Virtual Family Life Education: A Qualitative Study of Father Education on the World Wide Web

Article excerpt

Virtual Family Life Education:

A Qualitative Study of Father Education on the World Wide Web*

As the World Wide Web continues to expand more families will be using this medium for information on parenting. This study qualitatively analyzed six web sites that did family life education (FLE) with fathers. These sites used instrumental/technical, interpretive, and critical-emancipatory approaches to education. General differences in practice between the sites were identified in relation to the site's producer(s). All sites were also compared in terms of how they used best practices with fathers, were developed, and their numbers of users. Suggestions for Web-based FLE approaches, ethics, and practice are given as well as future research topics.

he Internet could be considered one of the largest and fastest growing communities on earth (Jones, 1995) and consequently is one of the fastest growing potential audiences for family life education (FLE). Because of the increased number of users and the easier international connections created by the Internet, this medium offers itself as a unique though complicated arena for family life education. There are a variety of ways to access and provide information on the Internet including email, file transfer protocol (FTP), listserves, bulletin boards, and web sites (or home pages). The most recent and popular form of Internet interaction takes place on that part of the Internet known as the World Wide Web (Web). The Web consists of web sites (home pages) which are collections of documents that are stored on a computer that runs software enabling it to be accessed by anyone connected to the Internet. As of October 2, 1998 there were over 4.8 million registered Web sites with a weekly growth rate of over 75,000 (http://www.domainstats.com).

There are nearly 3 million commercial sites (.com) on the Web and only about 4,800 educational sites (.edu) (http://www. domainstats.com). A great deal of parenting information is currently available on the Web. An October 1998 Yahoo search using the keyword "parenting" found 483 sites (http://www.yahoo.com) and based on the number of "users" or "hits" indicated by these various sites, hundreds of thousands of people are using the Web for parenting information. The majority of Web users (62.6%) access the Web from home (http://www.gvu.gatech.edu/user surveys) which may make it a convenient gateway for influencing families. This article reports the results of a qualitative study that evaluated six Web sites related to fathering, and discusses conceptual, ethical, and practical issues of Web-based FLE.

Fathers and Web Education

Fatherhood is an increasingly important issue in the social sciences (Blankenhorn, 1995; Coltrane, 1996; Doherty, 1997; Doherty, Kouneski, & Erickson, 1998; Hawkins & Dollahite, 1997b; Lamb, 1997; Parke, 1996; Popenoe, 1996). In a 1995 telephone survey conducted by the A.C. Neilsen Company, it was found that out of 4,200 respondents, 66% of Internet users were men (Bailey, 1996). Recent data suggest that the proportion of females using the Web has steadily increased to about 39% in 1998 (www.gvu.gatech.edu/user-surveys/) but the majority of users continue to be men who average about 35 years old. Since so many Web users are fathers or potential fathers, doing research on Webbased education that focuses on fathering is particularly timely.

In addition to expanding ways to help fathers, this research begins to explore and document what exists and what is possible for FLE on the Web. We are unaware of published research done on fathers on the Web or online FLE for fathers. By studying FLE Web sites focused on fathers, scholars and practitioners can better understand and communicate the possibilities, limitations, and implications of using this medium to reach fathers. Moreover, many family life educators are using the Web to do FLE. It will be useful to begin to formulate some ethical guidelines, review different approaches, and give some ideas about what might work well on the Web. …