Classifying Family Life Education on the World Wide Web

Article excerpt

Family life education sites on the Internet were searched for and classified into the topic areas of the Framework for Life-Span Family Life Education. A total of 356 sites were found and a content analysis was performed to discover trends within each topic area. Many Web sites were found in the topic areas of parenting and human development, while fewer sites were found in other areas such as family resource management. These findings will help family life educators identif gaps in information available through the World Wide Web. Recommendations are offered for improving the use of technology in educating families.

The Internet is a relatively new arena for family life education, and little is known in the professional community about the possibilities for education on the World Wide Web. Although a few papers presented at the annual conference of the National Council on Family Relations in November of 1996 dealt with individual Web sites (Gilbert, 1996; Dollahite, Hawkins, & Morris, 1996; Morris, 1996), Morris (1997) indicated that a computer search in March of 1996 resulted in finding no published research at that time in the field regarding family life education on the Internet.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to use research-based criteria to classify sites on the Internet as family life education and compile an extensive list of sites that could be used as a reference for parents and family professionals. This list was to be published on the World Wide Web in the form of a Web site that family professionals could access and use in their work. Also, an analysis of the main content areas of family life education on the Internet was performed in order to determine which areas have been neglected and where valuable resources can be found. The results of this analysis can help family professionals interested in creating their own Web sites to know what has been done in their particular content area of interest.

Ways the Internet Can Be Used in Family Life Education

The Internet, or World Wide Web, is a rapidly expanding form of communication that can transmit programs, messages, and nearly any type of information anywhere in the world almost instantaneously. As of March 1996, 22%-24% of the population, over the age of 16, in the U.S. and Canada had access to and used the Internet for educational purposes, work tasks, and communications (Bailey, 1996). This form of media can allow remote users from any two locations to communicate with each other. Also, educators, businesses, and any type of organization can post information that can be accessed through personal computers by a large number of people from the convenience of their own home or business.

Family life educators can take advantage of this medium in different ways. One of which is by producing a "Web site," which is a group of files or documents people can access from their own computer, for relatively little cost, and can disseminate important information about family processes to a large number of people around the world. Web sites display information, graphics, or sound on the computer screen of the individual accessing the site. One example of using this medium for family life education is an educational site for fathers called Fatherwork (http://fatherwork. byu.edu) which provides stories, ideas, and activities on fathering in different situations (Dollahite, Hawkins, & Morris, 1996). Web sites are becoming the most popular form of Internet communication, but there are other ways that family life educators can communicate with individuals and families.

The use of electronic mail (E-mail) transmits written messages to another person with an Internet connection almost instantaneously. For example, Gilbert (1996) utilized E-mail in constructing an on-line course where students on and off campus could receive university credit over the Internet. Gilbert used a series of documents on a Web site as the primary source of information for the class. …