Sunday, December 29, 2013

Social Workers Needed to Deliver Tech-Focused CEUs

Approximately seven years ago the U.S. Bureau of Labor released a report indicating the Social Work profession was expected to grow by 25% by the year 2020. During this time many of us working in Social Work higher education saw consistent year-over-year increases in student applications for admission to BSW and MSW programs, resulting in healthy enrollment growth. In addition to increased student enrollment in older established programs, there was also an increase in the number of new Social Work programs. While the profession continues to grow, many new and mid-career Social Workers have expressed concern that training in contemporary issues and new treatment techniques rooted in technology use/abuse have not kept pace. I have written previously on this Blog and Twitter about the need to expose and formally train Social Work students about issues related to technology and new technology based practice modalities; nearly everyday I am astonished by the growing body of research related to the impact of technology on social functioning.  Although there is growing interest in the area of the influence of technology and social media on the Social Work profession, there continues to be a dearth of continuing education (CE) training opportunities related to these areas for licensed Social Workers.

The NASW Code of Ethics reminds us to practice in areas in which we are qualified; however, there are not adequate technology-focused CE programs, content in BSW/MSW programs, or post-degree certificate programs to adequately prepare social workers to practice in our ever-increasing technology infused culture. I have been a regular user of Twitter, Google+, Podcasts and other social media platforms for several years. There are now several technology communities of Social Workers using these media and I have found their posts educational, thought provoking, and even inspirational. Many of these tech-savvy Social Workers are employed by colleges/universities as faculty and administrators, a few are in direct practice. These Social Workers are scattered across the United States (and abroad) and share their knowledge through regular e-posts. 

I often find myself thinking how wonderful it would be to learn more about the information these trailblazing Social Workers share, and that I would be even willing to travel out-state to attend interesting CE trainings delivered by these amazing Social Workers. As we enter 2014, I would like to issue a personal challenge my fellow techie Social Workers to organize and create opportunities to share their knowledge with others through the development of quality, NASW approved CE workshops/conferences for Social Workers, by Social Workers. Given the quickly evolving world of technology and social media and its impact on mental health and social functioning, Social Workers are Needed to Deliver Tech-Focused CEUs! Let's get on-board!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Dream a Beautiful Dream...

It is hard to believe we are quickly approaching the end of yet another year. As we prepare ourselves to say goodbye to 2013, let us begin planning (YES, PLANNING) for what we would like 2014 to bring. Although I am a strong believer in destiny (I don't believe in coincidence), I also believe we must dream big dreams and pursue our passions. I am so very grateful to have experienced and achieved what I have in 2013. Much of what I experienced in 2013 was first conceived or envisioned in 2012. I have had an amazing life thus far and feel incredibly blessed. God has allowed me to dream big dreams and not to become paralyzed by fear. Whenever I am faced with fear or uncertainty, I trust that all will be fine and then do what I hold within my power to make it so. I give myself permission to dream and try new experiences that will challenge and help me to grow. My goals are almost always based on my dreams of what I would like to achieve or experience. My gift to those of you reading my blog is the gift of a dream. Do allow yourself to think about the possibilities of what if... and dream a beautiful dream for 2014. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

It's Time for a Digital Blackout

I knew I might be a candidate for a Digital Blackout a few weeks ago when while engaged in Sunday School at Church I found myself reaching for my cell phone rather than the physical Bible resting on the back of the church bench just in front of me. I actually felt more comfortable peeling back my purse zipper, gently reaching inside and discretely sliding my cell phone out and opening my Bible App.

I use my cell phone frequently for everyday simple tasks as well as solving complex problems. My cell is much more than a phone to me, it has come to feel like a natural extension of myself. When I reached for my cell instead of the physical Bible, I knew I might have a digital problem. As I opened the Bible App and very quickly arrived at the passage the Pastor referenced, I caught myself thinking how smart I was to have located the biblical verse within a few clicks. I stood waiting for my fellow parishioners to locate the verse, and listened to the pages of multiple Bibles rustling back and forth as some had minor challenges locating the content.

As a waited, I briefly contemplated if I had become too dependent on my technology. I wondered if church was an appropriate place to use a cell phone, even if I used it to access a Bible App, especially when I had so many physical Bibles available to me. Although I grew up in the church I no longer felt entirely comfortable navigating a physical Bible. Interestingly, a few weeks earlier I noticed a church leader using her cell phone to participate in the responsive reading. When I saw her using her cell phone rather than a traditional Bible I recall initially experiencing a judgment, yes a judgment... It just didn't feel "right" to me in that moment that a leader would be openly using her cell to read aloud a response to God's word. When I caught myself, I genuinely felt embarrassed. I know technology has facilitated our learning and engagement on multiple levels in a variety of settings.

