Lessons Learned from #SWDE2015

For those of you who missed the Social Work Distance Education Conference (#SWDE2015), hosted by the School of Social Work at the University of Indiana and the Council on Social Work Education, it was held almost two weeks ago (April 15-17, 2015) in Indianaplois, IN.  I spent two days at the conference, and it is clear to me that social work educators are no longer discussing if we are going to take our courses and curricula online; the question is how are we going to do it.

After spending time talking with colleagues, listening to presentations from social workers teaching all over the country and following the #SWDE2015 comments on Twitter, I have come away with three lessons learned:

1. We need an updated research agenda in social work education that focuses on evidence-based practice for teaching.  The trend to online education in social work not only raises questions about its quality and effectiveness, it should also make us re-think what we are doing in seated classrooms.  For example, how do we know that face-to-face, in-class discussion actually increase social work students’ understanding and learning?  Where is our evidence to support this time-honored teaching method in social work education? Or are we just more comfortable with it? As we begin assessing the quality of our pedagogies, we can start by questioning our own internal biases and assumptions about what is quality teaching and learning for our profession.  Is the seated classroom the best way to teach practice skills because that is how I learned practice skills or because there is evidence to support it? From there, we can begin to develop and test meaningful research questions about the effectiveness of our teaching pedagogies. So the next time, you find yourself saying out loud that we can’t do this or that in an online classroom, stop and go to the literature or your colleagues for the evidence.  If there is no evidence to be found, you have just identified your next research project.

2. We need to look and work outside our professional silos in academics. Social work education needs to turn its gaze outward.  We must look to the research being done by other disciplines as they grapple with the same opportunities and challenges of incorporating technology into their pedagogies.  Our colleagues in nursing, medicine, library sciences, counseling and teacher education are also teaching in online environments and are also assessing how to move their courses and curricula online.  Their scholarship could help inform our own educational research agenda.  We need to get out of our offices and start walking across campus to meet, talk and develop projects with other disciplines around online education. Interdisciplinary efforts and collaboration will help us get caught up with the face-paced world of online/techology-based edcuation and give us the opportunity to learn and ultimately share social work education’s unique and valuable contributions to teaching and learning in the 21st century.  My own journey as a tech-savvy educator started by collaborating with a talented librarian who showed me the power of brining social media into the classroom.

3. Finally, we need to invest more in our own professional development as educators.  Incorporating new and rapidly changing technology into seated and online classrooms requires new skills and knowledge that many of us did not learn during our own social work training.  As individual educators, we need to assess and improve our own skills with technology and online education by reading the literature, attending institutional workshops and trainings, collaborating with colleagues and taking the leap of faith to try something new with our students.  Administrators also need to support these activities and provide resources (time and money) to help us improve skills and transform content and pedagogy for online environments.  And along the way, we need to help our students, alumni, community partners, and fellow social work practitioners make the transition too.

If you are interested in learning more about the #SWDE2015 Conference, please visit the website at: http://swde.iu.edu/.  You will find a copy of the Conference Program, and my understanding is that videos and slideshows  of some presentations will be posted soon.

Or you can also review tweets from the conference in this Storify transcript.

Please feel free to post any comments or questions for this post.  I am very interested in what others have to say and continuing the conversation.

Author: Laurel Hitchcock

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