Reflective Post  5/5 Opening up my practice

To some degree, my teaching practice is shaped by the nature of the activities of my directorate and the boundaries of social work education and the national curriculum. However, on a micro level, I am engaged in academic activities outside of my prescribed role. For example, I am currently co-authoring a text book about social work skills which will be published along with a companion website [K1; A5]. This text will be of value as it will map onto the national curriculum and the Professional Capabilities Framework (TCSW, 2012). However, for many years the issue of skills development has been problematic as there is a gap in terms of how students develop their ability to apply theory to skills and interventions with children, families and/or adults during work placements.

To complement the book and website, a massive open online course (MOOC) may provide the opportunity to bridge this gap by focussing on content (theory and skills) in an applied way. Employing a connectivist paradigm would enable communities of practice to form through peer learning whilst individuals develop the ability to connect experiences with theory and other forms of knowledge (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996; Wenger, 1998; Siemens, 2004). Whilst recognising the value of connectivist pedagogical approaches, a limitation of cMOOCs lies in the reliance on active participation, and in this project a community of practice would rely on collaboration. The use of virtual space where groups can work collaboratively  (for example, a Wiki) would enhance communication and group cohesion within the context of a negotiated activity where knowledge is co-constructed (Mason & Rennie, 2008). Indeed, Wenger, Trayner & de Laat (2011, p10) assert that ‘the social fabric of learning’ is supported through collaboration within a community.


MOOC image

Whilst some educators resist emergent technologies and view with suspicion the lack of control over learning that this type of activity facilitates (Kop, Fournier & Mak, 2011), the use of digital technology in this context embraces a constructivist epistemology which is congruent with my preferred pedagogical paradigm. Whilst the alternative type of MOOC (xMOOC) employs more traditional didactic methods (lectures, followed by a form of test) and proves popular with a global e:learning community, xMOOCs are not without their critics. For example, Bates (2012) launched a damning polemic against Daphne Koller, co-founder of online MOOC provider Coursera, for ‘delivering a product which is error-ridden, fails to teach higher order skills of critical thinking and creative thinking, and does not treat students as individuals’.

Indeed, since their emergence, MOOCs have attracted criticism around access, content, quality, pedagogy and universities have been concerned that they will lose market shares and be left behind in the digital revolution (Department of Business, Innovation & Skills, 2013). This latter has not transpired and drop off rates for MOOCS are notoriously high (Department of Business, Innovation & Skills, 2013). However, the cMOOC proposed here would be offered to registered students who are already studying for a social work qualification (and others if they so wished to study social work skills). In addition, some of the concerns about the growing certification of MOOCs presently holds no store in social work education as such certificates would be of no value; social work programmes offer a professional qualification (alongside the academic one) and programmes require formal endorsement from professional bodies. Additionally, much of the content requires face-to-face pedagogical methods and assessment (for example, observed and assessed role play). Thus, certificates acquired through studying MOOCs would not constitute accreditable prior learning and MOOC content and activity would be additional and complementary to formal social work training.

The proposed  MOOC would be widely available to social work students and this would enable a transnational community of practice which would only add to what is currently delivered as a localised (within a UK context) generic qualification which has a great deal of prescriptive content (again at a national level). A MOOC would enable specialisms to form as aspects of skills development could be targeted (to children and family workers, or adult-focused practitioners). Additionally, I feel that all higher education provision needs to be competitive in the HEI market economy and in opening up my practice to embedding new technologies, not only am I keeping up with pedagogical innovation, but I am contributing to the shifting terrain of social work education [K4; A5; V4].


Bates, T. (2012) What’s right and wrong about coursera style MOOCs. Available from:

Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (2013) Maturing of the MOOC: literature review of massive open online courses and other forms of online distance learning. BIS Research Paper Number 130. Available from:

Duffy, T.M. & Cunningham, D.J. (1996) Constructivism: Implications for the design and delivery of instruction. In D.H. Jonassen (ed) Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology, pp.170-198. New York: Macmillan.

Siemens, G. (2004) Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Available from:

The College of Social Work (2012) Professional Capabilities Framework. Available from:

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E., Trayner, B. & de Laat, M. (2011) Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: A conceptual framework. Rapport 18, Ruud de Moor Centrum, Open Universiteit, The Netherlands.


Reflective Post 4/5 How do I support my students and opportunities for further improvement

Since 2011 I have been employed in academic roles and pride myself on maintaining a high degree of student-centredness. This requires individualised responses and the appreciation of different learning styles, preferences in terms of teaching delivery/learning activities, and varying academic capability. The ways that I support students are underpinned by my belief that these practices enhance individual student learning and development; for example, by providing formative assessment for all written work utilising email or document sharing platforms [A2; A3; A4; K2; K3]. I also strive to be flexible and recognise the specific and particular demands, in addition to study, that learners face (that is, family lives, employment and so on) [V1]. Thus, I do not approach student support as a ‘9 to 5′ task. For example, I frequently offer Skype tutorials into the evening when students have finished their busy work placement days [V1; V2; A2; A4].

