Classroom Assessment and Social Welfare Policy: Addressing Challenges to Teaching and Learning

By Adams, Paul | Journal of Social Work Education, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Classroom Assessment and Social Welfare Policy: Addressing Challenges to Teaching and Learning


Adams, Paul, Journal of Social Work Education


THE PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE is to show how Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) can minimize three major barriers to student learning in the field of social welfare policy: (1) resistance to learning about social welfare policy due to its apparent lack of relevance to students' practice interests; (2) the mass of unfamiliar material students are expected to master, including the history of social welfare and social work, policy analysis, and advocacy; and (3) the prior partial knowledge and misconceptions that students bring to this field. This article outlines these challenges, defines CATs, explaining their rationale and use, and suggests which specific CATs may be best suited for improving student learning in the context of each of these barriers.

Challenges to Teaching and Learning Social Welfare Policy

The Challenge of Relevance

Social work education is preparation for professional practice. Content on social welfare policy and services is a required part of accredited BSW and MSW programs (Council on Social Work Education [CSWE], 2001), but its relevance to students' concerns about professional practice is not immediately obvious. Gilbert and Terrell (2002) explain:

   The fact that the direct-service
   practitioner's major functions are remote
   from the final decision points in the process
   of policy formulation makes many
   students less than enthusiastic to take
   courses in social welfare policy. Direct-practitioners
   are more inclined to concentrate
   on the development of interactional
   skills, on learning how to conduct themselves
   as professionals, and how to engage
   clients, colleagues, and community
   leaders and groups. The study of social
   choices and social values may seem abstract
   and theoretical. (pp. 22-23)

This curricular area thus may seem difficult to students because of its abstract t nature and its lack of an apprenticeship relationship.

To the extent that social work students are adult learners, the issue of relevance to practice is especially important because of the value placed on immediacy of application by adult learners in general, according to the literature of this field (Knowles, 1970, 1975, 1984, 1989; Wlodkowski, 1999). This highly pragmatic and application-focused approach to learning forces policy teachers to confront the particular challenge of relevance. For the most part, these teachers are not preparing students for practice as professional policy analysts or historians of social work and social welfare. The apprenticeship element that makes the field practicum instructor and even the classroom practice teacher a role model for students preparing for direct-service roles does not have the same force--if it is evident at all--in the case of the policy instructor. For these reasons, policy textbooks sometimes make an explicit case for the relevance of policy knowledge and skills to social work practitioners (e.g., Gilbert & Terrell, 2002; Jansson, 1999; Pierce, 1984).

One approach to this problem of relevance is to treat policy for social workers as a part-and an obligation--of professional practice. The concept and teaching of policy as a part of practice represent an important shift in policy education. Through required policy courses, students have become involved in state legislative processes, attending hearings, interviewing legislators, participating in advocacy projects, and giving testimony. (The organization Influencing State Policy and its newsletter, Influence, promote and document this trend, see Schneider & Lester, 2001.) The advocacy duty of social workers is made clear in the National Association of Social Workers' (NASW) Code of Ethics (NASW, 1996) and has received increased emphasis in CSWE's most recent (2001) Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards.

Proponents of this shift toward policy practice claim that it develops important knowledge, values, and skills in social work students. …

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Classroom Assessment and Social Welfare Policy: Addressing Challenges to Teaching and Learning
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