Globalization from Below: Using the Internet to Internationalize Social Work Education

Article excerpt

This article discusses distance learning techniques used to operationalize the concept of "globalization from below" in a social work methods course. In the E-Mail Partnership Project, one of the major course assignments, students communicate by e-mail to share information and discuss social issues through professional "pen pal" relationships with students overseas. The author reviews the course design, describes the project and its benefits, discusses the technical and cross-cultural issues that emerged throughout, and presents evaluation results Evaluation results suggest that international e-mail communication is one way to infuse international content into the curriculum.

SECTION 3.6 of the Council on Social Work Education's (CSWE) Curriculum Policy Statement states that "effective social work education programs recognize the interdependence of nations and the need for worldwide professional cooperation" (CSWE, 1992). This mention of global content gives support to schools of social work that endeavor to include international content in their curricula. In an article published in the Journal of Social Work Education as part of CSWE's Millennium Project, Asamoah, Healy, and Mayadas (1997) make a strong case for ending the international/domestic dichotomy that has historically dominated social work curriculum. In this spirit, the University Center for Innovation in Teaching at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) funded a Faculty Grant for Innovative Academic Programming in 1996 through its Walter Nord Program. The purpose of the grant was to operationalize the theoretical concept of "globalization from below" in a social work methods course and develop methods for teaching students to implement this concept through the use of the Internet.

Globalization in its present form has been characterized as "globalization from above" (Brecher & Costello, 1994). It derives from the interests of the powerful and does not represent the interests of ordinary people. It is not democratic and does not include populist or grassroots involvement in decision making or overall agenda setting. In contrast, "globalization from below" means the development of global linkages between people and grassroots organizations in different countries:

   The main aim of globalisation from below is to establish a clear global
   agenda, with global structures, but with the initiative taken by ordinary
   people ... This would involve re-injecting ideas of social justice, human
   rights and environmental sustainability into the global agenda--a
   `rediscovery' of internationalism in an age of globalization--and working
   towards a much more participatory model of international change. (Ife,
   1995, p. 5)

To illustrate this concept, Ife provides three examples that have occurred outside the field of professional social work and related social sciences. Indigenous communities such as the Maori people of New Zealand, Aboriginal people of Australia, and First Nations people of North America share information around their common struggle for economic redress and land acquisition. Second, an informal global network has developed among those who are involved in the environmental movement. And, finally, the worldwide human rights organization of Amnesty International carries out its advocacy work largely via an active network of voluntary persons.

Ife (1995) further notes that implementing globalization from below and teaching its concepts in the classroom are relatively uncharted areas, and suggests they are important for future international social work practice:

   There are of course, practical difficulties in this regard, but the
   increasingly widespread use of new technology, and particularly the
   Internet, opens up new possibilities. The creative potential of the
   Internet has barely been explored by social workers and social justice
   activists, and this should be a priority in the years ahead. …