Social work competency is a complex concept that comprises theoretical knowledge and practical skills obtained during the learning process and continuous practice. According to Weerman and Abma (2018), “experiential knowledge of professional social workers can be integrated with social work curricula and offer a valuable contribution to the mission of social work” (p. 15). That is why HWC courses are built utilizing a hybrid model of learning that consists of two main scopes – authentic in-class learning, and student-oriented out-of-class experience. The learning process that is based on this principle provides a dynamic experience that can be applied to real-world practice.
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A combination of in-class discussions and out-of-class activities allows students to involve in real-life social work and analyze it from an academic perspective. Fox (2016) emphasizes the value of learning source variety that facilitates “academic knowledge, practice, and experiential wisdom” (p. 960). The main benefit of this learning strategy is that it is closely related to reality, which is vital for such a practical field as social work. The dynamic experience of active engagement in real-life social activities that consist of in-class and outside class assignments aids the growth of critical thinking ability, critical awareness, and skill development.
Reflection on Instructor-Directed Activity: Role-play Special Interest Group
Special interest groups (SIGs) are an essential part of communities that represent publicly significant positions and ideas. Such groups often consist of social workers, volunteers, and activists that use their channels of influence to promote policymaking procedures. Understanding the ways how these groups develop and lobby their initiatives is vital for future social workers. As the classes are designed to match real-life activities, the role-play of a particular interest group is an efficient method to learn about the implementation of the knowledge in practice. Role-play consists of presentation and justification of the SIG’s position, policy development, and discussion of lobbying strategies. Moreover, this task gives an idea of communication and work in a team necessary to achieve common goals.
The experience of participation in this task gave me an understanding of the powers behind the policymaking process. Special interest groups rarely have an extensive political influence to promote their ideas, and their impact on choices of policies and outcomes is often limited. That is why the main instrument on which they rely is informative lobbying, which means advertising their position to convince political representatives to support it. Role-play activity in class helped to model the situation where the social workers have to develop a conception and advertise it. Such experience enhances policy-development skills and communication competencies, as well as an understanding of stakeholder roles.
Analysis Out-of-Class Learning Activity: Visit NYC Tenement Museum
Cases from history provide a basis for learning how societies develop and function and what forces are behind these processes. Thus, the analysis of major historical milestones of the community where a social worker’s practice is necessary for the understanding of its background. Due to New York’s location by the sea, it has always attracted immigrants from other countries who came to the city and settled there.
These people had many descendants who live in the state or the country, so immigration history is also their history. Immigration itself is a complex social phenomenon that explains the processes of adaptation and acculturation of people from different nationalities. NYC Tenement Museum tells a story of immigration into the USA exhibiting the cultural heritage of refugees from different countries, so visiting such a place is an effective way to learn about this process through visual experience.
The museum is located in a building that previously served as a tenement house for newcomers to the city. People from different countries lived there in poverty tightly housed in small apartments. They were a vulnerable social group that needed protection, but the museum emphasizes a different side of their life. The mission of the Tenement Museum is to celebrate personal stories and the variety of immigrant cultures and “depict narratives of individual resilience, pride, and aspiration” (Bartram, 2017, p. 22). This approach is essential for social work as it helps to look at the communities from the strength perspective.
This approach lies in viewing social groups from the position of strength, highlighting the sources of their power, instead of working with weaknesses. Instead of focusing on extreme poverty and misery, the exhibition tells the story of the contribution that each arriving culture brought to America. After visiting this place, one can see that the way people in the USA, and especially in New York, live today is influenced by each culture that was brought by immigrants.
Experiential Analysis and Synthesis of Engagement in Social Action
Reflecting on the two courses on Social Welfare (HWC 509 and HWC 510), I conclude that they gave me significant experiential and theoretical knowledge. The course HWC 509 enhanced my understanding of the concept of social justice in which each individual feels respected and protected. Interestingly, knowledge of this phenomenon came from the analysis of the cases that refer to the violation of justice. The theoretical learning and practical tasks helped me to discover how to identify various forms of social injustice, develop policies to tackle them, and support the marginalized populations. To be able to recognize such social relationships, the student must learn about political economy and powers of influence.
During this course, I also understood that oppression is not a mere prejudice but an act of intentional violation of human rights. As Sensoy and DiAngelo (2017) claim, “oppression occurs when one group’s prejudice is backed by legal authority and historical, social and institutional power” (p. 84). In-class analysis of policies and policymaking process has contributed to the development of critical thinking. Moreover, the role-play assignments were useful in training to work under the circumstances of the real world.
The course highlighted the importance of ethics and values of social work essential when working with unprivileged populations. I understand now that it is necessary to have solid professional principles to be able to oppose human oppression and fight for the rights of vulnerable social groups. Additionally, I have developed practical skills that help me to empower and support people through respect and strength perspective. The most distinctive feature of the course is that it teaches not only what should be done in different cases, but also how the right decisions can be implemented in practice and what barriers social workers may face.
The course HWC 510, which is based on the previous program, implies further development of policy critique and practical skills development aimed at tackling social injustice. During the course, I learned how to do an in-depth analysis and synthesis of policies. It helped me to understand why policymaking is so complicated, what stakeholders it involves, and what their functions are. During this course, I learned what inevident aspects should be taken into account and what dilemmas occur during the development of policies. Moreover, the practical tasks taught me how to challenge those dilemmas and barriers to make the decisions that benefit society.
The course was rich with experiential learning tasks that helped to develop an understanding of social determinants of health. This knowledge is necessary to analyze connections between different social phenomena and health outcomes, as it helps to identify risk groups and develop prevention policies. I will use these skills in my future practice to work with marginalized populations and to educate them about the potential risks. Although social workers generally help people from unprivileged social groups, I learned how to look at them from the strength perspective, as each community makes its unique contribution to the country’s culture.
The most distinctive feature of both courses is the specific learning model that consists of two aspects – in-class discussions and engagement in out-of-class social activity. The latter approach emphasizes experiential learning and the acquisition of practical skills through the fulfillment of practical assignments. As Woo, Evans, Wang, and Pitt-Catsouphes (2019) argue, this model is often more effective, as it meets “the educational goals and objectives better than traditional face-to-face structures” (p. 3). The experience of completing practical tasks taught me how to communicate within the working environment through direct engagement, personal experience, and role-play.
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The discussed courses on social welfare provided students with useful experience of engaging in analytical discussions and real-life social activities. Through the analysis of policies and dilemmas that occur around them, I have developed an understanding of the policymaking process and its challenges. Different practical assignments such as role-play of a SIG helped to learn about the political economy and to discover powers of influence behind the implementation of social policies.
Such out-of-class tasks as visiting of NYC Tenement Museum taught about the role of history in the learning process. The key benefits of completing such tasks are the development of practical skills, critical thinking ability, and the competence to work independently.
Bartram, R. (2017). Housing historic role models and the American dream: Domestic rhetoric and institutional decision-making at the Tenement Museum. Qualitative Sociology, 40(1), 1-22. Web.
Fox, J. (2016). Being a service user and a social work academic: Balancing expert identities. Social Work Education, 35(8), 960–969. Web.
Sensoy, O. D & DiAngelo, R. (2017). Is everyone really equal?: An introduction to key concepts in social justice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Weerman, A., & Abma, T. (2018). Social work students learning to use their experiential knowledge of recovery: An existential and emancipatory perspective. Social Work Education, 38(4), 453-469. Web.
Woo, B., Evans, K., Wang, K., & Pitt-Catsouphes, M. (2019). Online and hybrid education in a social work Ph.D. program. Journal of Social Work Education, 1–15. Web.