Citation of the Article
de Boer, C., Loucks Campbell, S., and Hovey, A. (2011). When you come to a fork in the road, take it: Teaching social work practice using blended learning, Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, (37)3, 1-17.
Summary of the Article
This article provides a description of one School of Social Work’s experience with deciding on a blended learning format for course delivery in their part-time BSW program, followed by a review of designing blended learning course delivery for three of their practice-based courses. The three courses that are reviewed in the article are an interviewing skills course, a social work theories course, and an integration seminar. This School implemented a new part-time BSW program and they anticipated attracting students who were already working, and who would require/benefit from flexible course delivery modes. With the assistance of an active course design support service on campus, and after a review of the literature about offering courses online versus face to face, the School decided to offer the entire program in a blended learning format.
This article takes the form of a collective case study where “one issue or concern is again selected, but the inquirer uses multiple case studies to illustrate the issue” (Creswell, 2007, p. 74). The issue in this instance is how to best offer practice-based social work courses to off-campus students in a blended format. The authors argue positive results overall in the delivery of these courses through blended methods, although with differing levels of success, and provide a useful chart comparing the three courses on the following aspects:
- Type of course
- Course objective
- Design foci
- Online components
- Face-to-face components
- Ratio of face-to-face to online components
- Design triumphs
- Implications for improvement
Despite the differences in course objectives, learning goals, teaching styles, and design elements, the three authors found they had some common experiences, and offer a useful metaphor for the reader, that of being a traveller in a foreign country. While some of what was offered in the traditional in-class course could not be replicated in a blended format, it could be “translated”. Further, they suggest that if they, as instructors, had “language” issues, it should be recognized that students might also (although they propose that this situation will diminish over time as all students become more comfortable using technology), and that appropriate support and instruction around the more technological aspects of the course delivery needed to be provided.
On the whole, the authors conclude that their experiences with offering these blended learning courses validate the School’s decision to design and offer their part-time BSW program from a blended learning platform.
Reflections: Strengths and Weaknesses, and Take-Aways
I selected this article because it is directly aligned with my learning goals for this course, that is, completing a course redesign of a practice based social work course at either the graduate or undergraduate level. I was hoping to benefit from the experiences of others engaged in the redesign of similar types of courses.
The authors, through their review of the literature, capture very well the tension that is felt by social work educators regarding teaching the art and science of social work practice, including interviewing skills, and the integration of theory and practice. I was excited to read about the direct, recent and relevant experiences of the authors.
The article has several strengths, including its accessibility in terms of straightforward language and organizational structure. The first part of the article provides a good overview of the issues facing the course designers, together with a comprehensive literature review. The second part of the article is broken into three sections, each devoted to one of the three courses reviewed. The organization of these sections was consistent: course title and description; developmental process and challenges; and implications for blended learning design. The inclusion of a comparison chart was particularly useful in assessing strengths and weaknesses of the various methods used for each course design.
One element that I found troubling was the lack of information regarding evaluation of the course redesigns. While the authors discuss challenges and areas that need to be developed, it is not clear that any formal evaluation of the courses was carried out with respect to effectiveness of delivery method, students meeting learning goals, or other metrics that could have been used. For example, the Quality Online Course Initiative Rubric (QOCI) (Illinois Online Network, 1998-2006) is available online through open access, and is an assessment tool that could perhaps be adapted for use in courses offered in a blended format. It assesses online courses on the following criteria: 1) instructional design; 2) communication, interaction and collaboration; 3) student evaluation and assessment; learner support and resources; 5) web design; and 6) course evaluation.
With respect to key elements of this article that will impact how I proceed with my course redesign project, I would note the following:
Course redesign has to be more than simply replicating traditional teaching within an online environment. As de Boer, Loucks Campbell, & Hovey (2011) note, “the benefits of blended learning are contingent on good design” (p. 4). I hope that knowledge gained from previous courses (i.e., Digital Inquiry, and eLearning in Canada) will also prove useful here.
The article underscores for me the importance of the perception of social work faculty that social work practice is more effectively taught in a face-to-face environment. This perception will need to be respected and taken into account in any redesign project. As the authors note: “Concerns about faceless teaching (Berge, 1998; Kim, 2005), and student isolation (Herie, 2005) are particularly alarming for social work educators, who seek to prepare students for a skills-based, interactive, and interpersonal profession but are using a modality that has these same students sitting alone behind computer monitors” (de Boer, Loucks Campbell, & Hovey, 2011, p. 4).
Cresswell, J.W. (2007). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Illinois Online Network (n.d.). Quality Online Course Initiative (QOCI) Rubric, retrieved January 24, 2013, from http://www.ion.uillinois.edu/initiatives/qoci/rubric.asp