Although I embrace technology for its user friendly, responsive, accessible use anywhere and anytime, I do believe I may be a bit too dependent. This coming Sunday I intend to unplug and engage in a 24 hour partial "Digital Blackout". During my 24 hour partial digital blackout I will abstain from mobile technology; I will not use my cell phone, iPad, or laptop. This brief detox from technology will be a big step for me given how much technology has become an integral part of my life. My cell phone has become my friend who entertains me whenever I am bored, find myself in an uneasy situation, or simply need to disengage. It is for these reasons and others that I must do a better job reconnecting with myself and those around me; therefore, without hesitation "it's time for a digital blackout"!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Life Is Good!

I love the fall season and everything it represents, including "back to school", establishing new friendships, renewing old relationships, complaining there is too much football on television and not enough romantic movies I can watch while outstretched on the couch on a chilly Saturday afternoon.

I love being able to wear in-between fashions when the weather is cool enough for boots, yet warm enough to comfortably wear regular sleeves. I love the fall season and promising myself this year I'll make it to an apple orchard and actually take an old fashioned hay ride (still not likely to happen, but I love dreaming about it and the possibilities). I love living in the moment and being grateful for all I have been blessed with in life, including my health (mental and physical), my amazing husband, incredible family and friends, and now a new job that brings me joy and the ability to make a positive difference in the lives of others on a daily basis. Life can't get much better than that! I thank GOD for those of you that read my blog monthly and take time to share your thoughts with me off-line.

Life is good, life is to be enjoyed to its fullest while making a difference. The little things in life have the ability to make the greatest impact. Last week while driving on the freeway to work an "18-wheeler" needed to merge in the lane I was driving. Several cars in front of me failed to allow the truck to merge, but I was in no hurry and gave the truck room to enter the lane. Once the truck was in position, I then merged into another lane and passed the truck. I glanced at the truck driver in my mirror and he gave me a gracious wave of appreciation. When I saw his wave of gratitude, it warmed my heart. I found myself still smiling several miles down the freeway, initially I wasn't even aware I was still smiling. Much to my surprise, later that day that small gesture of gratitude stayed with me. That simple act of appreciation made a difference to me and my action made a difference to the driver of the truck. It's the small things in life that can make a major difference in how we feel about ourselves and treat others.

As we begin to immerse ourselves in our new fall routines, let us remember that regardless of the challenges and responsibilities we grapple with to take the time to enjoy the season and all it has to offer. Please be kind to others, LIFE IS GOOD!

Friday, August 30, 2013

My Letter of Resignation: When You Know It's Time to Leave

After nearly 21 years (and four jobs) with the same university employer, I decided it was time for change and a new environment. My professional experience as a Social Worker has only included work in university settings. I have had an amazingly blessed career thus far and have been afforded opportunities I never could have imagined. Working in universities allowed me to complete my PhD (paid for by the university), travel across the United States to attend and present at conferences, meet interesting people from all over the world, have almost 30 days of annual vacation, great benefits and many other wonderful perks.

On the morning of Monday, August 19th as I sat in what was scheduled to be a full day Administrative Retreat, I tendered my two week letter of resignation. I actually submitted my resignation as an email attachment (using an App called "SignNow") because I was formally offered a position by my new college employer on August 19th and needed to report for my first day on the job September 3rd. This new employment opportunity came at a critical time in my life when I was seeking change, I needed change. I decided I would take action toward change during early July while on vacation; I applied for three college related positions. I received interviews for all three positions, and after the first round of interviews decided which institution would best fit my needs and interests and subsequently withdrew my candidacy from two of the three positions.

While I do not recommend giving an employer of 21 years a letter of resignation electronically and only two weeks notice (because you will want to avoid burning bridges), I had to submit the letter immediately in order to meet the minimum two week notice. I think sometimes we stay in positions too long because we become accustomed to the duties/expectations and can many times perform the job as second nature. While I was informed by supervisors I was very innovative and productive in my role, I did not want to ever become a disgruntled Social Worker or administrator, and when I began to see myself developing these negative behaviors, I decided it was time to leave.

I am excited to begin the new professional chapter in my life and I am sure other life changes are sure to follow. In retrospect, while it has only been just over one week since I submitted my letter of resignation, I've known in my heart it was time to leave over a year ago. If you are experiencing a need for workplace change, please take the time to think about it and if you are truly happy doing what you are doing. There is no room for fear to keep us stagnate where we no longer belong. Ask yourself if you are impacting those around you positively or negatively. Life can be wonderful if we are engaged in work that truly makes us happy and fulfilled and we are having a positive impact on others.

