"Like Placement in the Classroom": Evaluating Problem-Based Learning in Contemporary Social Work Evaluation

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Problem-based learning is increasingly used in social work education as a pedagogical method, which responds to the requirements of rapidly changing workplaces and the consequent demands for dynamic thinking required of our students and graduates (Burgess and Young, 2005; Lam, 2009). It emphasises a self-directed approach to problem-solving a simulated 'real world' problem. It fits well with social work, a profession whose policy and legal orientation can shift rapidly and where students need to develop an ability to update their knowledge base and not simply rely on static, acquired knowledge (Engel, 1999). However, in a climate where students face increasing and competing demands on their time, such teaching approaches can be challenging to implement.
This presentation will re-visit problem-based learning, drawing on an evaluation of its use with final year MSc Social Work students. Focus Groups and Questionnaires were used to explore the perceptions of these students about the value of the approach. Students valued the self-directed approach to study and emphasised that it helped to bridge a perceived divide between theory and practice. They appreciated the emphasis on their strengths, such as pre-existing experience and knowledge, whilst encouraging them to identify and quickly address areas for development with a view to enhancing their ability to address the problems from a case study.
Echoing earlier studies, the students voiced mixed views about group learning aspects (Lam, 2009), suggesting that more work is required on group-work and conflict-resolution skills. Students also said that the approach was highly dependent upon skilled scaffolding by the teaching team (Hmelo-Silver et al, 2007) and did not want problem-based learning to offered as an alternative to the lecture. Most strikingly, given that the approach aims to de-clutter the curriculum (Burgess and Young, 2005), students in this study reported that the approach actually added to their workloads and experience of pressure. This finding comes in the context of concurrent placement and university work, where placement work appears to have become more demanding and privileged over academic work. Additionally, in a context where high numbers of students with child care or other caring responsibilities or needing to work due to debt or precarious social circumstances (Mulrenan et al, 2018), they reported finding it increasingly difficult to carve out the time to do this self-directed work. These themes will be discussed in relation to students' contemporary experience of social work education.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 3 Sept 2018
EventJSWEC Conference 2018: Grand Challenges for Social Work - Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury, United Kingdom
Duration: 3 Sept 20184 Sept 2018


ConferenceJSWEC Conference 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

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