#SWvirtualpal: Hashtagging for Connection

This post was written by myself and my colleague, Amanda Taylor from the University of Central Lancashire in the United Kindgom.  Please check out Amanda’s work with ‘Use of Book Groups in Social Work Education’, which can be found on Twitter: @SWBookGroup. She is definitely one of my #SWvirtualpals.

smart_phone_texting_block_text_10927-1Pen Pals have been a ‘thing’ for a very long time.  The earliest record of their usage, that we can find, is reported as being led by an ‘innovative Iowa teacher’ called Birdie Matthews, who at the time employed the methodology to bring the realities of WW II into the classroom (Myers-Verhage, 1995). Matthews  creativity in the classroom quite possibly led to one of the most famous pen pal relationships of all time, and this was between Juanita Wagner (her student at the time) and Anne Frank.  So why are we telling you all of this?  Well, before the internet the likelihood of a social work academic in the US, working closely and supportively with a social work academic in the UK would have been ‘virtually’ unheard of, or indeed a fairly disparate affair, which would have been laborious to maintain.  However, thankfully for us technologies have changed the way we work and the way we connect.  Today’s digital and social media  present all sorts of possibilities and opportunities; and being social workers with our default set on creativity, we decided quite a way back now to exploit all it is that technology affords.

Our mutual interests in creative teaching methodologies and an awareness of the benefits of digitalization led to us connecting online, via twitter… neither of us can actually remember when or why but it is suffice to say our like-mindedness took control.  A fairly recent Skype chat highlighted that us being together in the same space was not going to result in any other than trouble and it is in this blog that we would like to offer you all the opportunity to join us in our troublesome-ness.  Why do we use the word trouble?  Well we are all so busy and never have enough time to do everything we want to do … this was pretty much how the conversation went.  But once we got past this the need to create and innovate overtook.  We talked about connections and the benefits of being connected.  We talked about geography and shared ideas and resources about ‘connectography’ (Khanna, 2016), and the way in which the world is becoming a smaller place and also a much more diverse place.  We went on to think about our respective student groups and how we could facilitate their learning in terms of the wider world.  This for one reason or another led us to the notion of peer support, communities of learning and the fact that exposure to knowledge did not need to be such a local affair.  Within these creative moments we came up with the idea of social work pen pals.  We thought about how pre-modern digitization – the pen and paper technologies – facilitated connections and how that we had at our fingertips Twitter, a device and the hashtag.  

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Talking Technology Competency in the Social Work Classroom


Elise Johnson, LCSW is a clinical social worker at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center/Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital of Long Beach. She has practiced social work in the L.A. area for over 20 years in the areas of health care, mental health, homelessness and child welfare.  She is also a part time lecturer. She is by no means an expert in technology but is always on the lookout for technological innovations that could help clients and students. In this blog post, she writes about how she incorporates technology into her MSW courses.

I’ve been in the field of social work for nearly twenty five years, and I’ve been a lecturer for two and a half at California State University, Dominguez Hills.  I teach two theory classes (Human Behavior I and II) in the MSW program.  Given my clinical background, my overarching message in HBSE (Human Behavior and the Social Environment) is that theory is viable and applicable to contemporary social work practice.  The incorporation of technology into my pedagogy is an important element of that framework.  Integral to my teaching approach is the view that technology is an asset, an assistive value; one that should be viewed through a strengths-based lens similar to  every other aspect of our profession. Initially, I decided to dedicate a week to the topic of technology in social work practice,  and over the last couple of years, I have updated long-standing assignments by embedding them technology-based elements. For example, first year MSW students are developing competencies conducting bio-psychosocial assessments in other courses,  In  HBSE I, I encourage them to expand this traditional assessment to include an assessment of their clients’ technology literacy, access, strengths and risk factors across the lifespan.   By integrating course content and assignments around technology in social work practice, students not only understand the role of  technology in social work, they also learn to apply and practice with the very technology they may use in the real-world.  

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What Social Workers are saying about the NASW Draft Tech Standards?

Tweet from NASW on June 20, 2016 about Draft Technology StandardsOn June 20, 2016, the National Association of Social Workers along with Association of Social Work Boards, Council on Social Work Education and the Clinical Social Work Association released a draft copy of proposed new practice standards for technology in social work, and invited the public to comment and provide feedback.  If you want to know what I did on my summer vacation this year, this was it!  I worked with four different groups to draft comments, submitted my own comments, and advocated for all social workers to read and respond to NASW’s call for comments.

Feedback was due on July 20th, and now we wait for NASW and the other groups to respond, revise and/or release the final standards.  Until then, I think there is value in sharing the comments and responses that were submitted to NASW.  I have asked permission from a variety of individuals and groups to post their comments in this blog post.   This is not a comprehensive list, but reflects the opinions of people and groups that I work with or know.   Also, there is no particular order to the list; one set of comments is not more important than another set.  Click on the links in the list to access a particular individual or groups’ comments.  If you would like to add your feedback to this list, please contact me.

List of Comments to NASW’s Draft Tech Standards

– Technology Track for the Annual Program Meeting of Council on Social Work Education and Technology Committee of the Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors – These two committees combined their efforts and wrote one set of comments. I am a member of both committees.

– Dr. Robert Vernon is a Professor at Indiana University’s School of Social Work and is a pioneer in the use of technology in social work. His comments are available here.

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Join the Convo – NASW needs feedback on Draft Technology Standards in SW

figure_with_megaphone_wearing_sign_18127I am so pleased that the draft Technology Standards for Social Work Practice have been released for public review.  NASW, CSWE, CSWA, and ASWB developed a task force to collaboratively draft these technology standards, which you can access the draft standards here.

I am working with several groups to provide comments to the task force and, I also plan to submit my own comments.  Once adopted, these standards will be considered a model for best practice in social work. Given the important legal and ethical role that practice standards have in the professional lives of social workers, I believe it is essential to offer constructive and timely feedback on this document.  I want to encourage everyone in the social work community to review and submit their feedback.  You do not need to be a member of any group to offer feedback. The timeline is short for submitting comments – the one-month comment period closes July 20th.

Here are some highlights about the document. The draft standards and their interpretations are 82 pages.  If you do not want to read 82 pages, you may want to know that these standards cover the following:

  • Section 1: Provision of Information to the Public
  • Section 2: Designing and Delivering Services – Part A: Individuals, Families, and Groups and Part B: Communities, Organizations, Administration, and Policy
  • Section 3: Gathering, Managing, and Storing Information
  • Section 4: Communication with and about Clients
  • Section 5: Social Work Education (especially distance education)
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