I recently heard a TV Pastor share with his audience "don't stay where you are tolerated, go where you are celebrated". He followed by stating, "if you can't be positive, at least be quiet". Those words resonated with me and served as a catalyst for me in e/affecting change in my life.

If you are no longer happy at work and do not see how this will change in the near future, or if your behavior is not positively adding to those around you, know when it's time to leave.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Infusing ICT Content Across the Social Work Curriculum

I feel extremely blessed to have the opportunity to regularly deliver workshops to Social Workers for professional Continuing Education (CE) credit for the purpose of state licensure. Last week I delivered a session on cyberbully prevention and responsible use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) - this workshop included one hour of ethics content. During the final hour of the CE workshop I discussed ethical challenges related to ICTs and the role of the profession. During this segment of the workshop it became painfully evident to me social workers are not receiving adequate training or exposure related to ethical challenges/dilemmas and our use of ICTs and the impact on those we serve. Social workers can and do use ICTs across the generational spectrum, including work with Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and now Generation iY. Our use of technology also crosses all areas of practice, such as using Apps and technology to help aging Baby Boomers remain in their homes safely and using social media to engage youth in quality after school programming.

The NASW Code of Ethics speaks to social workers practicing in areas in which we are properly trained and educated. Today, there are over 25,000 online support groups, Skype and Facetime have become methods of service delivery, and there are a myriad of technology based treatment models that have been tested and shown to be efficacious. Some social workers have embraced the use of technology in direct practice, while others in higher education settings are conducting valuable research and training students how to use these models through classroom and field work pilot experiences.

As a longstanding member of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) since the early 2000s (and regular attendee at APM), and member of NASW since 1988, I remain hopeful CSWE will seriously explore the importance of exposing social work students to ICTs and direct social work practice by integrating this content across all areas of the social work curriculum. Exposing social work students to this critical content will broaden their world view, expand their knowledge of effective treatment modalities, reduce social workers' risk for inappropriate use of social media and ICTs (that have the potential to negatively impact their clients/patients/consumers), and raise social workers' awareness of the ethics of practice in cyberspace, a fast growing and largely unregulated area of practice. I am also hopeful NASW will strongly encourage interested social workers to develop innovative CE workshops to aid in addressing the technology training gap for those already in the field holding full licensure.

I am a strong supporter of both CSWE and NASW and plan to continue my membership for as long as I live; however, I believe infusing ICT content across the social work curriculum will better prepare social workers to work with today's issues and those yet to be born tomorrow and well into the future...

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Teaching SW Students Digital Activism & Community Engagement

This fall 2013 in my Introduction to Social Work (SW 1010) course I will engage students in a "Digital Activism & Community Engagement Project” using iPad. This classroom project will allow me to hire five Peer Mentors (PMs) who will each lead a group of approximately 5-7 students in a unique semester-long activity with a special emphasis on how the iPad can be used as a tool for effective digital activism, group engagement, and community service. Each of these projects will require students to demonstrate how their activities relate to social work practice.

SW 1010 has featured the use of PMs and service learning group projects for over two years; however, this year the course will teach students how to actively integrate mobile technology in community activism and service. To achieve this goal, each PM will receive an iPad 4 (32 GB) that will be used in part to:

digitally capture the group work process and community service experiences of the SW 1010 PM group
increase pre-SW students’ awareness of how mobile technology (iPad) can be used professionally to e/affect individual and broad-based community change efforts
create a visual presentation (using iPad Keynote or other compatible system) designed to educate/build community awareness of the assigned issue/problem/challenge
increase student/community awareness of how the social work profession can/is integrating mobile and Internet technology in direct practice
The PM will be embedded within their groups and will be expected to actively participate in the experience. PMs will also be responsible for maintaining/securing the iPad when not in use for the group projectExamples of Digital Activism & Community Engagement Projects include the following:

Project 1: Working with Aging Populations
A SW 1010 student group will be assigned to a Detroit-area apartment complex for aging individuals. Students with the assistance of their PM will develop a digital video pictorial project capturing the lives of interested residents in and around the housing facility. Residents will also be asked to engage in short informational interviews (story-telling) based on their lives. This Project is designed to give seniors a voice and a sense of value, while teaching Pre-SW students engagement and providing direct exposure to an oftentimes overlooked, disenfranchised population. At the end of this project a video link of the end product will be presented to residents/housing staff.  Given the close proximity of  residential apartment complex to our college campus, participating residents/staff will be invited to attend the final SW 1010 course to witness the group presentation and briefly share thoughts with the entire class, if interested.

