What’s possible in teaching Social Work education online

Many weeks ago I participated in an online learning institute, and I left there with several new ideas about teaching online. I also thought more about what is actually possible in teaching Social Work education online and this post is meant to pull together some resources in hopes of starting a conversation with many of you. The fact is, I believe that we can teach many aspects of social work online using an array of technologies. Whether it’s from Second Life to Blackboard, or Twitter to Skype. I am going to start by highlighting several social work courses and what tools could be used to teach those courses online. In fact, there are a number of Schools of Social Work around the United States that use many of these tools. The number one thing to remember, however, is that you should always think about your course, the content, and what you want your students to get out of it before you decide on which technologies to use.

The courses below are just some that are taught in BSW programs around the country. Each one will likely be taught a bit differently based upon the respective school. The list, therefore, is not meant to be representative. Rather it’s just to get you thinking about some of the possibilities that are out there.

Introduction to Social Work: Provides an overview of the social work profession including knowledge of the nature of social work, the fields of social work practice, target populations, and an overview of social work methods. Being that this is more of a general course, I thought I would provide some of the more general technologies that can be used here and in many other courses, often in concert with the technologies listed below. Learning management systems such as Blackboard are often the staple of online courses. Others may use Wikis or GoogleSites to be the central learning point or portal for the online course. The point is, it is important to have a central hub for your course, much like you would have a classroom as your central hub on the ground face-to-face. Additional tools that can be used here include Skype or some other form of video conferencing software to bring in outside presenters or meet with students for office hours. I should also note, that having videos, and not just lectures, but videos that demonstrate your uniqueness as a teacher to help engage the students in the course will also produce successful outcomes. This speaks somewhat to social presence online, but I will save that for another post.

Social Work Practice: Introduces students to the nature and work of the social work profession. There are many variations of this course which is also split into different courses based upon content ranging from micro to macro practice. The micro content of this course makes it somewhat controversial when moving into a digital environment because some would argue that it can be hard to assess students learning during role plays online. I’m not trying to argue one way or the other, rather just trying to highlight was possible. Several online schools use video conferencing technology to perform the traditional role play scenario. Technology such as Elluminate or AdobeConnect Pro are just some of the tools schools are using. A relatively new variation on this is using Second Life or Avatars. The USC school of social work has developed an impressive program to help students learn to work with clients who suffer from PTSD.

Nancy J. Smyth also wrote about using virtual worlds to help with PTSD on her blog, which you can read here.

For those who may not have the capabilities to develop such a program, the use of technologies like Second Life and some creative thinking can also help. Second Life is a virtual community where users can develop their own Avatars and identities in an online digital environment. Individuals have used second life in counseling practice and some schools hold online courses in Second Life as well. To be honest, I don’t know a lot about Second Life, but it sounds kind of intriguing. If you want to know more about using Games in therapy, a good resource is Mike Langlois and his blog Gamer Therapist.

Okay, I digress a bit so back to social work practice. Moving along to the macro part of social work practice and one area that seems fairly easy to use technology is advocacy. Implementing the use of Blogs and other social media like Twitter or YouTube can help students to understand how organizations and activists are using social media to advance their cause. Utilizing case examples or posting stories about how Twitter was used in Egypt and other places can really help students learn the power of advocacy. This also reaches into the realm of Policy as many in Congress actively use and monitor social media channels. Access to top ranking officials and the impacting Policy on varying levels has never been so easy.

Social Work Research: Provides an overview of the research process, including problem formulation, sampling, design, measurement, data collection, data analysis and dissemination of findings. The use of a learning management system like Blackboard, as mentioned above, or others will also aid in an online social work research course. However, I understand that not many social work students are interested in research. I know, shocking right, but it’s somewhat true. To make this course more exciting, try using some online tools to help demonstrate how to collect and analyze data. Google Forms or Poll Everywhere provide ways to create and share surveys. Once data has been collected, a Google spreadsheet can even perform some very basic statistical analysis. Using Poll Everywhere, survey respondents can either submit their responses via Twitter, text message, or on the web. If you use this in class, face-to-face, it is actually pretty exciting to see the poll update in real time. My students got pretty excited when I did this in class.

Field Instruction: I generally do not believe that a student can engage in their field practicum online. However, there are several technological tools that can help facilitate or supplement the student’s learning. Skype, Blackboard for ePortfolios and Seminar, and from an administrative perspective, I have seen several technological tools that help to manage field. One of the tools was develop at the VCU School of Social Work, and contains a matching component within the system to help make the work of placing students much easier. More information on the SInC: Student Intern Connect can be found here.

Okay, so there is just a smattering of the technologies that are out there and how they can be used. I will continue to post new ideas on technology in social work education, both online and face-to-face, as they come to me. Yet, I am really interested in hearing what you have to say. What tools have you used? What success stories or challenges do you have to share? Comments and questions are always welcome.


About jimmysw
Associate Professor of Social Work with a focus on the Future of Social Media, Social Work Education and all things technology.

5 Responses to What’s possible in teaching Social Work education online

  1. John Chappelear shares his knowledge as a motivational keynote speaker through executive business coaching, business leadership training and strategic marketing planning across Florida.

  2. thanks for the inspirational article if we have time and knowledge we have to serve socially it will help us society more over it encourage like i does thanks for the m information .

  3. Muhammad Qasim says:

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  5. Robin J. Slusher says:

    How would I go about being able to teach on line social work courses?
    Robin S.

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