These examples of student-centredness – both of which rely on technology – are not common practices within my programme team, nor across our Directorate. Thus, one obvious opportunity for future improvement is my advocacy that colleagues also use similar strategies to enhance student academic achievement. My approach has also enhanced the quality in my teaching practice as I have been able to hone my skills in assessment and feedback, noting what works within the context of how I have enabled students to improve and progress in relation to academic writing skills  [A3; K5; K6].

Considering the use of Skype in the management of tutorials, there are many benefits that I can claim: flexibility in terms of time; contact with students who are not geographically close; maintenance of contact when students are completing work placements; and the opportunity for students to develop their digital literacy skills (Glister, 1997) [A2; A4; K4; V1; V2]. Additionally, the value of using internet platforms for holding one-to-one discussions is increasingly recognised in disciplines allied to social work (see, for example, Sifferlin’s (2014) discussion of using Skype as a site for GP consultations).

Demonstrating students’ willingness to engage with technology, I have never encountered resistance or non-engagement with the suggestion to use Skype (Thackray, 2014). There have, however, been some minor limitations in the success of Skype tutorials; namely through the difficulties encountered with the technology itself, with internet connectivity and video quality. There are also interpersonal and reflexive issues, such as synchronous video imagery and mirroring behaviour, that can cause distraction. Notwithstanding, an evaluation of my experience of using Skype errs on the positive side and I am an active advocate of using technology to enhance one-to-one communication within the context of a negotiated activity where knowledge is co-constructed (Mason & Rennie, 2008). Constructivist theory is congruent with my epistemology and pedagogical paradigm, although I acknowledge that it does not necessarily align with the approaches of my programme colleagues (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996). Different paradigms could be a stumbling block when trying to encourage new practices.

Finally, as MacDonald (2006: 95) notes ‘synchronous tools have a wide variety of functionalities’ and in future work I will utilise Skype more by offering group tutorials and I will seek to invite co-workers who have particular expertise. I will also encourage my co-workers to engage with platforms, such as Skype, to see the value and flexibility that these offer. I am, however, realistic about my colleagues attitudes towards technology and the oft-found assertion about the ‘lack of time’ as a barrier to engagement with technology enhanced learning (Reed, 2014: 1). I acknowledge the commitment that this requires and previously colleagues have commented that offering student support ‘out of hours’ creates a precedent that we (lecturers) are always available, and that students will then expect immediate responses all of the time. I disagree, and this has not been my finding. Additionally, I feel that all higher education provision, including social work education, needs to be competitive in the HEI market economy and in maintaining a high level of student-centredness, I feel that I am making my contribution [V4].


Duffy, T.M. & Cunningham, D.J. (1996) Constructivism: Implications for the design and delivery of instruction. In D.H. Jonassen (ed) Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology, pp.170-198. New York: Macmillan.

MacDonald, J. (2006) Blended Learning and Online Tutoring: A Good Practice Guide. Aldershot: Gower Ppublishing.

Mason R. & Rennie, R. (2008) E-Learning and Social Networking Handbook: Resources for Higher Education. London: Routledge.

Reed, P. (2014) Staff experience and attitudes towards technology-enhanced learning
initiatives in one Faculty of Health and Life Sciences. Research in Learning Technology, (22), 1-23.

Sifferlin, A. (2014) The doctor will skype you now. Telemedicine apps aim to replace nonemergency visits. Time, 183(1), 12-

Thackray, L. (2014) Obstacles to and engagement with social media. In J. Westwood (ed) Social Media in Social Work Education. Northwich: Critical Publishing.

Reflective Post 3/5 Collaborative Learning and Communities

My praxis is located within a paradigm which holds that collaboration and partnership are at the heart of social work practice. Therefore, Wenger’s (nd) proposal of a community of practice as a social learning system has much to offer whilst being mindful that Wenger’s conceptions have been criticised for being ‘performative’ rather than ‘analytical’ (Davenport & Hall, 2002 ).  Notwithstanding, I can see some of the characteristics of  Wenger’s typology across the student group that I teach; I’ve observed emergent structure, complex relationships with self-organisation, identity negotiations and dynamic boundaries (Wenger, nd). However, I’ve also seen disturbances to the student’s community (or homeostasis, to use the language of systems theory) through disruptions to the group (for example, individuals leaving, illness). Thus it is fair to say, that the conditions for Wenger’s  (nd) community of practice are easily disrupted by mundane realities (Brindley, Walti & Braschke, 2009).

I have developed several collaborative activities which encourage and enhance the group learning system. Ironically, whilst I have encouraged students to engage in virtual space to support the development of their group ethos and social learning system (Wenger, nd), I have also seen the outcomes on students when social networking sites are used inappropriately as a space to scaremonger, complain, and as a ‘social filter’ (Willson, 2014, p.218).  However, I have enabled collaborative learning through the implementation of groupwork activities designed around the use of Wikis, Dropbox and Google Community. For example, I asked students to work in small groups to produce a factsheet on an issue relevant to social work and to share all factsheets via a Google Community [A1; A4; K4] . I weaved these activities into each module so that students could work together with focused tasks to develop and share skills and knowledge [A2; K2; K3]. The task was empowering as it enabled students of different levels of digital literacy to participate and resulted in new skills which would be transferable to the workplace; for example, the use of digital technology [A2; A4; K4; V1; V2].

