Use of Web CT for developing students understanding of differences in international social work provision

Name

Hilary Beale

School/Department

Health and Social Care

Activity

Final year social work degree students explored a particular political /legislative issue, comparing the UK and one other country of their choice. Collaborative learning took place through Web CT discussion within small groups over a period of 4 weeks, following which individually written essays were posted for all the class to read

Group

Five small groups were established varying in size from five to seven. The groups had one face to face session to clarify their individual interests and proposed areas of study. Each group focussed on one piece of policy/law, but individuals chose their own country. Two weeks for individual research led to the posting of an initial abstract by each group member, with two questions for group discussion. The chosen topics and countries of all class members were posted on a class discussion board to enable the whole class to offer support and experience if relevant.

Aim

The aim was to develop students critical awareness of social, political and economic difference between the England and other countries, as they are manifested in the provision of social care services.

Context/Background

The requirement of qualifying social workers is that they have some broader appreciation of the world of social work, and an awareness of the different social, economic and political contexts in which social workers operate. In the spirit of collaborative research, the students are encouraged to share their research with one another, and websites, individual personal contacts and local knowledge from overseas students is valued and encouraged.

This module has been greatly facilitated by use of Web CT. It ran in 2005/7 with a first cohort of 17 students, whose familiarity with and appreciation for Web CT was not wholehearted. The cohort for 2006/7 consisted of 34 students, all well versed in Web CT and the full benefits of collaborative working were evident immediately. As the students were combining this module with dissertation work and off site placement, the groups provided an ideal means for contact and support.

Example

One of the allocated topics for discussion was the white paper relating to support for children in the looked after system “ Who Cares?” (2006) One student, hoping eventually to work in an orphanage in an African country posed questions leading to a group discussion about the fact that children in the looked after system (fostering, or institutional homes ) in the UK are considered the deprived group, whereas in Africa, those children who are brought within a looked after system are considered to be privileged. This perspective was explored fully with reference to documentation both in the UK and internationally. The students observed the decline of residential homes in the UK for children, run by charitable or religious bodies , and discussed the possible reasons for this – Further contributions were made from a student studying the eastern european provision of institutional care for children, and the political framework for these contrasting countries was explored. Amongst the wider student group were students with experience of living or working in African countries, of growing up in institutional or foster care, and of working in eastern Europe. All were able to contribute to this debate.

The students were given four weeks following the completion of Web CT discussions, to complete their own individual research and write the essays.

Results/Feedback

The students found themselves enthused by the initial input in a block teaching week, which motivated them for the final stages of their degree programme, sparked their interest in overseas social work, and enabled them to initiate face to face discussion. They then valued the opportunity to use Web CT and maintain contact, exchanging views and resource information. Some continued contact on an individual basis if appropriate.

Networking both within the student group, and with practising social workers who were now working in the UK but who had qualified overseas provided a model for collaborative practice which is the expectation of social workers in their professional role.

Other comments

As module leader, this is an exciting project, and one which stretches your time as far as it will go – a huge learning experience. The students in a sense become your teachers and their expertise with Internet and other IT resources shows up well. It also offers those students who already have good knowledge of a specific country to exchange their perspectives with the rest of the class, thus increasing their confidence and credibility.

Several students now have longer term plans to practice overseas after consolidating their qualification in the UK

Further Information

I would be happy to discuss the practicalities of this model with anyone interested in developing something similar.