, 2003), computer attitudes (Smith, Caputi, and Rawstorne, 2000), and computer anxiety (Durndell, 2002; Cohen, 1989; Maurer, 1994). However, this research was performed without a consistent definition of CE, a theoretical distinction between CE and other similar attitudinal constructs, or a validated measurement instrument. This has led to conflicting results and conclusions (Potosky and Bobko, 1998; Kay, 1992; Smith, Caputi, Crittendon, Jayasuriya, and Rawstorne, 1999).

    1.1 Problem

    Most previous studies have used a time-based measure of CE, while not including the potential impact of thoughts and feelings acquired from the interactions with a computer (e.g., Gardner et al., 1993; Wise, Barnes, Harvey, and Plake, 1993; Comber et al, 1997; Arthur and Olson, 1991; Mahar et al, 1997). This approach to studying CE leaves out a very important element, the quality of those experiences (Arthur and Olson, 1991; Bradley and Russell, 1997; Karsten and Roth, 1998). Researchers have proposed that the conflicting CE research is the product of CE being measured solely by its quantitative (time based) component, without considering the qualitative component of the individual's thoughts and feelings (Rawstorne, Caputi, and Smith, 1998; Smith et al., 1999; Smith, Caputi, and Rawstorne, 2000; Smith, Caputi and Rawstorne, 2004).

    Smith et al. (1999) attempted to ground CE research by theoretically defining an individual's CE as the combination of two separate and distinct components, namely, a quantitative Objective Computer Experience (OCE) and qualitative Subjective Computer Experience (SCE). Smith et al. (1999, p. 228) defined OCE as the "totality of externally observable, direct and/or indirect human-computer interaction which transpires across time." Smith et al. (2004, p. 3) defined SCE as "a private psychological state, reflecting the thoughts and feelings a person ascribes to some previous or existing computing event." Measurement of both OCE and SCE was discussed (Smith et al., 1999) but an instrument was presented only for SCE (Smith et al., 2000; Smith et al., 2004). Also, due to the instrument's construction (discussed later), there seems to be a theoretical disconnect between the definition of SCE and the proposed measure of SCE (Smith et al., 2004).

    To further complicate the situation, only one attempt have been made to theoretically and statistically differentiate this construct (and its measurements) from similar constructs whose factors could easily overlap one another (Smith et al., 2000). By definition, constructs must be differentiated from similar psychometric constructs to increase the possibility of unidimensionality (Miller and Rainer, 1995; Straub, 1989) and decrease the chance of conceptual overlap (Hattie, 1985; Straub, 1989). Smith et al. (2000) attempted to differentiate their proposed measure of CE (specifically SCE) from computer attitudes, but were not completely successful. The sub-factors of their measure of SCE did not exhibit discriminant validity from the Computer Attitude Scale developed by Lloyd and Gressard (1984) or the Computer Attitude Scale developed by Dambrot, Watkins-Malek, Silling, Marshall and Garver (1985). Theoretically and statistically, this lack of discriminant validity is a problem for researchers wishing to use CE as a construct in statistical research models.

    1.2 Purpose

    This research is intended to close the gaps (according to Churchill's (1979) model of construct development) in CE research that are shown in Table 1. Our first purpose is to present a statistically validated measurement scale for OCE. Second, we address the disconnect between the definition and measurement of SCE and theoretically differentiate Smith et al.'s (1999) definition of CE from attitudinal constructs, namely the constructs of computer self-efficacy (Murphy, Coover, and Owen, 1989), computer attitudes (Nickell and Pinto, 1987) and computer anxiety (Heinssen, Glass, and Knight, 1987). Third, we develop an instrument to measure the differentiated construct, and finally, statistically validate the tool using Straub (1989) as a guide so future researchers will have a theoretically and statistically sound measurement of CE to utilize in their research.


    The Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) postulates that an individual's behavior is best predicted by their intentions, while intentions are best predicted by an individual's attitude toward the behavior and some social expectation concerning the behavior (Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975). Realizing that an individual's attitude toward the computer has a great impact on their intentions to use or not to use the computer, computer attitudes have been studied a great deal with numerous instruments having been proposed to measure the construct (Lloyd and Gressard, 1984, Dambrot et al., 1985; Nickell and Pinto, 1986; Kay, 1993; Rainer and Miller, 1996; Levine and Donitsa-Schmidt, 1998; and Shaft, Sharfman, and Wu, 2004).

    Often, when the "attitude" toward computers is considered, measures of anxiety and confidence (similar to self-efficacy) are part of the model. For example, the Computer Attitude Scale (Lloyd and Gressard, 1984) includes three factors: computer anxiety, computer liking, and computer confidence. For this reason, we consider constructs such as computer attitudes, computer anxiety and computer self-efficacy to be "attitudinal measures" (Kay, 1993) differentiated by the object of which the attitude is about (we discuss these differences later).

    But, how did these attitudes form? Conditioning Theory (Razran, 1938; Staats and Staats, 1958; Page, 1969; Olson and Fazio, 2001) purports that attitudes toward an object (in our case, the computer) are formed through repeated interactions with a conditioned stimulus (the object about which attitudes are formed) paired with an unconditioned stimulus (positive or negative thoughts or feelings associated with the object in question). Smith et al.'s (1999) definition of CE includes these two stimuli, the objective conditioned stimulus (interaction with the computer) and the subjective unconditioned stimulus (thoughts and feelings associated with the event). Consequently, repeated interactions with an object creates a value account that is the summation of pairings of conditioned and unconditioned stimuli (Betsch, Plessner, Schwieren ,and Gutig, 2001). Theoretically, this value account (in the case of computers) has a significant impact on an individual's attitudes toward the computer (Koohang, 1989; Durndell, 2002; Maurer, 1994; Arthur and Olson, 1991), which according to the TRA, has a direct impact on an individual's intentions and consequent behavior with the computer (Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975).

    We propose that CE is the value account described by Betsch et al. (2001). As such, CE should be retrospectively examined to determine the potential impact that previous interactions (pairings of the computer with thoughts and feelings about the computer) have on future attitudes toward the computer. According to theory, the value account (Betsch et al., 2001) creates attitudes; positive experiences should create positive attitudes. We now continue our review of the literature by turning our discussion specifically to the value account of CE and to its differentiation from the aforementioned attitudinal constructs.

    2.1 Computer Experience

    As stated earlier, there are two components of CE, an objective, quantitative component, and a subjective, qualitative component (Smith et al., 1999). Studying these components independently has produced inconsistent findings (Potosky and Bobko, 1998; Kay, 1992; Smith et al. 1999). For example, if two people complete a scale that only measures CE by the average number of hours spent per week on computers, the person with a lower CE (fewer hours of experience) may actually score lower because he or she is more highly skilled with his or her use of computers and does not take as long to complete the desired tasks. People with higher scores may have a higher score because they are less skilled and need to take more time to complete their objectives. This example would be in opposition to previous findings that as CE increases, computer literacy (Brock et al., 1992), computer self-efficacy (Harrison and Rainer, 1992; Hill et al., 1987; Igbaria and Iivari, 1995; Potosky, 2002; Hasan, 2003) and computer attitudes improve (Koohang, 1989; Durndell, 2002; Maurer, 1994; Arthur and Olson, 1991) while computer anxiety decreases (Durndell, 2002; Cohen, 1989; Maurer, 1994).

    Karsten and Roth (1998) noted that relevance (quality of computer interaction) rather than quantity of computer experience is a more robust predictor of performance in a computer course. Researchers that only...

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