Using Technology for Productivity: Managing the Academic Workload

This post was written and edited by Nancy J. SmythMelanie Sage, and myself as part of our collaboration on our forthcoming book, Teaching Social Work with Digital Technology, to be published by CSWE Press in 2018. 

Today’s academic work environments are fast-paced and rely on digital technologies to handle the flow of communication and information such as email, digital calendars, and electronic to-do lists.  In this blog post, we asked social work educators and practitioners to share their best tips for using technology as a tool for productivity.

Managing email can be a difficult and time-consuming task.  Andy Berkhout, the Data Quality Coordinator from the St. Patrick Center in St. Louis, MO shares his guidelines for managing email:

Clients and colleagues will notice if you are paying more attention to checking email on your phone than you are to them.  Instead, set a dedicated time at the beginning or end of the workday to catch up on electronic communication.  When it is time to pay attention to the person in front of you, do just that; put your phone away and give your complete focus.  Your text messages and email will be still be there later, but the chance to connect with a client or provide meaningful input during a meeting might pass if you’re not giving the present moment your full attention (A. Berkhout, personal communication, September 6, 2017).

Shelly Richardson, an Assistant Professor and Director of Undergraduate Social Work at The College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, MN, uses her prior practice experience to cope with her email:

In my role as an associate professor and director of an undergraduate program, I only check emails twice a day and spend no more than 45 minutes doing so. This forces me to prioritize activities and responses quickly. I only “touch” things once. If I need to take care of something or respond, I do it immediately upon receiving the request. I also have files with names of my frequent contacts (such as co-workers, dean, chair) emails that are initiated by those individuals are easier to find. I also use folder titles for activities I am responsible for (advising, to be graded, coordinating, and committees). These folders allow me to clean up my inbox as I read through emails, I flag emails that are in progress or I need to follow up on and review the flags once a week (usually Monday or Friday). These flagged items stay in my inbox and I work to keep this number around 15-.  I also have a rule, if I have to respond more than twice, I make a phone call immediately or schedule a face to face to follow up, this is usually indication that communication has broken down somewhere and needs to be resolved (S. Richardson, personal communication, September 20, 2017).

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Harnessing Technology for Social Work Scholarship: #CSWResearch Day at Ohio State University

The blog post was written by myself and Melanie Sage of the University at Buffalo, and we describe our visit with the College of Social Work at the Ohio State University in August 2017, where we talked about how social work faculty can harness technology for their social work scholarship.  We also interviewed two of our OSU colleagues, Drs. Bridget Freisthler and Holly Dabelko-Schoeny, about our presentation and how it supports their use of technology for scholarship. This is cross-posted at the Human Services Information Technology Association’s (HusITa) Blog: http://www.husita.org/harnessing-social-media-for-social-work-research-and-scholarship/

Dissemination to the right stakeholders is a crucial part of social work research.  However, as social work academics, we are often trained to think that publication in peer-reviewed journals is the pinnacle of sharing our research with our peers and the academy.  But for our work to have substantial impact, we want it to reach service providers, communities, and consumers, too.  Access to peer-reviewed journals can be challenging due to cost,availability, and complexity. Increasingly, academics and research scientists are turning to social media platforms as a way to disseminate and engage with others about their work.

One of the early studies looking at the value of social media in research dissemination was an article by Darling, Shiffman, Côté, and Drew (2013) titled The role of twitter in the life cycle of a scientific publication. Based on a survey of 116 marine biologists, they found that scientists who used Twitter for professional reasons could rapidly develop new research ideas and easily share works-in-progress for pre-reviews.  Additionally, these researchers found they could communicate their findings not only with other academics, but also with broader audiences such as decision makers, journalists and the public in a way that could amplify the scientific and social impact of publications, and that sharing in this way increased their citations too.  Here is an infographic of the article’s major findings.

So how does this translate to social work research?  Melanie Sage and I present to multiple audiences, from peers to conference attendees, about the role of social media in social work scholarship. For years, we have been using social media and technology tools to connect with colleagues, share research, and collaborate.  Based on our expertise in this area, we were invited to lead a discussion about the role of technology in social work scholarship at the Social Work’s Grand Challenge Initiative Conference (#GC4SW) held at the University of Southern California (April 25-28, 2017). In this discussion, we shared the ways in which social media can be a tool to help social work academics and practitioners to discover and share knowledge, as well as build relationships for collaborative work. Social media platforms are well-placed to allow social workers across the professional continuum to engage with each other, creating communities of learning and practice that bridge the gap between practice and research in social work. We suggested four practices with social media for advancing the Grand Challenges for Social Work; you can read about them here.

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Social Media Toolkit for Social Work Field Educators – Get your Free Copy!

We are pleased to announce the availability of the Social Media Toolkit for Social Work Field Educators.  This toolkit provides Field and other Social Work Educators with tools and resources to help social work students and field instructors assess, develop, and maintain an online identity for professional purposes.  There are two parts to the toolkit – an Educator’s Guide and a PowerPoint Slide Deck.  The Educator’s Guide provides directions, descriptions, and handouts related to the content of the toolkit while the Slide Deck includes pre-formatted slides with selected content for presenting n the classroom or a workshop. Content in this toolkit can be easily adapted to agency-level continuing education.

