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The Use/Application of Social Media in Social Work Education Has Wonderful Potential… – by Dorlee M.


While I was fortunate to attend and graduate this past September from one of the leading graduate social work schools in the United States, my school did not demonstrate the necessary or inevitable role that social media could play in the lives of social workers.

My school kept up with the times by maintaining a certain social media presence, but its official policy was rather anti-social media. Therefore, instead of providing us with guidance on how to engage in safe and ethical social media practice, we were advised to abstain from all usage (no twitter, facebook or blogging).

Similarly, during my field placement, all personnel were given the same instructions – no engagement with social media was permitted and IT personnel had placed some sort of IT wall to ensure adherence to hospital policy.

Moving onto the way the classes themselves were taught vis a vis media…typically, powerpoint slides were shown as material to accompany the professor’s talk. Occasionally, we may have watched a video or a YouTube video streamed. In terms of assignments, the professors would leave them for us on “blackboard” (an internal secure school network place on the web). While blackboard did offer us the ability to converse with the professor or with other students, it was never used that way (or at least in none of my classes).

In other words, most of my classes were taught rather traditionally in that the professors taught in class and we, the students, did our work afterwards on our own with little interaction outside of class (although you could certainly email a professor a question if you had one). There were a couple of classes that differed from the norm in that they contained a group project etc.

Moving onto the future, how could social media be applied to social work education? It could be used to:

  1. Facilitate a closer connection between professors and students
  2. Connect, share and learn from other social workers and mental health professionals around the world
  3. Provide social workers with the most efficient sources to provide clients with their needed services
  4. Advocate on behalf of nonprofit organizations, bring in new donors and raise the media profile on important issues
  5. Teach/train social workers on identifying symptoms for various illnesses, developing better empathy etc.  For example, as Nancy Smyth, the Dean of the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, describes in her post, Healing Isolation & Facilitating Empathy: The Power of Virtual Worlds, Virtual Hallucinations Sim provides a glimpse into the world of people struggling with schizophrenia. A second example Nancy mentions is Against All Odds that is a game that was developed by the United Nations. It gives players an experience of what it is like to be a refugee.
  6. Help teach/train social workers to be able to assist patients to use various online mental health programs (virtual, video or simulations). For an illustration, see Virtual Worlds as Immersive Treatment Settings: The PTSD Sim. As you will see, this is an example of one virtual program in Second Life that was created as a way to educate soldiers (and others) about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms and offer treatment in a confidential and fun, game-like atmosphere.
  7. Change the whole educational paradigm to one that is student-centered and inquiry-based – i.e., social worker student interest would drive the learning process and the professor would shift from being the sage on the stage into more of a coaching role.  In this model, the professors focus not only on the content but also on the skills they want their students to develop and from there, decide on the best tools for cultivating them (digital or not). (Source: Levasseur, A. (2011). Teaching Without Technology?)
  8. Meet the client where the client is…some clients may wish to be treated online (via computer monitors in skype or the use of avatars in virtual reality). Other clients may wish to be treated with the assistance of gaming as the conduit for both rapport and skill building as Mike Langlois (http://gamertherapist.com) does in his practice. (Source: Zgoda, K. (Fall, 2011). SW 2.0: Going Where the Client Is: Exploring Virtual Clinical Social Work Practice )

What other exciting applications and uses for social media in social work education come to your mind?

Dorlee M (@DorleeM) (MBA) (MSW) is the author of Social Work Career Development Blog.

Join our Live Twitter Debate on “Use and Applications of Social Media in Social Work and Social Care Education”:

Topic:  Use and Applications of Social Media in Social Work and Social Care Education
Date:    Tuesday, 29 November 2011
Time:    8:00 to 9:00 PM (London)    3:00 to 4:00 PM (New York)
Follow @SWSCmedia for further details and updates and don’t forget the hashtag for the debate #SWSCmedia

Discussion

5 thoughts on “The Use/Application of Social Media in Social Work Education Has Wonderful Potential… – by Dorlee M.

  1. I have also experienced a negative view about social media within social work education and social work agencies. There are two issues underlying this- lack of knowledge about potential of social media and a fear of losing control over the process of education. Social media fundamentally challenges the power relationships between producers and consumers. Within education this should be especially positive but people fear that loss of ability to direct things. Social media coulod never have facilitated the Arab Spring if it had been controllable. The entertainment industry tried to suppress downloads because they wanted to continue to control how people consumed entertainment. Universities will go the way of any type of business which does not embrace change if they don’t start exploiting the potential of social media. Other providers will come along who are social media savvy .

    Posted by Jim Greer | November 30, 2011, 4:32 pm
    • Thank you, Jim, for sharing your experiences vis a vis social media within the educational and agency realm of social work, as well as providing the two key reasons for why this is occurring.

      I wonder whether it is possible that also some general discomfort with the unknown (tackling the new mediums and experimenting with new modalities be it in teaching or working), as well as some uncertainty around how to maintain strict ethical boundaries (a dilemma rather unique to the mental health field) may also be playing a role.

      Posted by Dorlee M (@DorleeM) | November 30, 2011, 8:48 pm
  2. Thanks for a wonderful post (and for citing some of my posts!).

    I agree that social media has great potential for social work education, and I, too, am frustrated by our profession’s slow pace in exploring this new frontier. I do think there’s a lot of fear and mistrust of technology among many social workers; I think they are afraid of losing the human elements of relationships and they believe that this technology will destroy that. When I give my talk about Social Work in the Digital Age I try to emphasis that really social media is about relationships and using technology to make connections as part of the rationale for why we, as a profession, need to be present.

    Academe, in particular, can be slow to change. The culture of social media calls into question the kind of expertise that has been bestowed on higher education in the past–anyone now can set up a blog and write on a topic or edit an encyclopedia entry on Wikipedia. Writing and publishing used to be in the hands of the experts, that isn’t the case anymore. If people can learn on their own using the Internet, what is my role as a faculty member? This question is at the core of the dilemma for many faculty. Shifting to the integration of social media is a hard transition to adapt to if you have shaped your teaching identity around lecturing. Of course, not everyone has shaped their teaching identity that way and my hunch is that those folks might find integration of social media easier.

    Posted by njsmyth | December 4, 2011, 9:36 pm
  3. Thanks so much, Nancy, for your kind feedback and valuable input as to why academe can be rather slow to change vis a vis social media.

    As I’m reading the concerns faculty may have about their role in this new environment, it almost brings to mind what perhaps math teachers thought or wondered about their role when calculators were introduced…math teachers/professors have become no less valuable now vs. before. However, students are able to be guided and taught to take math to a higher level thanks to the ease and access of calculators, excel and computers.

    Similarly, students will not cease to need the guidance and teaching of faculty within this new world where information is so easily-accessible…

    Posted by Dorlee M (@DorleeM) | December 6, 2011, 1:28 am

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  1. Pingback: Debate Summary for 29-Nov-2011 on Use and Application of Social Media In Social Work and Social Care Education « Social Work/Social Care & Media - November 30, 2011

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