By Aaron Tooley, Ph.D.
About Dr. Jonathan B. Singer, Ph.D., LCSW: Dr. Singer is an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at Temple University. He earned his Ph.D. in Social Work from The University of Pittsburgh and his Master of Science in Social Work from The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Singer teaches both undergraduate and graduate social work courses. In addition, he is the founder and host of the Social Work Podcast, a valuable resource for social workers and other health professionals with information regarding direct practice social work (both clinical and community organizing), research, policy, and social work education.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] How has the Internet and social media impacted social work education?
[Dr. Singer] Social media, particularly Twitter, has provided an opportunity for social work educators to connect. I have established valued relationships with Ph.D. students, junior faculty, mid-career educators, and folks at the top of the social work field. The fact that Twitter is relatively new allows for two things: 1) A level playing field on which to get to know each other; we’re all coming to it with a beginner’s mind regardless of our tenure status :-). 2) There are relatively few social work educators on Twitter, so everyone can be a big fish in a small pond. Whereas Twitter’s “headline news” is a great format for discovering and making connections, Google Plus’s “long form” posting format has provided an opportunity for social work educators in the Social Work and Technology community to collaborate on research, publications, and presentations.
I have benefited from the combined wisdom of my educator colleagues across social media platforms when they post links to useful teaching tools (e.g. videos, articles, infographics, etc), or links to articles about teaching (both conceptual and practical). Whether it is through headline news, long form posts, or visual representations of information (e.g. infographics, videos, memes), social media has provided a new forum for scholars to share and discover scholarship. Interestingly, my colleagues seem to have very little interest in academic social networking sites like Academia.edu, or ResearchGate.com. This is somewhat surprising because they provide a “social network” where like-minded scholars can upload and share articles, ask questions, etc.
Despite the benefits I’ve received as an educator, my colleagues and I seem to use social media more as tool for finding teaching aids (e.g. YouTube videos, podcast episodes, infographics), than an alternative form of discourse or interaction. Social media has had a tentative entry into social work education. While many educators have used their university’s discussion boards and journals (e.g. Blackboard), I’m aware of only a couple of social work educators (e.g. @jimmyswand @laurelhitchcock) who have used social networking sites (e.g. Twitter) in their social work classes. It is possible this will change in the future, but many questions about the value of using public (and increasingly, for-profit) sites in academia remain unasked and unanswered.
Check out our interview with Dr. Laurel Hitchcock for more information on how she is currently using social media in social work education.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Which social media platforms are you currently using in your classes (Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook…) and how are you using those platforms?
[Dr. Singer] I am not using social networking sites in my classes. I haven’t figured out how I could use them effectively to enhance my students learning. For example, at the beginning of the semester I asked my undergrads for a show of hands if they had a Twitter account. Two of 27 students raised hands. If they are not already on the social networking site, it is hard to justify adding it to their workload since it is questionable how much it could add to their learning.
I use podcasts nearly every week. The audio recordings that are available from This American Life, Radiolab, All in the Mind, NPR, etc are fantastic ways to illustrate course content or bring a new perspective into the classroom. I use the episodes I produce for the Social Work Podcast to reinforce the content I want my students to learn. In the spirit of the “flipped” classroom, my podcast episodes can serve as that week’s lecture. When we come into class, we dive into skill building, discussion, or presentations. It is fabulous.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] What recommendations do you have for professors who are not currently using social media in their classes, but would like to get started?
- Figure out your learning objective (regardless of the tools you’ll use to facilitate student learning).
- Become familiar with different social media sites and their function. Nancy Smyth has a fabulous primer on Twitter, as does Jimmy Young .
- Twitter: Check out @jimmysw and @laurelhitchcock. Pinterest: The School Social Work Association of America has a nicely organized and extensive example of pins. Google Plus: The Social Work and Technology group is an easy way to get into Google+, and it is full of other social work educators who are interested in technology. I probably would not recommend using Facebook as an educational tool because of the Social Work Code of Ethics caution against establishing dual relationships. So many educators and students have personal profiles. Inevitably a classroom assignment will provide entry into either the student’s or the professor’s “Facebook” identity, and then by virtue of how social networks are set up, the student and professor have access to other students and professors that no one intended to include in the circle. The whole thing gets very messy very quickly.
- Once you’re clear on your learning objectives, understand the platform, decide which one would help your students best achieve their learning objective.
- Do a technology inventory with your students (could be as simple as a show of hands) to find out how familiar they are with the social network. Many faculty quickly realize that the millenials have been over-sold as technology natives.
- If the social media platform is appropriate and you can manage the tech hand-holding that it might take to get your students comfortable with completing an academic assignment on a social network, then assign it, evaluate it, and write up your findings for the Social Work and Technology community on Google+.
Thank you Dr. Singer for your time and insight into the role of social media in social work education. We definitely recommend following Dr. Singer on Twitter @socworkpodcast.