Academic journal article Family Relations

A Process Evaluation of a Website for Family Life Educators

Academic journal article Family Relations

A Process Evaluation of a Website for Family Life Educators

Article excerpt

A Process Evaluation of a Website for Family Life Educators*

Effective professional development is critical to maintaining high-quality family life education. Most professional development continues to be conducted through workshops, newsletters, and other traditional ways. The growth of information technology provides an important new teaching capacity for professional development. This article explores the development of a website for family life educators, examines procedures for obtaining formative evaluation data about websites, and considers the implications of this work for developing more effective professional development experiences for family life educators.

Key Words: family life education, information technology, professional development, World Wide Web.

Professional development is critical to maintaining highquality family life education programs. The National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) has long been commuted to fostering competent family life education by publishing a journal devoted to applied work in human development and family science and by offering professional development opportunities at their annual meetings. A centerpiece of these efforts is the recently developed certificate program for family life educators to promote continued professional education (Czaplewski & Jorgensen, 1993).

At present, most professional development opportunities for family life educators and many other professionals are conducted by face-to-face workshops, by newsletters, or by other traditional educational approaches. Nevertheless, recent surveys of professional development indicate that this may be changing. For example, in a recent review of professional development for the American Society for Training and Development, Bassi and Van Buren (1999) report that training in classrooms is declining and that training using learning technologies has been increasing. Across a wide range of training organizations, learning technologies including CD-ROM and the World Wide Web (WWW) were used in about 9% of the training in 1997 and were anticipated to be used in about 23% by 2000. Among companies and organizations that were defined as "leading-edge organizations," it was reported that by the year 2000, 93% expect to use CDROM, 70% will use the WWW, and 33% expect to use virtual reality. Bassi, Cheney, and Lewis (1998) concluded that "although classroom training will remain a necessary vehicle for creating learning, it will increasingly be augmented with, and in some cases replaced by, electronic means of learning" (p. 72).

Information technology offers an important new capacity to foster professional development for family life educators. For several years family life educators have been using e-mail. One example is FAMNET, a discussion list (listserv) that facilitates communication among a variety of professionals interested in family life education. There are many other electronic discussion lists designed to allow professionals to exchange information about more specific interests such as child care, violence prevention, marriage, and so forth. Another example of the use of information technology for professional development is the use of e-mail and the WWW for course work and professional development. For example, Hughes (1996) conducted an e-mail in-service course for county-based extension educators in which participants received weekly e-mail lectures and then shared their insights and observations with other electronic participants. E-mail and websites have also been used to support satellite video conferences by providing a means for participants to interact with conference presenters and to obtain additional information (e.g., Better Kid Care, http://www.psu.edu/dept/BETTERKIDCARE/).

The development of websites creates an important additional capacity for offering professional development. Many government agencies, professional associations (e.g., NCFR, American Psychological Association, National Association for the Education of Young Children, and many others), and national resource centers (e. …

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