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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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About Family Involvement Research Digests

Harvard Family Research Project's (HFRP) Family Involvement Research Digests summarize research written and published by non-HFRP authors and/or written by HFRP authors but published by organizations other than HFRP.  To learn more about the research summarized in this digest, please see footnote #1 or contact the author at the address below.  For help citing this article, click here.

Research Background

Educational research and practice suggest that website technology has the potential to benefit student academic performance, including math achievement, by enhancing instructional delivery and by strengthening parental involvement (PI) in children's education. Although class websites have become popular among schoolteachers, no studies have been done to examine the factors affecting the content and functionality of those sites in order to understand how they can enhance instruction and strengthen PI. The existing research on using website technology in education is limited to evaluating educational websites and to case studies aimed at designing websites that serve a particular audience or purpose (e.g., Chandler, 1998; Mechitov, Moshkovich & Underwood, 2001). In addition, nobody has attempted to create a theoretical framework for using class websites to promote PI in children's education.

To address this gap, this study investigates the roles of class websites in family involvement, communication, and instructional practices initiated by public school math teachers and their schools in a selected county in the northeastern U.S. The collected data are also used to create two prototypes of a theoretical framework of factors affecting the content and functionality of teachers' websites.1

Research Methods

This study used quantitative methods to answer descriptive questions about the content and functionality of 93 publicly accessible class websites created by 84 math teachers2 within the selected county, and used qualitative methods for semi-structured, in-depth interviews with 16 of these public school teachers about their math instruction, PI, and website practices. This research was conducted in three stages.

Stage 1: 9–12/2001 (pilot study)

  • Instruments were developed.
  • 58 class websites were identified and evaluated. (Two sites were later discarded from the analysis.)
  • Six teachers were interviewed. Preference was given to teachers whose sites were most comprehensive.

Stage 2: 5–6/2002

  • 37 new math sites were discovered and examined.
  • 56 sites were reevaluated.
  • The 84 teachers who author these sites represent 14 of the 18 school districts of the selected county.

Stage 3: 10/2002–1/2003

  • 93 websites were reevaluated.
  • 10 more teachers were interviewed. Interviewees were randomly chosen from a pool of preselected teachers. This preselection consisted of randomly selecting up to two teachers in each school.

Each class website was evaluated with respect to 42 parameters grouped into six categories: general information, contact information, design and maintenance, concept and content, site promotion, and security. Various statistical procedures were used to analyze categorical data.3

The 16 teachers interviewed represented equal numbers of men and women in one elementary, eight middle, and seven high schools in suburban districts. Their website experience did not exceed 4 years and teaching experience ranged from 3 to 34 years. Each selected math teacher was interviewed once for about 1 hour. Most of the interviews were conducted face-to-face with follow-up questions addressed via email.

The interview guide consisted of 12 questions focusing on teachers' computer, PI, instruction, and website perceptions and practices. Data analysis focused mainly on verbatim content of the narratives. To answer complex questions, tables were created that organized categorical data in multiple layers.

Research Findings4

Teachers do not deliberately use class websites to stimulate PI, especially such forms of PI as in-school and community involvement (e.g., volunteering) and educational decision making, advocacy, and leadership. In fact, while all interviewees admit that they did consider parents, at least to some extent, as part of their website audience, only 8.6% of the sites have messages for parents.

Class websites are capable of supporting teachers' PI practices by serving as information-sharing and communication tools. However, among the study's websites such information sharing (posting instructional information and activities, directory of links, teacher portfolio, and student work) is one-way, teacher-to-parent communication. Moreover, teachers do not take maximum advantage of their class websites as a two-way communication tool. Although many sites include teachers' email and other contact information, most are not interactive and teachers do not use them as a subject of discussion. Accordingly, the teachers report that they have not found class websites to have a major effect on the amount of their family–school interactions.

The study finds that teachers' class website, instructional, and PI practices are interrelated and are affected by three macro-level factors: teachers' preparedness, resources and support, and aspirations and commitment in each of these three domains. Although other studies need to further verify this claim, it appears that of the three macro-level factors discerned by this research, teacher commitment has the most weight on teachers' website, instructional, and PI practices.

Implications for Teacher Preparation and Professional Development and for Schools and Communities

Although interviewees seem to be confident in their PI preparedness, the study demonstrates that in-service training, team support, and personal parenting experiences are not always able to compensate for the lack of formal PI training. Findings reveal that not all teachers know whether PI training is available in their districts.

The study recommends that training in PI become part of teacher preparation and professional development programs, and that such training needs to

  • Address middle and high school specifics
  • Take into account the strengths, weaknesses, needs, and interests of particular teachers
  • Identify and remediate teachers' misconceptions about parents and PI
  • Motivate and empower teachers to be proactive in PI
  • Expand teachers' repertoire of PI strategies and techniques, including the use of various telecommunication technologies
  • Help teachers to develop an action plan for dealing with parents and PI
  • Teach teachers about the various sources of PI resources and support that are available
  • Provide follow-up support
  • Advertise itself better

In addition, the study suggests that those who train teachers in web design focus not only on how to design specific web design features, but also how to carefully plan for the site's concept, content, design, and instructional and PI functionality. Schools and communities should respect and have high expectations of teachers, offer opportunities and incentives for professional self-advancement and collaboration, and make latest technologies available to teachers and other members of the school community.


1 Due to the complexity of these two prototypes of a theoretical framework, they are not presented in this digest. For a complete copy of the dissertation, including its theoretical frameworks, contact UMI dissertations (
2 The math teacher definition was broadened to include paraprofessionals and math tutors, whose sites were also analyzed.
3 These included descriptive statistics, cross tabs, and Pearson chi square.
4 Due to the scope and brevity of this digest, only findings pertinent to teachers' PI practices are discussed.


Chandler, E. A. (1998). Class web sites: A design model for instructors. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Nevada, Reno.

Mechitov, A. I., Moshkovich, H. M., & Underwood, S. H. (2001). Comparative analysis of academic web sites. Education, 121(4), 652–662.

Dr. Ellen Lunts
MAT program
Empire State College
1475 N. Winton Road
Rochester, NY 14609-5803

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