By: Karen Zgoda, MSW, LCSW, ABD
What are social workers doing with technology these days? Unfortunately, I don’t often get the chance to talk to other social workers face-to-face about such topics. Luckily, I’ve been fortunate to connect with other social workers interested in technology online (surprise, surprise), but it’s always great to chat with folks in person to explore ideas in-depth. I recently attended the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Annual Program Meeting in San Antonio, Texas. In addition to volunteering for the conference itself to help defray costs and meet new social workers, I was excited to explore the conference offerings and catch up with good friends. Although there was no way I could attend all the interesting sessions in the CSWE technology track, I attended as many as I could. Here are some highlights for you!
One of the first sessions I attended was “Saying Yes to Online/Hybrid Courses,” by Rita Rhodes, Jo Ann R. Coe Regan, and Nancy K. Brown of the University of South Carolina. One of the many things I learned at this session was that online teaching may be more student-centered than instructor-led. I found this really interesting and hadn’t really considered this aspect of online teaching before. In essence, instructors of online courses, or hybrid courses, face-to-face courses with an online component (i.e., WebCT, Blackboard VISTA, Moodle) are connecting with students via the platform itself. To that end, it becomes even more important to engage students with course content, provide interactive experiences like chats or discussion boards, or take advantage of the online medium in other ways. In essence, teaching with technology forces the instructor to be more organized and structured with course content and really allows the instructor to focus on the education process.
The presenters considered that it would be helpful to have more content available to choose from to put online, and newer professors may struggle with having enough content. Importantly, the presenters noted that technology in and of itself should not be the driving force in putting course material online. Here are some of their best practice strategies:
Identify and acquire existing learning resources that can be put in an online environment.
Establish and distribute reusable templates (i.e., a digital library of videos).
Look at sample online courses and syllabi. The presenters recommended Googling [topic] “online assignment” for samples.
Finalize one module or unit before developing the remainder of the course.
Clarify and enhance students’ technical skills using a technology assessment, especially since most students will go online at work.
Use “digital flooding,” or having a detailed syllabus, assignments, and information accessible in multiple places online.
Incorporate a learning management system for recording course transactions.
Use a “blank note” strategy, or if using PowerPoint in class, leave important words out of handouts for students to fill in during the lecture.
Build in options for interactivity. This could range from setting up virtual meetings using Skype or Adobe Connect to going over an upcoming exam or holding virtual office hours.
Find ways to bring your personality into the online class.
My favorite kernel of wisdom from the session: “If I do something stupid online, I can unstupid myself.”
Similarly, another technology and education session I attended discussed the benefits of online learning. This session, called “Utilizing Technology to Enhance the Teaching of Social Skills: An Experimental Follow-Up Assessment,” was presented by David Kondrat and Diane Calloway-Graham from Utah State University. These researchers were examining digital tools to enhance both student self-efficacy and direct practice skills. The researchers were also hoping to learn and practice new teaching methods to aid traditional teaching and distance education. For this study, the researchers randomly assigned students to a technology enhanced (22 students) or traditional course (26 students). The technology tools included a CD/DVD with instructor-acted role-plays and worksheets. Whereas the researchers found that use of technology tools did not significantly affect student self-efficacy ratings, there were differences in ratings between the technology and traditional groups. In fact, the technology group scored much higher in practice skills and interview structure skills ratings, a difference the researchers found to be statistically significant. In follow-up interviews, students in the technology group stated the CD/DVDs were helpful for providing samples of the entire interview process and a digitally based model to emulate emerging practice skills. The students also noted that using worksheets along with the technology made them focus, take an active learning role, and look for elements of the interview process they might not have considered. Although the small sample size limits the generalizability of these findings, the videos used helped students develop important practice skills.
I found the poster presentations enormously fun, as well. For a poster presentation, a researcher is typically scheduled for a 1- to 2-hour meet and greet with conference attendees. The researchers then hang out in front of their posters, which outline their particular research projects. Attendees walk from poster to poster, researcher to researcher, and get an opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue about the research. It’s really cool.
I had an exciting conversation with Melissa Littlefield from Morgan State University, who told me all about the MINDS eHealth Project (http://www.mindsehealth.org). Based on work in social work informatics, this project uses information from the National Library of Medicine to reduce health disparities faced by African-Americans. (For more information on this project, check out: http://bit.ly/8823by.) Robert Vernon and Darlene Lynch from Indiana University presented a poster on uses of Second Life, a virtual online community, for social work practice with folks who have disabilities and social work education. (For more information on this project, check out: http://www.hsmedia.biz.) I also spoke with Heather Marshall from Washington University in St. Louis about her research with Sarah Craun (e-mail: email@example.com) and Matthew Theriot from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Their research looked at how photographs could be used to improve attitudes among older adults about adult daycare services.
It’s worth noting that Twitter played a role at the CSWE conference, as well. I was tweeting for those who could not attend the conference, but it was fun to see how other social workers used Twitter, as well. Schools of social work tweet-announced their receptions. Attendees tweeted their arrival, pictures, experiences, and thoughts about the Fort Hood shootings that occurred about 200 miles away from the conference. Presenters tweeted their upcoming presentations. And some groups even tweeted free giveaways and contests. I compiled a list of conference tweets that you can view here: http://www.karenzgoda.org/cswe2009-TweetGrid.pdf.
Next year’s conference will be held in Portland, Oregon. You can find out details about this upcoming event here: http://www.cswe.org/Meetings/24470.aspx. Hope to see you there!
Karen Zgoda, MSW, LCSW, is an ABD doctoral student at the Graduate School of Social Work at Boston College. Her research interests include the role of technology in social work, the effects of information communications technologies (ICTs) such as the Internet and e-mail, poverty and class, aging, social informatics, socioeconomic development, public policy, and community practice. Karen is the chief editor and founder of EditMyManuscript.com, providing manuscript editing services to students, faculty, and other social work professionals. Her Web site is http://www.karenzgoda.org. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/karenzgoda.