There were, however, limitations in the success of the student’s use of the Google Community. A small number demonstrated resistance by non-engagement (Thackray, 2014) as they did not sign up to the Google Community  and others used email to share work-in-progress factsheets (rather than the Google Drive as suggested by me). Whilst non-engagement was adopted by the minority, as Brindley et al. (2009) note, this can have a significant impact in a small group.  Additionally, the quality and quantity of interactivity varied depending on the virtual learning space suggested. Students seemed to prefer the virtual learning space – BlackBoard – that they first became familiar with rather than seeing new virtual space as innovative and offering  new possibilities. As with physical group contexts, there were issues around roles, contribution levels, power dynamics and interpersonal issues (Capdeferro & Romero, 2012). However, my overall evaluation is that the activities were successful in engaging students in collaborative learning as new relationships formed and enhanced the confidence of participants in their development of key skills (such as, research skills in virtual environments and confidence in using digital technologies overall).

Cox (undated, online) suggests that Wenger’s community is ‘a tight knit group’. Yet I see the students that I teach as belonging to a broader community (the programme group, or system, which is part of a distinct Department of Education (DofE) funded fast-track programme rolled out over England to c. 350 students and this could be considered the DoE student group, or the whole system) and sub-communities (or sub systems, identified by various characteristics, such as an affiliation to a local authority). Some students have struggled with their identity as a DofE fast track students and the expectations that this conjures. In future, I will be mindful of this and more purposefully utilise a strategy of collaborative learning to enhance the development of professional identity, in addition to that which students have as DofE sponsored students, as Wenger (nd) notes that the social aspect of learning enables the production of identity.


Brindley, J.E., Walti, C. & Blaschke, L.M. (2009) Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3). Retrieved from:

Capeferro, N. & Romero, M. (2012) Are Online Learners Frustrated with Collaborative Learning Experiences. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, l3(2). Retrieved from:

Cox, A. (undated) What are communities of practice: A critical review of four seminal works. Retrieved from:

Davenport, E. & Hall, H. (2001) New knowledge and micro-level online organization: ‘Communities of Practice’ as a development framework, 34th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, IEEE.

Thackray, L. (2014) Obstacles to and engagement with social media. In J. Westwood (ed) Social Media in Social Work Education. Northwich: Critical Publishing.

Wenger, E. (undated) Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. Retrieved from:

Willson, M. (2014) The politics of social filtering, Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 20, 218-232.

Reflective Post 2/5 My digital teaching practice and opportunities for change

Currently my digital teaching practice (DTP) is bounded by personal confidence and comfort in using technologies; that is, my digital literacy (Glister 1997). Yet I teach on possibly the more digitally engaged social work programme in the University. In my teaching practice I have been engaged with and utilised: BlackBoard’s additional features (wiki’s, discussion forums, tests); a programme twitter feed and wordpress blog; and a Google Community (when BlackBoard was unavailable) [K4]. The latter reflects  my commitment to the belief that social networking can be utilised as an educational tool (Mason & Rennie 2008). Undoubtedly, engaging in these types of activities has enhanced my DTP and the student’s experience of learning.


I am, however, keen to develop my DTP to a level where I feel that I transcend the residual feelings that I have which associate with that of the ‘digital immigrant’ (Prensky 2001). I’m aware that there are many forms of digital technology that could assist my teaching practice and, indeed, as part of my continuing professional development I have participated in training with the digital skills team [A5]. However, the speed at which the digital world moves unnerves me and I fear that I cannot keep up; there are so many demands on my time that this feels like yet another task to undertake. Nevertheless I am committed to developing my DTP to enhance my pedagogical style and technique; indeed this has motivated me to undertake this module [A5].


In an evaluation of the sophistication of my DTP I tend to undermine some of my achievements. For example, as indicated in post 1/5 during my four years of teaching experience I have consistently used blending learning approaches (Bonk and Graham 2006) and see this approach to DTP as one that suits the content of the social work curriculum, as a blended learning approach incorporates face to face contact. Indeed, I’m a social work academic and practitioner; social work is ‘people-work’ by its very nature and, arguably, interpersonal communication is enhanced if undertaken in the flesh. Notwithstanding, I have used digital technology effectively for teaching and assessment: for example, after students have emailed draft work, I have engaged students in virtual space (through Skype tutorials) to discuss progress and provide feedback [A3; K2].