Project 2: Positive Social Media Campaign
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Clicktivism is the use of social media and other online methods to promote a cause. During fall 2012 and winter 2013 semesters, SW 1010 students attempted developing a positive media campaign by sharing inspirational, positive news stories with Detroit area media outlets through group letter writing, emailing, and placing calls to news departments. Regrettably, students’ efforts were largely ignored. While this campaign has been a great exercise in teaching students effective group work skills and community activism, students might also benefit from learning how to post and share positive news through social media, blogging and other active outlets using iPad and related Apps. The Positive Social Media Campaign group will be tasked with identifying and sharing positive news stories about Detroit and our university via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram using the assigned PM's iPad. As the SW 1010 course instructor, I will closely monitor all posts to ensure appropriateness. Using iPad, the Positive Social Media campaign is designed to teach students responsible use of technology and social media, how to engage in positive community action, and exposure to a variety of online tools to enhance their practice as social workers in training.

Project 3: Adopt our Women’s Athletics Program – Women’s collegiate athletics at our university and other institutions have traditionally received fewer spectators/supporters at events than their male counterparts. To address the challenge associated with supporting and encouraging women in athletics on our campus, a SW 1010 PM group will adopt one-two women’s sports teams and will support them through game attendance and active engagement. This group will video-tape game segments and conduct interviews with interested athletes and coaches using the iPad. This group will chronicle and share their experiences with the athletes through the development of a video presentation highlighting the season. The end video product will be presented during the final SW 1010 class and will also be shared with the campus community during our Annual CyberSummit held in March each year. Athletes, coaches, Athletic Directors and the general campus community will be invited to attend the Summit. 

This Project is designed to engage SW 1010 students in campus & student life, encourage broad support of an underrepresented population (women in collegiate athletics), and facilitate active use of technology (iPad) in community activism/awareness building.

Project 4: Cyberbully Prevention & Responsible Use of Social Media - SW 1010 students assigned to this group project will develop a Cyberbully Prevention and responsible use of social media campaign on our campus designed to encourage responsible use of technology among college students. This PM group, using the iPad will: 1) conduct research and identify community resources to assist college students, faculty and staff experiencing Cyberbullying (this information will be shared with the Dean of Students Office and will be shared electronically on social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, and others); 2) create a Public Service Announcement video using iPad related to the group project involving all group members to be posted on YouTube from the iPad; and 3) work closely with the SSW CyberMentors to help plan/market the Annual CyberSummit (usually held in March).

Through the above experiences students will learn how to be effective users/consumers of social media and mobile technologies, and enhance their public speaking and verbal communication skills as they will be engaging multiple populations on and around the campus providing information about responsible use of social media and cyberbully prevention using the iPad device.

Project 5: Create a Weebly Website focused on the use of technology in Social Work practice.  
This group will be responsible for creating a SW 1010 Weebly website and later managing the site using iPad. The Weebly will contain research on U.S. and world-wide efforts related to the use of Internet and mobile technologies in direct social work practice, such as using Facetime to provide remote counseling, use of virtual treatment techniques, such as Second Life, SnowWorld and others.

Through the above experiences students will increase their levels of comfort using iPad technology in group work, will learn about a new area of social work practice called “Cyber Social Work” (delivering support services via the Internet), and will learn how to build a website and later manage the website using iPad.

SW 1010 Digital Activism & Community Engagement Project – Peer Mentors

Previously, our SSW provided PMs with SW related course textbooks in exchange for their service, up-to a maximum of $500 per semester (per PM). The SSW will now purchase an iPad for each PM in addition to electronic (e) textbooks for each PM that may be accessed on their iPad. Purchasing e-textbooks will allow the SSW to obtain additional textbooks and other course related materials they may not otherwise have been able to afford given the textbook cap of $500 per semester, per PM. While e-textbooks are less expensive, some PMs may prefer paper textbooks. If interested, PMs can purchase on their own those traditional physical texts they wish to retain in their libraries as e-textbooks are usually only accessible 6-8 months (depending on the publisher).

Providing PMs regular use of an iPad will:

increase their access to electronic data and resources for their own education as students
improve communication with their individual students/PM groups and SW 1010 course instructor using email, text messaging, and other tools
improve their awareness, knowledge, and direct use of iPad technology in social work practice