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«“Gangnam Mom”: A Qualitative Study on the Information Behaviors of Korean Helicopter Mothers SoHyun Park, Seoul National University Hyunchul Lim, ...»

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“Gangnam Mom”: A Qualitative Study on the Information Behaviors of Korean

Helicopter Mothers

SoHyun Park, Seoul National University

Hyunchul Lim, Seoul National University

Heekyung Choi, Seoul National University


This study investigates information seeking, sharing, and managing behaviors of “Gangnam mothers,” a group of

dedicated Korean mothers who invest significant time and effort to micro-manage their child’s academic needs.

These mothers’ vibrant and sophisticated information seeking and managing loads of education-related information sources is worthy of attention from information behavior research. To learn about their information behavior, field observations and interviews with mothers of school-aged children in Gangnam, the southern part of Seoul, have been conducted. The findings show that Gangnam mothers are personal information experts who heavily utilize human channels of information and employ local, group and personal filtering strategies. The fascinating information ecology of mothers in their diverse strategies for navigating and filtering information, coupled with the unique information environment in Gangnam, makes the flood of education-related information surprisingly manageable.

Keywords: Information Behavior, Information Overload, Information Sharing, Filtering Strategy, Parenting Citation: Park, S., Lim, H., Choi, H. (2015). "Gangnam Mom": A Qualitative Study on the Information Behaviors of Korean Helicopter Mothers. In iConference 2015 Proceedings.

Copyright: Copyright is held by the author(s).

Acknowledgements: [Click here to enter acknowledgements] Research Data: In case you want to publish research data please contact the editor.

Contact: sohyun@snu.ac.kr, limhyunchul@snu.ac.kr, hchoi8.uiuc@gmail.com 1 Introduction Enter a café in Daechi, an affluent neighborhood in Seoul, and one will find mothers in deep conversation. They are the go-to people for any desperate parent seeking academic advice for her child. This group of mothers, symbolically referred to as “Gangnam moms,” are usually found in the metropolitan south of Seoul, and are known to engage in dynamic and vigorous pursuit of educationrelated information that will help their child excel in academics. Just like the Western “helicopter moms” and “tiger moms” (Hunt, 2008; Chua, 2011), the oversolicitous Gangnam mothers, in terms of micro-managing their child’s academic achievement, have been featured in various media such as soap operas on TV (e.g. Hong, 2007; Kim, 2007; Yoo, 2010; Lee, 2013).

This study studies the information behavior of Gangnam mothers, whose parenting is more “information-driven” (S-H. Kim, 2006; 2013). While many investigated the rigor and intensity of Korean mothers’ involvement in the child’s academic success (e.g. Sorensen, 1994; Lee and Brinton, 1996;

Seth, 2002; Park and Abelmann, 2004; H. Lee, 2010; Kim and Lee, 2010), few have taken an information behavior perspective. This paper reports Gangnam mothers’ strategies to seek, share and manage education-related information while avoiding an information overload. The filtering strategies of Gangnam mothers in managing a deluge of information and the use of their personal networks in information seeking, in contrast to the surrounding tech-savvy culture, offer a pleasant opportunity to revisit key concepts in information behavior research in the advent IT era.

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2.1 The Gangnam Fever In South Korea, high school seniors take a life-and-death exam that will determine the future career of their lives—ultimate goal being to get into one among the “big three” universities in the country. Acceptance to one of them is considered a record accomplishment in life. Not only will successful students have the best academic pedigree in the country, but they will also have a strong alumni network that tends to be biased in hiring and mentoring graduates from their alma mater (Card, 2005). Parents urge their children on the educational track early on for academic achievements in a range of after-school programs that will help their children excel at school.

The fever runs highest in Gangnam, which literally refers to southern Seoul. The Greater Gangnam area is commonly known for its heavily concentrated wealth and a high standard of living.

Thanks to such, mothers in Gangnam are able to invest and support their children’s academic achievement with private tutoring, academic counseling, etc. (E-S. Kim, 2004; Noh, 2012; Mundy, 2014). Kim (2014) recently found that there is a positive correlation between parents’ socioeconomic status and the admission rate to Seoul National University (SNU), the most prestigious academic institution in the country. Others have also figured that there are more admitted students to SNU from Gangnam (J-S. Lee, 2010; Park, 2010).

The Gangnam educational fever has been exaggerated and dramatized, for example, in the popular television series called Catching Up with Gangnam Mothers (Hong, 2007). A number of books have been written, mostly on coaching mothers to well-strategize their children’s academic career (e.g.

Chang and Choo, 2013; Hwang, 2006; E-S. Kim, 2004; 2005; Kim and Oh, 2013; S-C. Park, 2011; JS. Shim, 2014; Kim, 2006; 2013). In particular, Kim (2006), in her Information Power of Gangnam Mothers, summoned mothers to be an information expert in tailoring and personalizing educational care and support for their child by learning to utilize both online and offline educational resources.

This has stirred much public attention and triggered many discussions among parent communities.

2.2 A Resource Overload The educational fever in Gangnam gives way to a number of private tutoring resources and services. According to Hahn et al. (2013), Gangnam, the wealthiest region in Korea, has benefitted from the legalization of private tutoring. Private tutoring has expanded opportunities for wealthier households, which in turn boost the supply of more and more private educational aids and therefore the inflow of students and parents into Gangnam. Both parents and students need to browse extra options for studying in addition to academic curricula required in public schools.