Similarly, the students that I now teach are not campus-based and they are geographically dispersed. As such, the programme relies on those elements of DTP already employed (noted above). Yet, there is huge scope for improvement. Thus I intend to improve my DTP by integrating digital technology in a more coherent and integrated manner to offer additional teaching and learning experiences. For example, through this module I have realised the benefit of recording lectures and the value of making additional podcasts available on subjects not directly taught; the latter would enhance learning for those who wish to study more than offered in mandatory face-to-face teaching. I will remain alert to the potential drawbacks, such as information management (Alexander 2008), the limitations of technology (Mason & Rennie 2008) and common obstacles to engaging with social networking (Reed 2014; Thackray 2014), but in doing so I will remain committed to utilising digital technologies to enhance three aspects of my contribution to formal education: my teaching/social/cognitive presence (Garrison & Anderson 2003). To increase my teaching/social/cognitive presence, I intend to create a blog site centred on my research profile and activity. There are benefits to me (increased presence and profile, dissemination of research findings) and to students (encouraged to be research minded) (McKendrick 2014) [K4].



Alexander, B. (2008) Web 2.0 and Emergent Multiliteracies. Theory in Practice, 47(2), 150.

Bonk, D.J. & Graham, C.R. (2006) The Handbook of Blended Learning: Global Perspectives, Local Designs. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Garrison, D. R. & Anderson, T. (2003) E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice. London: Routledge Falmer.

Glister, P. (1997) Digital Literacy. US: John Wiley & Sons.

Mason, R. & Rennie, F. (2008) E-Learning and Social Networking Handbook: resources for Higher Education. Abingdon: Routledge.

McKendrick, D. (2014) New Technology in Social Work Education: Blogs and Blogging. In J. Westwood (ed) Social Media in Social Work Education. Northwich: Critical Publishing.

Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, MCB University Press, 9(5). Available from:,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf.

Reed, P. (2014) Staff Experience and Attitudes towards Technology-Enhanced Learning Initiatives in one Faculty of Health and Life Sciences. Research in Learning Technology, 22 22770. Available from:

Thackray, L. (2014) Obstacles to and engagement with social media. In J. Westwood (ed) Social Media in Social Work Education. Northwich: Critical Publishing.




Reflective Post 1/5 The digital me: past, present and future

The ‘digital me’ is an unstable being; some days I feel connected, digitally-fluent and virtually present. Other days (when faced with technology) I associate with the portrayal of the ‘digital immigrant’ (Prensky 2001). To illustrate, I use Twitter, Facebook and Linked-In yet I am unfamiliar with some technology found in most teaching rooms (e:white boards). I reflect polarities as I both resist and succumb to technological advancement: I don’t have an electronic kettle (I prefer mine to whistle when ready), but I have two laptops, a tablet and a smart phone. Clearly, I engage with technologies, but always later than those at the edge of new developments.

I guess the ‘digital me’ in the present is in the midst of shedding the ‘analogue me’ of the  past. This is how I feel. However, when I rationalise my teaching practice over the past four years, I clearly have engaged with digital technologies in myriad ways (through my use of virtual learning environments (VLEs), Twitter and Google Communities for example) [K4]. Indeed, I appreciate the ‘transforming effect’ that the world wide web is having globally and within the field of higher education (Bach, Haynes & Smith 2007: 6) [V4]. At a micro-level, I value learning technologies and have utilised them to: enhance communication (teacher/student/group); to enhance classroom learning; to offer all students synchronous and asynchronous means to engage with learning activities; and, benefitting me as a module leader, as a means of formative assessment [A4; K4; K5; V2]. There are, however, challenges for engaging students as new technologies can be met with resistance; some students prefer face-to-face teaching (Kearsley 2002). I have encountered social work students that have rejected online environments as impersonal and disconnected, even harmful. Whilst this commentary is about others, not my digital self, the thoughts, feelings, choices and engagement of the students that I have encountered inevitably has shaped the development of my digital self. Additionally, moving away from this reflexive stance is contra-intuitive to reflective practice (Schön 1983).

During the past few years I have used blending learning approaches to deliver programmes of study in social work education. In this sense, I draw on the definition of blending learning as systems that ‘combine face-to-face instruction with computer-mediated instruction’ (Bonk and Graham 2006: 5). As such, this suits the ‘digital me’ of the present as I get to have face-to-face contact and to  use the available technologies. Similarly both modes of engagement benefit in other areas of my academic life (for instance, networking and researching).  Thus I recognise that both interactional modes enable me to gain social capital within my particular field (Putnam 2000) and serve to enhance my ‘digital and professional footprint’ (Costa and Torres 2011: 47). Conversely, there are drawbacks, such as information and privacy management, which inescapably demand resources (for instance, time) (Alexander 2008).

The ‘digital me’ of the future then will be connected, digitally-fluent and virtual present without the underlying anxiety that I am digitally-inarticulate and, at a basic level, going to get it wrong. Having a somewhat competitive nature, I would never want to be seen to be at the polar opposite of cutting edge, thus I endeavour to adopt the attitude of MacDonald (2006: 1) who noted ‘distance technologies have opened up new potential in higher education, and the literature is full of enthusiastic predictions’ [V4]. In this vein, I will continue the trajectory to embedding some of the qualities of the ‘digital native’ into my practice (Prensky 2001). I write some as research on digital identity offers contrasting insight in terms of Prensky’s binary conception (digital native/digital immigrant) as, for example, Ransdell, Kent, Gaillard-Kenney & Long (2011) found notable differences across various birth-year cohorts in a study which identified high levels of social reliance, higher ability in terms of knowledge application, and more activity in the virtual learning space in older students (the digital immigrants). These are areas relevant to social work training. Despite conflicting research, I remain committed to developing the ‘digital me’ as my reflexive project for the future (Giddens 1992).


