Friday, December 21, 2012

Technology and Social Work... what I'm up to

It's fun to think about all the ways that the things that I love overlap. In this blog, I've written mostly about my overlapping interests in social work and education. Here are some things I am doing lately that draw upon these overlapping interests:

1. Professional advocacy:  I recently joined the BPD Technology Committee.  BPD is a group that focuses on undergraduate social work education. As part of this group, I give input regarding recommendations about how to share information about technology with other educators.  I will present on some ways to use technology in the classroom at the 2013 BPD Conference in South Carolina.  I have also recently been elected to the HUSITA board.  HUSITA is a group that focuses on promoting the ethical use of technology in human services.

2. Research and dissemination: In January 2013, I am presenting a two-hour workshop at the Society for Social Work Research (SSWR) on the ways that I have used technology to support research fidelity.  As the evaluator of a federal grant on Family Group Decision Making, I have developed videocasts and blog resources to help support the way that we conduct research and evaluation of an intervention project.  At the conference I will share these methods with other researchers.  I will share technology I am using, such as jing, blogger, and other tools, and talk about how they have benefited our work.

3. Classroom activities:  I have posted before about how I am using videocasts in the classroom to share intervention techniques in children's mental health.  This is a fun project for a lot of reasons; it allows students to contribute to professional development of each other; it is a resource that we can share with other professionals; it is applied work that ties research to practice; it allows students to learn new technological skills.  They squirm quite a bit about having to record themselves, but it is one of my favorite assignments. 

Last semester I started using a new technology-enhanced assignment related to "flipped classroom" theory.  I am using journaling on blackboard as a way to get feedback about questions before class so I can incorporate student's questions directly in to the class lecture.  We focus more on questions, discussion, and practice in class and spend less time doing "chapter review."  Through technology, I am able to help make sure students are reading outside of class so we can have richer discussions in class.

4. Publications:  I am currently working on a few technology-related publications, including a review of all the things a professor must think about when inviting a guest speaker in to the classroom via distance technology (there's a lot to think about!), as well as a research article related to the flipped classroom technique that I mentioned previously.  When we use new tools and techniques we have to share the outcomes!  

5. Podcasting:  I am very excited about my podcast in the works.  I have many hopes and dreams about this work, and it is a creative project that stimulates lots of parts of my brain! This podcast will focus on research-to-practice  in child welfare.  I will interview people who do research and intervention in child welfare in a way that is approachable for child welfare workers in the field.  Child welfare workers spend a lot of time in the car, so I hope they'll download episodes for the road and learn about best practice that is coming out of research. I was a child welfare worker for many years, and it is work that is close to my heart. My hope is that eventually I will be able to offer continuing education based on the podcasts.  I would like to post short tours of child welfare agencies across the country- child welfare environments look so different from place to place. I hope it also encourages a broader understanding of what child welfare work is (and isn't) and might attract more social workers to the important field. The first episode will launch in Jan 2013, and I am lining up interviews with researchers across the country.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Therapeutic social work interventions with children: A video blog of examples

The Children's Mental Health Intervention blog has been updated with another semester of evidence-based interventions demonstrated by my graduate students.  I am posting Jenna's fine work below; she is a forensic interviewer.  Click on this blog link to see more!

Monday, August 6, 2012

How to find articles in Google Scholar

Here is a short video about how to use Google Scholar to find research articles for social work.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

College students suffer from depression, and technology can help

A new study reports that 37% of college students who seek help report severe psychological problems, which is more than twice the rate of a similar study in 2000.  Counselors report that self injury and eating disorders both appear on the rise. Suicide is reported as the second leading cause of death among college students after accidents.

Depression Clipart Image: Teenage Girl Depressed And Lonely

Image courtesy of

The article above reports that University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's incoming freshman will be required to read a book on how the internet contributes to feelings of loneliness and disconnection. While it is good for each person to explore the impacts of their online social worlds on their personal well-being, for many young people the online world is a place to make connections, learn new things, problem solve, and perhaps even increase a student's experience of social support and self esteem.

ULifeline is one way that technology is helping students explore their own well-being.  This site reports over 10,000 visitors per month, and is customized to help provide resources for over 1,000 campuses. There are many self-screening quizzes that help students identify help for themselves or a friend. The site has many good articles about how to recognize problems and support peers.

Many college students are affected by anxiety and depression, but both of these problems are well-researched and improve with talk therapy and/or medication. Since stigma contributes to help-seeking behavior of college students, especially in certain groups, the internet could play a role in normalizing the experiences of help seekers and encourage cognitive awareness about mental health. More research should be done about how well sites that provide mental health information convert self-assessment to actual community-based help for the many college students who report symptoms.

Facebook is one online place where many college students spend time.  It appears support from Facebook friends may play a role in increasing social capital, well-being, and combating stigma if friends are supportive to online disclosures. However, if you share your life on Facebook check your privacy settings: researchers may try to clinically diagnose your status updates without you ever knowing about it!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

What I've learned about teaching & technology (so far)

Last Fall I accepted a faculty position at the University of North Dakota. One of the draws for me was their long history of providing quality online MSW education, and the university's commitment to improving technology use.  I am learning about teaching online, about effective use of technology in teaching, and about the available resources.  As an evaluator on a federal research grant, I am also learning how to incorporate technology in my evaluation work.  Here are some of my observations:
  • There is a significant learning curve. Teaching online means learning new programs, getting used to new formats, and keeping everyone up to speed.  We are fortunate to have a distance coordinator in our program who is a social worker and also skilled with technology, and she makes sure the students are prepared before they come to our classrooms. Still, when lecturing online I don't have the same cues (nods, laughing at my jokes, blank stares) as I do in a face-to-face classroom, and this is a difficult change.  It's ok because there are new kinds of cues: I can ask students to raise their hands, turn on a green light, turn on their cameras or mics to answer a question... it's just a change.

  • Some things are better about distance learning. Talk about  diversity of experiences! I have students across the US in my distance classes. Although many of my students are local because we prioritize their admissions, our ND students online get to share a class with more diverse students than they would if they were campus students. For the most part, the students are already in helping professions and are working students with good experience. Because we have a very good and established program we attract high quality students, it makes for a rich classroom experience.

  • A lot of people (students and faculty) have limited technology experience. These are exciting times. If you know how to use technology it is easy to be a leader in its use and to make an impact. For those of you interested in using technology, your skills will be valued and appreciated. Agencies are raising their expectations for technology skills for incoming employees, and if you've been dragging your heels you probably need to think about how to climb on board. It is a nice way to set yourself apart.

  • Technology skills do not replace good teaching. Sometimes technology stands in the way of good teaching. Although I've enjoyed the way that I could bring distance guest speakers to the classroom online, use youtube to demonstrate what someone with a particular diagnosis looks like, or use a blog to share research information, all of these things are clutter if not backed up by good teaching practice. And too much fidgeting with technology is a real distraction in the classroom.
I taught in our on-campus program this semester and had an amazing group of students. We made good use of technology, but our classroom discussions were rich and rewarding. I am very proud of the work students have done to help launch this intervention blog where they each explain a brief intervention technique; I hope the blog will continue to grow as I teach the class in future semesters.

I am taking a summer technology workshop in May where I will get to learn about some more specific programs and work on classroom prep. My goal is to move more of my lecture to pre-recorded video so we can spend additional time in the classroom in role plays, discussions, vignettes, and practice. This is scary and exciting because it is harder to engage in practice exercises than to review theory, but I am ready for the challenge and hope that I can bring the students along successfully.  I look forward to growing and stretching and learning new things. The opportunity to innovate is one of the most exciting things about working at a university.