In addition, the advances in the information and communication technologies have caused an increase of online academic aids. The wide penetration of wireless broadband network, in fact more than 100% rate (Yoo, 2013; N-Y. Shim, 2014), has lowered the barriers of reaching various academic support systems, as many offline resources are translated and uploaded. For example, there are many online lecture providers, and it is conventional for many Korean students to voluntarily sign up for the online courses at home (Ministry of Knowledge Economy and National IT Promotion Agency, 2011). Hence it has also become a responsibility of a parent to consider many online educational materials that may help her child.

College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) is an SAT-like exam in the United States that is held nationwide in every November for all high school seniors and graduates to enter college. The national obsession that revolves around higher is focused on getting a nearly perfect score on the CSAT, along with having top grades in school. From “Life and death exams in South Korea,” J.

Card, 2005, Asia Times. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Korea/GK30Dg01.html iConference 2015 Park et al.

The advances in the Internet technologies have diversified communication channels (S-R. Park, 2011; E-H. Kim, 2013). It is now incredibly easier for mothers to connect with other parents to discuss any parenting issues via online chats, communities, and portal websites. The rapid increase in mobile phone penetration (Fox, 2013) has also aided the ease of information exchange, for one can talk about anything at anytime in anywhere. The communications process reproduces information about the information that is already available offline. For instance, a mother can exchange opinions with other mothers about the new college admission policy. What mothers discuss becomes another source of information for mothers to collect and comprehend.

The abundance of educational resources and the over-abundance of information about the abundant resources have posed a choice dilemma. There is an increased burden for mothers to learn about all of the educational resources in order to utilize them for the best possible interest. How to do so depends on the “information” that they get about the quality of the sources available around them.

Such information revolves around the subjective opinions and personal feedback, which would help them make the right choices. Indeed, our findings in the fifth section suggest that Gangnam mothers swing between external sources of academic aids and internal information about them to promote the child’s academic achievement, which becomes the ground for decision-making to act upon.

3 Research Questions This study investigates the way in which Gangnam mothers navigate the educational resources

and make uses of their information for the child’s best academic outcome. Some assumptions follow:

1) the “big three” fever in Gangnam and its socioeconomic standing would cause Gangnam mothers to actively seek information as much as possible; 2) considering the work of S-H. Kim (2006; 2013), they would form competitive relationships with other mothers in acquiring such information; and 3) given the amount and range of availability, Gangnam mothers would experience information overload.

Based on the assumptions above, we came up with the research questions below.

RQ 1. What sources of information do Gangnam mothers use?

T. D. Wilson (1999) once defined information seeking behavior as “the purposive seeking for information as a consequence of a need to satisfy some goal.” Indeed, Gangnam mothers follow this definition closely in that they have a determined goal to support and help their child go up the ladder of academic success. They are passionate to achieve this goal; therefore their need to gather to find out “how” is evident. Then, what kind of information sources would they choose? What kind of process would they go through in seeking the information they need? What factors would be involved in such process? The interview data have been collected and categorized to identify the sources.

RQ 2. How is information shared among Gangnam mothers?

Once information is sought for a certain purpose, it would then be sifted, organized, and understood for due use. This information is then considered as knowledge (Case, 2007). The blurred boundary between information and knowledge appears in face-to-face communications or other social interactions, where a certain type of learning happens as a result of exchanging information. Kim (2009) interprets this process as “social exchange,” and posits that the social exchange theory can be a major theoretical perspective in predicting individual attitude toward knowledge sharing behavior (Bock et al., 2005; Kim, 2009). The interviews were conducted by individuals and by groups in order to investigate the dynamics of information exchange.

iConference 2015 Park et al.

RQ 3. What strategies do Gangnam mothers use to manage information overload?

Once information is sought and shared, mothers would filter it for optimal storage, retrieval, and dissemination (Borko, 1968). How would they determine the usefulness of the information they obtained? What would be their yardstick in evaluating the information? What factors would be at play when they make feedback? Delving into these questions would give insight in understanding the reality of information overload in our day and how to facilitate strategies, alternatives, or solutions for the better management of information.

Investigating information behavior accompanies an in-depth research process, and this research aims to focus on the three research questions discussed above to picture the overall information world of Gangnam mothers who are in a feverish pursuit of supporting their children’s academic performance. The following sections will discuss the research method, settings and findings, followed by discussion and conclusion that wrap up the lessons learned from the information behaviors of Gangnam mothers.

Figure 1. Daechi Neighborhood of Gangnam District in Seoul.

1 shows Daechi subway station, where a number of private tutoring schools are located; 2 is another subdistrict of Daechi that is also packed with private tutoring schools and students; 3 is a typical building in Gangnam where cafés are usually located on the first floor for mother to stay and wait for their child, while private tutoring schools are located on higher levels; and 4 shows a group of mothers in such a café, where this study has taken place.

4 Settings and Methodology This research has taken a qualitative approach to study the attitudes and behavioral patterns of Gangnam mothers when approaching and handling education-related information. The interviews were conducted in Daechi, a neighborhood in Gangnam that is considered the mecca of academic success and Banpo, another affluent neighborhood in Gangnam. The two neighborhoods were selected based on their physical proximity to us researchers. Prior to the interviews, we took field observations to sketch the atmosphere Figure 1. We shadowed some mothers and asked short questions about their information seeking behavior in terms of educating their children.

The preliminary research helped form interview questions in the research process. A total of twenty-two mothers who currently reside in the area were contacted, and eighteen of them (avg. age = 43.6, avg. number of children = 2.3) gave consent for an audio-recorded interview. The participants received a gift card ($10) for their participation. The interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim in Korean (Aira et al., 2003), and reported in English in this paper. We paid heed to the guidelines in translating the interviews as advised in Burnard (1991), and made a conscious effort in keeping them as true as originally stated. For their anonymity, the mothers were coded using numbers, and their testimonials are reported using pseudonyms.

iConference 2015 Park et al.

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