Alexander, B. (2008) Web 2.0 and Emergent Multiliteracies. Theory in Practice, 47(2), 150.

Bach, S., Haynes, P. & Smith, L.J. (2007) Online Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Bonk, D.J. & Graham, C.R. (2006) The Handbook of Blended Learning: Global Perspectives, Local Designs. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Costa, C & Torres, R. (2011) To be or not to be, the importance of Digital Identity in the Networked Society. Available from:

Giddens, A. (1992)The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Kearsley, G. (2002) Is Online Learning for Everybody? Educational Technology, 42(1): 41-44.

MacDonald, J.(2006) Blended Learning and Online Tutoring. Aldershot: Gower Publishing Ltd.

Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, MCB University Press, 9(5). Available from:,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Putnam, R.D. (1995) Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital. Journal of Democracy, 6 (1), 64-78.

Ransdell, S., Kent, B., Gaillard-Kenney S. & Long, J. (2011) Digital Immigrants fare better than Digital Natives due to Social Reliance. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42(6), 931-938.

Schön, D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think In Action. London: Basic Books.

The digital student: what they look like and the benefits and drawbacks for the student and academics

In Prensky’s (2001: 1) imaginative paper he claims that the students of today are ‘digital natives’ and many of us working in higher education (the academics) are ‘digital immigrants’. I recognise Prensky’s conceptualisation of the student/educator dichotomy within a digital age and see aspects of myself which align with his depiction of a ‘digital immigrant’. Yet, I don’t feel that I don’t sit firmly in either camp; perhaps I’m in a transformative, or oscillating, state somewhere between native and immigrant. I am, however, improving my engagement with digital technologies and social networking in order to encourage my students to do the same and be ‘digital students’. The benefits for distance learner student groups (similar to my student group who are spread geographically across the North West and North East) are evident and include: increased communication and information-sharing; increased sense of belonging and opportunities for peer support; alternative methods for learning (for example, through synchronous or asynchronous dialogue in a discussion forum). As a pedagogical method, digital technologies and virtual learning environments as great as long as students engage with the opportunities provided and seek to construct an online identity and presence.

Reflecting on the constitution and characteristics of the student group which I work with, this is where I digress from my adherence to Prensky’s binary conception. The discipline of social work attracts a diverse student population with as many mature learners for all those who fit neatly into Prensky’s notion of the ‘digital native’ (that is, the younger population; those who grew up gaming, using mobile devices or virtual space). In one sense, the digital student social worker, I would argue, reflects learners in other disciplines. Yet, there are also perhaps a modest, but significant, number who are resistant and disengaged; their interest is not captured by virtual learning environments. Furthermore, more established social network sites, like Facebook, can be seen by these resistant learners as having an offensive existence; serving to facilitate online bullying and worse.

Notwithstanding, a good proportion of our students are ‘digital natives’ to some degree. This is acknowledged and facilitated by the Department of Education funded programme on which I teach. In recognition of the value of the ‘digital student’ we even provided our latest students with a tablet. Thus, many of these students work from trains, homes and other environments; the group is spread far and wide. The group is able to engage in teaching and learning in ways that are asynchronous, diverse and flexible in temporal terms and in connection to place and space.

Demonstrating ethical dilemmas erupting in the meeting of social work education and the virtual world, this group has encountered tensions where, at times, sharing and support has turned to an exercise in anxiety-raising and resulted in a negative commentary about the programme. Despite reminders about the nature of our discipline, where individual conduct must be undertaken in public space being mindful of unambiguous professional codes (HCPC 2012), students engaged in a virtual dialogue which could have had serious repercussions. Thus, whilst encouraging learners to be ‘digital students’ we should also build in reminders of ‘virtual boundaries’ (Kimball and Kim 2013).


Kimball, E and Kim, J. (2013) Virtual Boundaries: Ethical Considerations for Use of Social Media in Social Work, Social Work, 58 (2) 185-188.

Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, MCB University Press, 9(5). Available from:

Reflections on peer observation (post 5 of 5)

Social work education is multidimensional in nature as educators are tasked with teaching a blend of theory, skills and ethics using multiple learning modes to enhance the student experience and encourage students to apply theory to practice. I was keen to observe my colleague, Donna Peach’s session on ‘Communicating with Children’ for a number of reasons. We both teach ‘Children and Families Social Work’ and we share similar theoretical interests and approaches. I have not previously taught a session on ‘Communicating with Children’ and I was keen to see how Donna had designed the session to incorporate theory and skill; this could inform my own teaching in future modules [A5].


