Do social work students find using social media helpful?


The role technology  plays in facilitating or disrupting the education of the sometime called Digital Natives or Net Generation has been extensively promoted, debated and reviewed.

In 2014 and 2015 I undertook, with colleagues, a small survey of students studying  a Level one course in social work at The Open University. We gathered interesting feedback that has helped me think about how social media can be useful in module design, engaging students during their studies and preparing them for use of social media in professional social work practice.

The surveyed students mainly used Facebook – no surprise there – and mainly used it to stay in touch with each other socially, sharing resources and getting guidance from each other. Some of the features of social media- such as ease of access on mobile devices – made it popular.

Some students didn’t use social media during their studies, they were concerned about confidentiality and preferred to just use the University’s online forums to communicate and learn. The University’s VLE appears to retain many advantages for students – many found it the easiest way to communicate with their tutor and the whole tutor group – which meant social media is seen an add on not a replacement for the VLE. Would this change if social media use was embedded in the module design?

Of particular interest to me – as a social worker – were the students’ views about whether social media was appropriate to use in professional practice. While students noted some clear concerns – most notably about personal/ professional boundaries and confidentiality – some students saw an opportunity. Students commented that using social media could be a more effective way to engage with younger service users, that services could share information useful to service users, and that social media created opportunities for professional networking.

Social work professional training now often incorporates teaching and resources to help students understand the risks and opportunities of using social media in their private lives and professional practice. The Social Work Social Media App is a great resource to support this teaching.

You can access the presentation  about the 2014 survey, which I gave at the 2015 JSWEC conference  to view more reflections on the role of social media in social work education and practice.

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