By Amy Werman

August 5, 2015

hybrid_learning_amy_wermanFor the almost 14 years that I have been teaching social work courses, my mission has been to provide a relevant, meaningful and interesting experience for my students. Guided by the principle “Understanding comes from doing,” my objective has been to bring highly theoretical material into the realm of the practical.

In recent years, innovative pedagogies that involve new technology have enhanced my ability to put this principle into practice. For example, using Skype, I was able to connect my students in my Program Evaluation class with Amal Elsana Alh’jooj, a Bedouin social worker, who addressed us from the living room of her home in the Negev desert (Israel). She told us about program she founded to help impoverished single mothers start up a catering business providing hot school lunches for Arab children, which has received international acclaim for its impact. After our conversation with this extraordinary woman, I asked my students to identify the program’s many outcomes, an important exercise in program evaluation.

Also using Skype, my students were able to connect with Gina Perry, an Australian psychologist and writer whose life work has been studying the ethics of Milgram’s experiments on obedience. She talked to them about the political, social and ethical dimensions of Milgram’s research, which she had written up in her book, Behind the Shock Machine. Dialoguing with Perry, my students were able to learn about the challenges and boundaries of conducting ethical research.

Besides making use of guest speakers from the international community, I have also used technology to restructure my course. In Fall 2014, I flipped my classroom after learning about the merits of this type of instruction. Rather than using class time to impart theoretical information, which typically leads to low student engagement (and wakefulness!), I asked my students to view narrated PowerPoint presentations outside of class and at their own convenience. This freed up time in class to do exercises in applying the background knowledge they had gained. In essence, the classroom became a laboratory in which my students were free to experiment, make mistakes, and process what they were learning in real time.

What’s in store for the upcoming (Fall 2015) semester? With the help of a grant from the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL), I hope to step up my game and will be piloting the “View One, Create One, Teach One” model in my Program Evaluation (T6416) course.

“Program Evaluation” in a Social Service Context

It is a crucial skill for social workers to understand how to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of social service programs. It is also an ethical mandate: such programs must be held accountable to the client, community, and other social systems they serve.

The Columbia School of Social Work aims to give students the tools they will need to carry out program evaluations in a rigorous, unbiased fashion. Our students must become adept at identifying political, organizational, regulatory, and other contextual factors that can affect program evaluations, both the outcomes and how the findings are interpreted.

By the end of the semester, a student should know how to understand both the rationale for and the components of a social service program and be able to assess if that program is (1) needed, (2) implemented as planned, and (3) achieving its outcomes. The course also emphasizes the need to include various stakeholders in the process—from not only the agency itself but also its client constituencies.

Traditional Teaching Methods

Typically when teaching program evaluation, social work professors instruct their students to find a real-world social services program to evaluate during the semester.

I have tried this format many times—and each time the results were quite dismal.

The problem was, students had a difficult and stressful time locating a program to evaluate. Many turned to the obvious choices—their field placement and CSSW—but these sites had already been “evaluated” by previous CSSW students. And even when they managed to find new programs to evaluate, students often struggled to get the buy-in of the agency. They ended up formulating evaluation questions based on available data of the agency rather than on questions in need of answers. Furthermore, in cases where students tried to collect new data, they would find themselves scrambling to locate available and willing study participants. In most cases, their final sample was too small to allow for a meaningful analysis. As a result, the main assignment for the semester had little intellectual or experiential payoff.

The “View One, Create One, Teach One” Model

In my new conception of the Program Evaluation course, students will have the opportunity to engage in an authentic, intensive experiential learning opportunity. Rather than having them chase an evaluation, key personnel from a social service program requesting an evaluation will partner with our class.

This collaboration will occur by having social service staff attend our classes in person or, when necessary, through video-conferencing.

The steps of the model are as follows:

  1. VIEW ONE: Students learn the required material at home (flipped classroom), using Camtasia Studio tools (these produce interactive presentations).
  2. CREATE ONE: Next, they take the knowledge they have gained outside the classroom to “create” an evaluation by collaborating with agency staff inside the classroom.
  3. TEACH ONE: Finally, in a “double flip,” students use Camtasia to create their own innovative presentations for teaching agency staff how to implement the evaluation.

* * *

Technology, when used creatively, can help teachers develop an alternative to what Paulo Freire called the “banking system” of pedagogy, which holds that students are in essence empty bank accounts that should remain open to deposits made by the teacher. Technology enables a mutual approach to education—more horizontal than vertical—in which all members of the classroom community are collaborative learners and instructors. Students gain the opportunity to take greater ownership of the course.

My hope is that the course design for which I have received funding will advance a livelier, more productive pedagogy while also producing social workers that are fluent in conducting program evaluations, one of the most important skills in our profession.

Amy Werman has been an adjunct associate professor at the Columbia School of Social Work since 2009 and was recently promoted to the position of full-time lecturer. With an M.S.S.W from the Columbia School of Social Work and a D.S.W. from Adelphi University School of Social Work, she has worked with adolescents, adults and couples with mood and anxiety issues, life cycle challenges and relationship problems. She has also done research in the areas of bipolar disorder and the effectiveness of wilderness therapy. She is also a program evaluation consultant for social service agencies in New York and Israel. Professor Werman is often spotted at CSSW with her therapy dog, Gussie, a pug, in tow.

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