Modelling good practice in direct work with children, Donna sat on the floor and encouraged the students to sit with her. In doing so, Donna also embodied the principles of active partnership and sharing in the learning process (Freire 1993 [1970]) as Donna facilitated an interactive discussion about communication with children by using prompts (Donna had brought a sponge scourer to symbolize a concept of specific emotions – ‘warm fuzzies’ and ‘cold pricklies’ –  and students brought their own items which represented children or their own childhoods) [K4]. Goodyear (2002) suggests that ‘good learning’ must be ‘active learning’ as the learner must make a number of cognitive operations on new information in order to make it personally meaningful. However, not all students participated in the activity and discussion; although most students present sat with Donna on the floor.


Considering why some students actively did not participate, my first analysis drew upon the concept of ‘learning styles’; where a learning style is a ‘set of behaviors (sic) and attitudes related to the learning context’ (Brown 1998). Yet, the behaviour of a minority were incongruent with the majority who positioned themselves within the main learning group. Thus, it is problematic to rely solely on the concept of ‘learning styles’ to account for this difference as there is not necessarily a relationship between learning styles, the teaching style or learner’s performance on the day. Markham (2004) argues that we must consider the learner as a psychological whole.


Reflecting further I considered the use of ‘place’ and ‘space’ as critical in creating a positive learning environment. Despite tables and chairs being pushed back against walls, the room for teaching was too small and felt cramped. Reflecting more general social and cultural advances, contemporary discourse and literature on teaching and learning is more concerned with virtual space as the ‘virtual learning environment’. Clearly, the importance of both is relevant for university teaching.


In conclusion, observing this session was insightful as it provided an opportunity to reflect on ‘what works’ in teaching methods in social work education. Whilst there is a literature base for my subject area, research suggests that there is a need for a new social work pedagogy more firmly grounded on empirical evidence (Orme et al. 2009; Williams et al. 2013). Notwithstanding, what I take forward from my observation is that it is important to consider the learning environment as a physical place as well as a space to encourage intellectual engagement. I anticipate that using this notion in the planning process will help to encourage more creativity and innovation in my future teaching as I will seek out stimulating spaces in which to deliver social work teaching.




Freire, P. (1993 [1970]) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin.


Goodyear, P. (2002) ‘Psychological foundations for networked learning’ in C. Jones (ed) Networked Learning: Perspectives and Issues. London: Blackstone.


Orme, J., MacIntyre, G., Lister, P.G., Cavanagh, K., Crisp, B., Hussein, S., Manthrpe, J., Moriarty, J., Sharpe, E. & Steven, M. (2009) ‘What a Difference a Degree Makes: the Evaluation of the New Social Work Degree in England’, British Journal of Social Work, 39, pp.161-178


Markham, S. (2004) Learning Styles Measurement: A Cause for Concern Computing Education Research Group, Technical Report, pp. 1-20 (online). Available at:

(Accessed 30 April 2014).


Williams, B., Brown, T & Etherington, J. (2013) ‘Learning Style Preferences of Undergraduate Social Work Students’. Social Work Education, 32 (8) 972-990.

Reflections on mentor observation (post 4 of 5)

Reflections on mentor observation (post 4 of 5)


Engaging students in interactive learning within a small group underpins the design and delivery of my teaching wherever possible. There are  a number of advantages of this approach including ‘the development of metacognitive awareness, in which students learn what they know and do not know, as a result of having to explain their thinking and knowledge to a group’ (Burgess and Young 2005: 70).  My mentor, Mike Murphy, observed me facilitating a small group activity and discussion about the effects of parental substance misuse on children [A1; A2; K3]. As Mike has specialist knowledge on this subject, I was slightly nervous despite feeling fairly comfortable with my facilitation skills. Mike’s written feedback was very positive but described the introduction as ‘Michaela introduced the exercise reasonably well’. The word ‘reasonably’ to me indicates that I could have done this better.


The importance of students understanding the demands of a task are important as ‘this can help students understand their importance and how they can benefit from active participation’ (Burgess and Young 2005: 71). It is at the start of the group activity that the intended learning outcomes can be made clear so that students understand the value of learning in relation to both content and process. Whilst I feel that I achieved this in my briefing to the students, I could have elaborated and have provided further context in relation to the specific case study and social work practice in general. One of the qualities that is essential in social work is empathy and one aim of the task was to invoke empathy for a child with substance misusing parents. However, it is noted that there is some debate about whether empathy can be ‘measured, nurtured or taught’ in social work education (Grant 2014).


Whilst I consider small learning groups to be an effective mode of learning, I must also consider that not all students expect teaching to be delivered in this way and there are some students who expect to attend lectures and become part of a passive audience (Biggs and Tang 2007). As I see teaching and learning as activities and processes which take place within a constructivist paradigm, then I can see how motivation can negatively and positively impact on the process of constructing knowledge within the setting of a small group. Further, Biggs and Tang argue that ‘motivation is a product of good teaching as much as it is a prerequisite’ (2005: 21).


Biggs and Tang (2007: 21) point out that ‘effective teaching changes the way that we see the world’. This was apparent during the observed session as some students had strong emotional responses to the content and process of the activity (students were required to write a fictitious diary of a child of a substance misusing parent). Mike stated ‘… Michaela dealt well with the distress of some group members’. However, I did not anticipate emotional responses in this way.


