#APM17 Day 1 – Infusing Policy Practice into BSW Service Learning Courses

As part of the Field Education Institute, I am presenting a poster with my colleagues Scott Batey, Yookyong Lee, and Chris Walker (University of Alabama at Birmingham) about the work we did for our Policy Practice in Field Education Initiative Grant from the Council on Social Work Education.

Our project involved creating more policy-based learning opportunities into our undergraduate service learning courses, creating a series of policy-focused activities that are  grounded in community-based settings. Our curriculum includes three practice courses with a one-hour service-learning lab.  Students take the courses sequentially and complete 32 hours in service learning at a community-based agency or simulation for each lab. By integrating policy-focused learning activities into these service-learning labs, we hope to bridge the gap between our policy courses and field education while simultaneously providing all of our students the opportunity to see   how policy affects communities and agencies in our state, especially related to issues of economic and racial disparities.  Our specific objectives for this planning grant included: 1) Incorporate at least one policy-based assignment or learning opportunity into each of the service learning labs in our practice sequence; 2) increase and strengthen the number of service learning community partners with local and state-wide advocacy agencies focused on addressing issues of economic and racial disparities; and 3) Enhance our field advisory board by increasing membership to include community partners from our service learning projects, especially partners from policy-based agencies.

Here is a copy of our poster:

Implementation of Grant Activities
Overall, implementation on the grant went as planned. Our first step was to improve our explicit curriculum.  We developed policy-based assignments, one for each of our service learning labs and that is connected with the course content and emphasizes experiential learning in policy practice and advocacy. The following assignments three policy were incorporated into our practice courses starting in Fall 2017:

  • SW 222 Social Work Values Lab/SL –Policy Practice for Economic Justice Assignment (Letter to the Editor)
  • SW 322 Social Work Practice I – Policy Practice with Individuals and Families Assignment
  • SW 422 Social Work Practice II – Policy Practice with Organizations Assignment (Agency Informational Infographic)

Based on our program assessment, we identified a gap in our explicit BSW curriculum related to CSWE’s Social Work Competency #5 – Engage in Policy Practice.  Specifically, our students were learning about social welfare policy early in the curriculum, but had few opportunities to rehearse their practice skills related to policy efforts until field placement.  You can access a copy of the assignments here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByR_E-iQH7PdMUpyc2trTFBHVTg/view?usp=sharing

Our next step was to enhance the implicit curriculum to better support service learning and policy practice in our BSW program.  We did this by increasing our engagement with advocacy and policy-based community partners and expanding the mission of our field advisory board to include service learning agency partners.  Specifically, we added four new community agencies to our list of service learning partners for the above mentioned courses.  Each of these agencies is focused on addressing issues of economic or racial disparities in Alabama:

  • Alabama Possible (Poverty)
  • Birmingham AIDS Outreach (AIDS and HIV, Health disparities for people of color)
  • Campfire Alabama (Educational disparities for children of color)
  • Youth Towers (Educational disparities for youth of color)

Additionally, we modified our Field Advisory Committee.  We changed the name to the Field and Community Engagement Advisory Committee, and have added six new Community Partners who work with the Committee from the following local agencies:

  •  Alabama Possible
  • Birmingham AIDS Outreach
  • Campfire Alabama
  • UAB Hospital’s Volunteer Services Department
  • United Way of Central Alabama
  • Youth Towers

Grant Outcomes
We have met our initial objectives and the grant funding helped us by giving faculty some paid time to work on the assignments and to offer travel stipends to our new advisory committee members. All of these activities are highly sustainable, and require few resources to carry the work forward.  Our next steps will be to formally evaluate the quality of our outcomes.  Specifically, we will conduct pilot assessments on the policy-based assignments with the intention of publishing the work.  As part of our implicit curriculum assessment, we anticipate conducting a survey of the Field and Community Engagement Advisory Committee to assess the benefits and challenges of expanding the committee.  We hope to share  the findings from our evaluations in peer-reviewed articles and presentations.

I would be interested in learning how others evaluate policy practice in their explicit curriculum (SWK Competency #5) and/or their field advisory committees.  You can add a comment at the end of this post or contact me directly.

How to Cite the post:

Hitchcock, L.I.. (2017, October 19). #APM17 Day 1 – Infusing Policy Practice into BSW Service Learning Courses [Blog post]. Retrieved from:http://www.laureliversonhitchcock.org/2017/10/19/apm17-day-1-infusing-policy-practice-into-bsw-service-learning-courses/

Author: Laurel Hitchcock

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