Scholarship for Social Work Education

By Gutierrez, Lorraine M. | Journal of Social Work Education, Spring-Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Scholarship for Social Work Education


Gutierrez, Lorraine M., Journal of Social Work Education


THE MISSION OF THE Journal of Social Work Education is to publish high-quality scholarship focused on education in social work and social welfare. Through this journal we aspire to "serve as a forum for creative exchange on trends, innovations, and problems relevant to social work education at the undergraduate, master's, and postgraduate levels" (CSWE, 2011). To be effective, we need a clear understanding of what we mean by research and scholarship for social work education. Our field has often overlooked the importance of scholarship for social work education.

In Science and Social Work Kirk and Reid (2002) provide a critical and historical appraisal of the ways in which social work in the United States has engaged in knowledge development over its first 100 years. Their engaging book provides a very informative perspective on how scholarly and scientific practices during those decades contributed to the development of evidence-based policy and practice. They are also quite candid about the tensions, challenges, and contradictions inherent in this work. Although their book provides a comprehensive perspective on social work research and scholarship up to that time, it does not discuss the ways in which research can inform social work education.

In their article "Reinventing Social Work Accreditation" Karger and Soesz (2009) argue that our BSW and MSW accreditation processes have created an environment that is unsupportive of knowledge development. They argue for more educational program leadership being drawn from the community of significant social work scholars, with the intent of supporting more knowledge development within programs and schools. However, their critique overlooks the critical role that scholarship on social work education could play in addressing some of the issues they identify. For example, they argue that the value base and ideology of social work have supplanted a rigorous approach to education. This assertion proposes a significant question for research and scholarship in social work and social policy: Has our commitment to educating professional social workers prevented scholarly engagement? A careful study of this topic could make an important contribution to our field.

Debates within social work about research and scholarship reflect larger issues in academia regarding knowledge development. Changes in faculty, higher education, and the larger society have led to the reformulation of how we think about scholarship. It was in this environment that Earnest Boyer, the president of Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, published Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate (Boyer, 1990). This report was based on research the Carnegie Foundation conducted to identify the ways in which the academy has been transformed in the second half of the 20th century. The report considers ways the different roles of faculty--teacher, researcher, citizen--contribute to the mission of higher education. In conclusion, Boyer identifies four forms of scholarship--discovery, integration, application, and teaching--as contributions that faculty can make to knowledge development. Boyer's report had a significant effect on higher education in fields as disparate as chemistry and kinesiology when it was published 20 years ago. I believe that this fourfold view of scholarship is particularly relevant for our field and to the mission of the Journal of Social Work Education (Boyer, 1990).

Boyer described his fourfold definition of scholarship as more "dynamic" and representative of faculty work (Boyer, 1990, p. 16). The "scholarship of discovery" (p. 17) describes conventional research in the field and the identification or discovery of new ideas or knowledge. The scholarship of synthesis or integration focuses on the synthesis and interpretation of current ideas and knowledge, but adds new insights. This type of research is typically interdisciplinary in its approach. …

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