This is a point of learning for me because as I teach social work with children and families, sometimes material (whether written, verbal or pictorial) is upsetting or evokes strong reactions [V1]. However, social workers need to be resilient and often are required to act as containers for other people’s emotions. Indeed, there are pedagogic implications to my role as I am tasked with assessing and developing ‘the moral character’ of social work students (Holstrom 2014) and such responses can be indicative of a person’s inner working model. Therefore, as I make the transition from being a social work educator based in the classroom and not in practice, reflecting on this task has enabled me to identify an aspect of my teaching that I have not considered before. In future teaching, which incorporates quite challenging material, I will endeavour to consider the student’s emotional responses and see this as part of my pedagogic role in an iterative process which assesses and develops professional suitability (character, values, resilience, emotional intelligences) as well as skills and knowledge (Gibbs & Blakely 2000).




Biggs, J and Tang, C. (2007) Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Maidenhead: Open University Press.


Burgess, H. and Young, P. (2005) ‘Promoting Interactive Learning and Teaching’ in H. Burgess and I. Taylor (Eds) (2005) Effective Learning and Teaching in Social Policy and Social Work. Abingdon: Routledge Falmer.


Gibbs, P. and Blakely, E. H. (2000) Gatekeeping in BSW programs. New York: Columbia University Press.


Grant, L. (2014) ‘Hearts and Minds: Aspects of Empathy and Wellbeing in Social Work Students’. Social Work Education, 33(3) 338-352.

Holstrom, C. (2014) ‘Suitability for Professional Practice: Assessing and Developing Moral Character in Social Work Education’, Social Work Education, 33(4), pp.451-468.

Reflections on learning through play and intervention (post 3 of 5)

Teaching ‘intersectionality’ and the importance of ‘reflexivity’ is a complex task as students tend to think about difference and diversity in linear, or modular, ways. For example, when describing social characteristics, students may list (“I am white, working class, young…”) and not automatically make statements that synthesise and show interdependency (“my whiteness as an ethnic position is influenced by my upbringing in a working class community where ethnicity meant being black…and this influences how I practice because…”).

For students who ascribe to dominant categories (White British, heterosexual and so on) it is harder to appreciate the importance of the concept of intersectionality as their everyday lived experience is not necessarily impacted by aspects of their social identity or presenting self. For other students who experience difference, marginalization or Othering, intersectionality and the importance of reflexivity are concepts that are easier to assimilate and apply to lived experience. I wanted all students to understand intersectionality and reflexivity as intrinsic to their development as critical and anti-oppressive practitioners. I chose a can of soup (representing a person) to illustrate how ingredients (ethnicity, gender, age, ability, personal experience) synthesise to produce a dynamic product which is still responsive to new ingredients (new experience, changes to social location) and in a constant state of development [A1; A2; A4].

Whether or not students found a can of soup to be an appropriate choice to symbolise a complex concept was moot as, either way, the introduction of the can of soup created a discussion which met the intended learning outcome (ILO) of engaging students in a critical discussion of the concept of intersectionality (none of the students were familiar with the term) [A2; A4]. In this sense, the design of the session was congruent with Biggs and Tang’s (2007, p.7) concept of ‘constructive alignment’ (as a form of outcomes-based teaching and learning (OBTL)) as the learning activity met the ILOs. The focus here was that the students constructed meaning within the course of their discussion. This approach to teaching and learning appeals to me as I take a constructivist approach in my research activity, however, I am cognisant of the critique that goes with constructivism in that learning and sense-making becomes subjective and open to interpretation. In addition, Jervis & Jervis (2005) claim that constructive alignment undermines the mastery of disciplinary knowledge and independent thought. Notwithstanding, constructive alignment has been shown in research to facilitate deeper learning approaches (as opposed to surface approaches) (Larkin & Richardson, 2013; Wang, Su, Cheung, Wong & Kwong & 2013) [V3]. In addition, the emphasis of the process through which students’ learn, in relation to the potential for reflection and the extrapolation of learning to future scenarios in constructive alignment, is harmonious with the ubiquitous focus on reflective practice within social work education and discourse (HCPC, 2012; Thompson & Thompson, 2008).

Incorporating the principles of constructive alignment demands some form of evaluation of the students’ learning (Biggs and Tang, 2007). At the end of the session, to check the extent of learning I asked each small group of students to revisit the reasons why and summarise why a can of soup could represent intersectionality and then feedback to the whole group [K5]. What I found was that the learning activity had been effective and student met the ILOs [A4; K4]. I had never used objects to support my teaching. What I learnt was that everyday objects can be used effectively to symbolize and to stimulate discussion. I plan to use more creative modes in future; for example, I am tasked with planning a session on ‘child sexual exploitation’ and I intend to ask students to bring along everyday objects with symbolize the sexualisation of children. Thus, participating in this activity has meant that I have added another teaching strategy to my ‘lecturer’s toolkit’ (Race, 2006) [K2; K4].


Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2007) Teaching and Quality Learning at University (3rd edn). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Health and Care Professions Council (2012) Standards of Proficiency. Available from: (accessed 20/03/2014).

Jervis, L.M. & Jervis, L. (2005) ‘What is the constructivism in constructive alignment?’ Bioscience Education. Available from: (accessed 20/03/2014).

Larkin, H. & Richardson, B. (2013) ‘Creating high challenge/high support academic environments through constructive alignment: student outcomes’. Teaching in Higher Education, 18(2), p.192-204.

Race, P. (2006) The Lecturer’s Toolkit (3rd edn). London: Routledge.

Thompson, S. & Thompson, N. (2008) The Critically Reflective Practitioner. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wang, X., Su, Y., Cheung, S., Wong, E. & Kwong, T. (2013) ‘An exploration of Biggs’ constructive alignment in course design and its impact on students’ learning approaches’. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 38(4), p.477-491.

Reflections on tutor observation (post 2 of 5)

Planning a session with the intended outcome to prepare students for the start of their professional placement meant that I needed to convey a range of practical information, to equip students with a range of strategies and to engage students in a reflective discussion recapping on their learning thus far [A1; A2]. The first half of the session was successful and engaged students in a ‘deeper’ (as opposed to ‘surface’) level of activity (Ramsden, 2003). The first activity required students to work in small groups to unpick a quote about the nature of social work. This was effective and met the intended outcome as students got involved in a critical discussion [K2]. Evaluating this activity, I feel that it worked well as the quote was contentious and represented a narrow view of social work as a vocational job, not as a profession. The next group-work activity was also successful and required students to work in groups to write one sentence to define the various roles of people who would constitute each student’s placement team (that is, the ‘practice educator’, ‘the practice tutor’, ‘onsite supervisor’, ‘personal tutor’ and ‘mentor’). The value of the task to the students was that it provided clarity about key people who would be involved in their impending placement. All students demonstrated their ‘extrinsic motivation’ through their full participation and the outcome of the task helped students to have a greater sense of understanding in relation to roles and responsibilities (Biggs & Tang, 2007, p.35). Both activities contributed to creating an effective learning environment as small groups were fully engaged in experiential learning activities [A2; A4; K2; K3].


In a discussion with my observing tutor, I was able to explore what worked less well, which was the next part of the session. Following the small group activities, two PowerPoint slides were used to convey some practical information. Despite my verbal account of this practical information, there was much discussion with students where the same questions arose albeit they were phrased in different ways. Reflecting on this I was able to identify how the level of anxiety exhibited by students (anxiety mixed with excitement at the prospect of their first professional placement) had impacted on their capacity as learners on that day and the previous session (where some of this information had been provided). This anxiety had been building and demonstrated by the student group in the preceding weeks.


Reflecting on this activity enabled me to consider how affective states impact upon learning and can impede intellectual capacity (Pedrosa-de-Jesus & Watts, 2014).  Mortiboys (2002, p.7) proposed that ‘recognition and management of emotions are not seen as the business or even the concern of the higher education profession’. Conversely, in social work education it is the ability to demonstrate emotional intelligence and high levels of critical thinking and reflexivity in practice that educators look for in the assessment of students (Burgess and Taylor, 2005; HCPC, 2012; TCSW, 2012) [V4]. Therefore, on reflection, it may have been more prudent to have provided students with the environment to have explored and managed some of these anxieties in a safe space with me facilitating discussion and offering some solutions or strategies to manage anxiety.


Evidently, within this session I started out as a ‘facilitator’ of learning but then adapted my style to that of an ‘instructor’ (Schön 1983).  On reflection, this is not the usual approach that I take; I see myself as a ‘facilitator’ of learning rather than a pedagogue whose aim is to fill ‘empty vessels’. The role of a facilitator is far more effective with social work students as it enables an approach which values the wealth of experience and knowledge that students bring to their academic work and to their practice [V1]. As one of the key purposes of the first professional placement is to encourage students to develop as critical and reflective thinkers, I could have continued the session in the way that I had began by designing further small group-work centred on ‘deeper’ level activities. The practical information needed to be communicated but there are other modes for doing so; in future I will record a lecture and use the virtual learning environment of Blackboard to site this pre-recorded lecture so that students can access this information as and when they require.


Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2007) Teaching and Quality Learning at University (3rd edn). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Burgess, H. and Taylor, I. (Eds) (2005) Effective Learning and Teaching in Social Policy and Social Work. Abingdon: Routledge Falmer.

Health and Care Professions Council (2012) Standards of Proficiency. Available from:

Mortiboys, A. (2002) The Emotionally Intelligent Lecturer. London: Staff Education and Development Association.

Ramsden, P. (2003) Learning to Teach in Higher Education (2nd edn). Abingdon: Routledge Falmer.

Pedrosa-de-Jesus, H. & Watts, M. (2014) ‘Managing Affect in Learners’ Questions in Undergraduate Science’. Studies in Higher Education, 39(1), p.102-116.

Schön, D. (1987) Educating the Reflective Practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

The College of Social Work (2012) Professional Capabilities Framework. London: TCSW.