Using Technology for Collaboration: Virtual Communities of Practice

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. 

Virtual Communities of Practice (VCoP) are professional online communities that exist to improve work and education around disciplines and professions (Hara, Shachaf, & Stoerger, 2009; Adedoyin, 2016).  In this blog post, we asked our colleagues (social work educators) to share their best tips for collaborating with others professionals using digital tools.

Christine McKenna Lok of Dean College in Franklin, MA, participates in a VCoP called Academic Writing Club:

They set you up with a group of a dozen faculty in the social sciences (or health sciences, or whatever) and you have a private community to set goals for each 12-week cycle, check off which dates you’ve accomplished your goals, and write messages to each other about the process of writing rather than the content. They also have chat sessions available at various times with the entire enrollment for that session so you can log in at, say, 8 AM Central and say hello to other folks who have committed to a half-hour of writing and then wish them well at the end of the time. It’s not free, but it’s a worthwhile investment (C. McKenna Lok, personal communication, September 11, 2017).

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The Flipped Classroom: Harnessing technology to teach clinical skills to MSW students

Dr. Elisabeth Counselman-Carpenter

Dr. Elisabeth Counselman-Carpenter, PhD, LCSW is a lecturer in social work at Columbia University and maintains a private practice where she works with children and families.  In this blog post, she talks about the reasons why she flipped her course on clinical practice with children & families and the practical steps she took to achieve the flip. If you have questions for Elisabeth, you can tweet her at @ElisabethAnneCC 

This course was designed as first semester, second year elective called “Advanced Clinical Practice with Children and Families”.  Built on previous content from other courses about life span model and ecosystems perspective, students are expected to leave this advanced clinical course understanding the context and application of evidence-based social work practice with vulnerable populations.

After teaching the course for a year using traditional lecture format, I surveyed students regarding their learning preferences as well as goals and objectives for the semester. Some of the questions I asked included:

– What are your personal goals and expectations from this class for the next 14 weeks?
– What would strengthen your experience in this class?
– What have been some of your key take-aways from other practice classes?

Feedback indicated that students were most interested in focusing on play therapy and other forms of evidenced-based practice with skills be directly taught in class (i.e. modeled and then time for practice in the classroom). Uniformly, students reported that they felt unskilled in putting into place any form of direct practice with children because they only had a surface grasp of “how” to use certain skills with children.  All students requested that the course focus on direct application, with a ‘walk-through’ of the skills and interventions, by the professor, covered in the course readings and lectures. Additionally, students felt unsure about where to gather accurate information on how to implement their skills, and reported they were not often given time in field to observe and practice these skills with other staff members.  They requested digital case examples, such as training videos, in addition to single case study research articles to enhance their knowledge.  This course had rich material in the texts, but students struggled with the “how to” and were bored by simply reading about the techniques.

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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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Modeling Social Justice through Innovative, Low-Cost Textbook Options for Social Work Students

Dr. Becky Anthony

Dr. Victoria Venable

Both Dr. Victoria Venable and Dr. Becky Anthony (@becky_anthony)  and are assistant professors in the Department of Social Work at Salisbury University. In this blog post, they write about designing and self-publishing a course workbook for a generalist level basic interviewing skills practice course. They also share results from a pilot evaluation the workbook and supplemental materials.

The cost of textbooks is problematic for many students at American colleges and universities. College textbook prices have increased by 82% from 2003 to 2013 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). This economic injustice causes students to miss out on educational opportunities because they have to prioritize paying for their basic needs over textbooks. According to a 2014 study, over 65% of students reported they did not buy a textbook because the cost was too high (Student PIRGs, 2014). If students are not purchasing the book, they cannot read for class – this revelation caused us to brainstorm creative ways to engage students by lowering the cost of textbooks, in hopes of increasing their reading. As social workers, the NASW Code of Ethics asks us to challenge social injustices. We viewed the price of textbooks as a social injustice and explored options that would allow our students to better participate in their learning experience.

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Using Technology for Life-Long Learning in Social Work: Professional Learning Networks

This post was written and edited by Nancy J. Smyth, Melanie 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.   

Professional Learning Networks (PLN) exist when social workers use social media to collect information related to professional interests, share this information with others, and collaborate with others on projects (Richardson & Mancebelli, 2011). For more details about PLN, please see this blog post titled Personal Learning Networks for Social Workers (Hitchcock, 2015).  A PLN is unique to each person, and learning how others structure their PLN can be helpful in setting up your own network.  In this blog post, we asked two social work educators to share their best tips for using technology as a tool for learning.

Kelly Joplin, an Assistant Professor and Director of Field Education from the Carver School of Social Work at Campbellsville University, uses a productivity app called Evernote to support her personal learning network (PLN).  She writes:

I love Evernote! It keeps me organized. It has folders where I collect articles, videos, audio clips, pdfs, maps, and links to resources for each of my classes. I use many different types of media in my classes and this makes pulling those different pieces onto the classroom screen seamless. I do not have to toggle back and forth between apps or the internet therefore eliminating the uncomfortable classroom lag time while bringing up media. (I find I lose students in the lag.)

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Teaching Technology-Mediated Practice in a Clinical MSW Program

Janet Vizina-Roubal, DSW, MSW, is an Associate Professor of Social Work at Ferris State University in the Department of Social Work. In this blog post, she writes about her inspiration for a technology-mediated practice assignment with MSW students.  Assignments like this one will be increasingly valuable for social work students preparing to use technology with clients while meeting professional and ethical practice standards such as the NASW Code of Ethics and the NASW, ABSW, CSWE & ACSW Standards for Technology in Social Work Practice. If you have questions about the assignment, you can reach Dr. Vizina-Roubal on Twitter at @jvizina.

I started teaching my first clinical MSW course the fall of 2014 with excitement and nervousness. With almost eight years of clinical experience in school social work and outpatient therapy, I had a great toolbox of practice tips to share with my students.  Adding to the excitement was the idea of creating a technology-based assignment where students could learn and practice technology-enhanced therapy skills.  Because I had completed and presented research with a colleague about the benefits of using iPhones in child welfare work, I was curious about how I could create a technology-based assignment for MSW social work students.

Clinical MSW social work classes typically rely on a vast amount of face-to-face role-plays, requiring students to play the part of client and social worker. This experiential learning is challenging, however is very effective at teaching students critical clinical skills.  I was interested in stretching this experiential learning process into role-plays for a technology-mediated learning environment, with the goal of helping students learn how to engage with clients via technology-based communication tools.    Based on this idea, I worked to structure assignments that would allow students to learn how to use technology within clinical social work.  As I embarked on this journey, I searched for curricula or assignments on how to teach online therapy along with best practices. Bewildered, I found almost nothing (Cardenas, Serrano, Flores, & De 2008). I did stumble upon research that showed promising findings that online therapy might be as effective as face-to-face therapy (Chester & Glass, 2006; Dowling & Rickwood, 2013; Holmes & Foster, 2012).  This finding legitimized my interest in pursuing this course of instruction and compelled me to develop assignments where students gained experience within online therapy; practicing as the client as well as the therapist.

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