Academic journal article Family Relations

Formative Evaluation of a Family Life Education Web Site*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Formative Evaluation of a Family Life Education Web Site*

Article excerpt

Hundreds of family life education Web sites are available on the Internet, allowing individuals and families unprecedented access to family life education information. Evaluation is critical to ensuring the quality of and improving these Web sites; yet, few Web site evaluations have been conducted. We formatively evaluated a new family life education Web site, Forever Families (www.foreverfamilies.net), assessing site use with Web-based software and receiving visitor feedback through an online survey. Findings revealed that the site was highly used by individuals throughout the world, that the site was viewed positively and had a positive impact on users, and that site ratings did not substantially vary by user characteristics. Users provided many helpful suggestions for improvement.

Key Words: family life education, Internet, online evaluation, Web site.

(Family Relations, 2004, 53, 367-376)

The increased availability of the Internet to individuals and families (ETForecasts, 2002; Nua, 2002) and the rise in the amount of time spent online (Nielsen//NetRatings, 2002a) makes the Internet a powerful and convenient venue by which to disseminate educational information. Studies support what conventional wisdom suggests: The Internet is perceived to have great educational value (Horrigan & Rainie, 2002; UCLA, 2000). Most Internet users use the Internet to find answers to questions and to learn new things (Allen & Rainie, 2002; Lenhart, Simon, & Graziano, 2001). Further, individuals are increasingly turning to the Internet for all kinds of information, including matters of personal and family well-being. Because the Internet is a powerful medium that has much to offer family life educators (FLEs; Elliott, 1999; Hughes, 1999; Morris, Dollahite, & Hawkins, 1999), over the past few years, many FLEs have developed Web sites (Elliott). In fact, there are hundreds of family life education Web sites currently available online (Elliott).

Despite the quantity and availability of family life education Web sites, surprisingly little is known empirically about the effectiveness of this technology in promoting strong marriages and families (Elliott, 1999; Hughes, 2001; Hughes, Ebata, & Dollahite, 1999). Several studies have assessed the use of these Web sites (i.e., Ebata, 2003; Hughes; Morris et al., 1999), but only one published study collected visitor feedback to assess outcomes (Grant, Hawkins, & Dollahite, 2001). Results suggest that Web-based family life education can make a positive difference. However, this study did not collect data regarding visitor characteristics; thus, it is unknown for whom the site was most beneficial.

In this article, we describe the formative evaluation of a new research- and faith-based family life education Web site called Forever Families (www.foreverfamilies.net; foreverfamilies.byu. edu). We begin with a brief description of Forever Families and a description of the evaluation framework used in the assessment. We then describe the formative evaluation of the site and conclude with practical and research implications for the site itself and Web-based family life education.

The Forever Families Web Site

Forever Families is a new family life education Web site sponsored by the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University. The site provides practical, scholarly, and faith-based educational information to individuals, married couples, and families of all faiths. The site is an information and skills site designed to promote change (Morgaine, 1992). The site comprises short (1,000-1,500 words), reader-friendly articles in numerous content areas such as marriage, parenting, family life, extended family, and meeting family challenges. In addition, many of the articles are linked to expanded articles composed of enlarged segments that coincide with the shorter articles discussed, and include additional scholarly references, a list of helpful readings, and links to other Web sites on the topic. …

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