ONLINE EFL READING COMPREHENSION: DOES GENDER MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE?
The Internet is one of the major information sources for English language learners and an important device enabling the access to authentic language materials, thus making web-based reading an essential teaching tool that offers real opportunities for development and empowerment. Yet we see that even the most advanced information technologies create new formats of digital literacy calling for entirely new reading skills and strategies, and probably implying that the learners' inequalities such as gender knowledge do indeed show up, at least digitally. Many recent works reveal that the gender of English as foreign language (EFL) learners is related to their reading comprehension. The scholars are not unanimous as to how males and females differ in the overall EFL reading comprehension or to what reading strategies would males or females take in each particular case. The studies of gender differences have begot many insights on how the reading strategies of employed males and females could probably differ. The scholars are still lacking information about the gender differences in an online reading environment as well as on the impact of the passage topic familiarity. The research was aimed at exploring gender differences in online reading comprehension and juxtaposing the results against the passage topic familiarity. The techniques included a literature review, an analysis and a pilot study of gender variations in the online reading comprehension performance of university EFL learners. The participants were undergraduate students of Social Sciences of intermediate course level. All subjects were enrolled in an EFL class in a computer-networked environment and engaged in online reading of texts in Social Sciences dealing with various topics. In the course of the instruction, the participants were asked how hard the text appeared to them and what actual reasons they had to read it. In the end of the course, the reading comprehension tests with two different types of texts (familiar and non-familiar) were presented on-line to the learners. The results of the pilot study show no significant differences between males and females in the overall reading comprehension. Still, there are certain indications that the topic familiarity increases the motivation to read, possibly affecting the reading comprehension.