The content of this toolkit is divided into five different topics centered on how to use social media professionally as a social worker:

– Reflecting on Social Media Use in Social Work Practice
– Engaging and Self-Assessment with Social Media
– Professional Practice with Social Media
– Case Studies for Students & Field Educators
– Social Media Learning Activities for Field Education

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Harnessing Social Media for Social Good at #CG4SW

Last week, Melanie Sage and I led a discussion at the Social Work’s Grand Challenge Initiative Conference (#GC4SW) held at the University of Southern California (April 25-28, 2017).  We attended the last day of the conference, which focused on for Harnessing Technology for Social Good.  If you are not familiar with this challenge, its focus includes leveraging digital and social technologies to enhance, improve, and expand the reach and influence of social services, evidence-based social work practices, and innovative programs.  Two white papers outline how social work can use technology to help individuals, communities, and organizations:

The use of social media is omnipresent in our daily lives, and ahead of policy and ethics in social work. Technology policy standards typically do not address concerns of social workers, including communication with clients, and professional values of privacy and confidentiality, safety, and self-determination.  As a profession, we have few research studies about the use of social media in practice and mixed professional guidance around how to best engage with social media as part of our work with clients, constituents, and communities. Some in social work take a risk-averse approach to social media, limiting how and who they interact with on virtual platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. However, this Grand Challenges supports broader thinking and creativity in how social workers can engage with social media, especially to address the 11 other grand challenges.

As part of our discussion, we proposed that social media can be a tool to help social work academics and practitioners to discover and share knowledge as well as build relationships for collaborative work. Social media platforms are well-placed to allow social workers across the professional continuum to engage with each other, creating communities of learning and practice that bridge the gap between practice and research in social work. We suggested four practices with social media for advancing the Grand Challenges for Social Work:

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Social Work Scholarship in the Age of Social Media

BlogPost12.10.15_2It has been almost two months since the Council on Social Work Education’s Annual Program Meeting in Denver this past October (#APM2015), and I have been thinking a lot about one of the round table discussions I attended.  The topic was  “Blogs, Podcasts, and Tweets: Reconsidering Scholarship in the Age of Social Media” and the conversation was led by Jonathan Singer of the School of Social Work at Loyola University and Nancy  J. Smyth of School of Social Work at the University at Buffalo.  Its purpose was to engage participants in a dialogue about the ways social media are changing how social work educators and scholars think about, produce, disseminate and measure the outcomes of scholarship in social work.  I recorded the discussion with Periscope, a video recording app for Twitter, and you can watch the video here.  Be warned – the discussion started at 7:30 AM, requiring me to juggle my mobile phone with a large cappuccino.

There were about twenty other people present, representing all areas of social work academia (tenured and nontenured;  administrators, researchers and teachers; large research institutions to small liberal arts colleges).  Here are just some of the questions or concerns mentioned during this discussion:

– How can digital content (blog posts, tweets, podcasts) be incorporated into the tenure and promotion process?
– What is the best way to share ideas about scholarship via social media? Will it get scooped?
– How do we ensure a level of quality with social work scholarship that is published via social media?

I am not sure any of us walked away from the discussion with the answers to all our questions, but I believe the consensus was that social and digital media are powerful tools for sharing and discussing social work scholarship. To be clear,  I’m not arguing that social and digital media will replace the traditional forms of social work scholarship such as journals, books and conference presentations.  I know that writing this blog will not get me tenure, but it does provide me with different ways to connect with other scholars, share ideas and write about topics that don’t fit into traditional publication avenues.  Social media provide vital and rich ways to share, curate and discuss practice and research in social work.  I am convinced that today’s social work faculty need to become savvy enough to share and discuss social work scholarship in digital environments.  Here are my three reasons for using social media as part of my scholarship:

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Online Toolkit for developing a Personal Learning Network with Twitter

personal learning networkOne of the benefits of having an online presence is making connections with professionals from all over the world. I met Dorlee Michaeli, MBA, LMSW over Twitter a year or so ago. She created and manages Social Work.Career, a blog that provides a variety of resources to help advance an individual’s social work career  for current students or  experienced mental health professionals. In addition to career-related resources, there are interviews, key learnings from conferences/workshops, licensure exam tips, self-care guidance and more for life-long learning as a social work professional.

This summer, we created online toolkits for social work educators based on our blogs. Dorlee’s toolkit, Social Work Career’s Online Toolkit for the Social Work Educator, showcases several blog posts from Social Work.Career that will help prepare undergraduate or graduate social work students become more prepared for a career in social work.  Also included with the toolkit are some possible classroom assignments/tasks. We tip our hat to Ellen Belluomini who wrote this blog post; she was our inspiration for creating the exercises to meet the 2015 CSWE Social Work Competencies.

Here is my toolkit about developing a personal learning network (PLN) with Twitter:

A personal learning network (PLN) offers social workers and students a practical tool to stay current and share information about latest professional news, practice knowledge, and cutting-edge research findings.  I recently wrote about how a social worker can set-up a PLN using professional accounts on different social media platforms.

My favorite social media platform for my own PLN is Twitter, and this post offers tips for using Twitter effectively to maintain and engage with your PLN.  All of these tips come from my blog, Teaching & Learning in Social Work, which focuses on teaching and learning in social work.  While some of the original posts focus on the social work classroom, the practices and content can be easily adapted by any social work practitioner for their own use with a PLN.  Here are eight great ideas for using Twitter with your PLN:

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