Assessing Student Perception of Practice Evaluation Knowledge in Introductory Research Methods

Article excerpt

EVIDENCE-BASED PRACTICE (EBP) is becoming a key component of social work standards for education (Briggs & Rzepnicki, 2004; Howard, McMillan, & Pollio, 2003; Pollio, 2006; Zlotnick, 2004). Cournoyer (2004) defines evidence-based social work as the "mindful and systematic identification, analysis, evaluation and synthesis of evidence of practice effectiveness, as a primary part of an integrative and collaborative process concerning the selection of application of service to members of target client groups" (p. 4). Others draw on definitions based in evidence-based medicine that focus on the use of best evidence to make conscientious decisions about patient care (Straus, Richardson, Glasziou, & Haynes, 2005). There are a variety of ways in which social workers evaluate their practice. Most commonly, a single-subject design is employed where a target behavior of an individual, or a small number of individuals, is established and observed over time (Creswell, 2009). In addition, two or more groups can be compared in a between-subjects design or a factorial design. More complex methods of practice evaluation involve the use of random assignment and control groups, as in the pretest-posttest control-group design (Creswell, 2009). Social work educators and practitioners are making a concerted effort to apply these new standards (Frost, 2002) and are moving toward systematic application of current evidence (Rosen, 2003; Whittaker et al., 2006). Furthermore, social work literature is calling for exploration of curriculum reform in order to place a greater emphasis on EBP throughout undergraduate and graduate programs (Howard, Allen-Meares, & Ruffolo, 2007; Soydan, 2008).

Implementation models for EBP discuss specific steps, one of which includes evaluating the application of an intervention, otherwise termed practice evaluation (Cournoyer, 2004; Gibbs, 2003). Practice evaluation, also discussed as empirically based practice, has a long history of importance within social work and is a key component of EBP. Beginning in the second half of the 20th century, social work began the call for development of its own scientific knowledge base and for the evaluation of practice. This was largely the result of the field's acknowledgement that practitioners were not using the best evidence available to guide their practice decisions. And yet, practitioners often argued that a scientific orientation was disempowering and too mechanical. Unfortunately, this alienation between researchers and practitioners persists and has made the integration of research methods and findings into social work practice quite difficult (Rosen, 2003). This certainly poses problems for newly graduated social work students who find that community agencies embracing EBP anticipate hiring graduates who are equipped with evaluation skills and prepared to lead the way in implementation (Edmond, Megivern, Williams, Rochman, & Howard, 2006). In response, Drake, JonsonReid, Hovmand, and Zayas (2007) discuss the process of infusing EBP throughout an MSW curriculum, and the role of research courses in providing the skills necessary for evaluation of current evidence, as well as generation of new evidence.

There is a current body of literature that discusses techniques to improve undergraduate research education. A variety of approaches are provided, including aspects of participatory or service learning (Knee, 2002) and community research (Anderson, 2002). Even with these approaches, faculty members are still faced with the question of which methods are best in evaluating student knowledge retention and learning. The most common methods of evaluating learning are through embedded assignments, class participation, grades, and course evaluations. Although these evaluation methods are useful, there are few standardized methods available to evaluate whether or not there has been a change in student knowledge over time. Holden, Barker, Meenaghan, and Rosenberg (1999) created the Research Self-Efficacy Scale (RSES) to assess student confidence level in the ability to complete general research activities. …