Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Impact of Research Orientation on Attitudes toward Research of Social Work Students

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Impact of Research Orientation on Attitudes toward Research of Social Work Students

Article excerpt

ALMOST A CENTURY AGO, Dr. Abraham Flexner questioned whether social work was a profession. His speech at the National Conference of Charities and Corrections in 1915 holds an important message for social work educators today. Flexner (2001) made a clear and convincing call for a profession that was oriented toward science and with an empirical basis for practice decisions. Almost 3 decades ago, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) supported a project to focus on the use of research in social work education (Briar, Weissman, & Rubin, 1981). A goal of the project was to identify barriers to the use of research in social work education. Research continues to hold a prominent place in the CSWE's Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (CSWE, 2008). Additionally, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics includes sections (e.g., 5.02[a]) that mandate the use of research in monitoring and evaluating policies, programs, and interventions (NASW, 1999). Today, the importance of research in social work and its place in social work education is secure, yet too often social work educators struggle to interest students and practitioners in the research endeavor.

Several studies have found that many students have negative beliefs and attitudes toward research, including, in many cases, significant feelings of anxiety (Green, Bretzin, Leininger, & Stauffer, 2001; Lazar, 1991; Maschi et al., 2007; Secret, Rompf, & Ford, 2003; Siegel, 1983). Social work educators who teach research encounter a variety of challenges, which include negative beliefs of students regarding the relevance and place of research in social work practice, along with negative and anxious feelings of students. Students bring a constellation of beliefs and attitudes toward research to the classroom (Secret et al., 2003), but little is known about the interactions of these beliefs and attitudes.

This study explores the beliefs and attitudes of social work students toward research with the intention of providing a better understanding of ways to enhance the teaching of research in social work programs and, ultimately, to further the goal of promoting the use of research in social work education and in the profession.

Literature Review

Orientation to Research

Kirk and Rosenblatt (1981) developed an instrument to measure research orientation, which they described as including beliefs about the importance of research, the usefulness of research, and the unbiased nature of research (the extent to which research results are valid and unbiased). Their 1981 study explored the research orientation of social work students and concluded that social work students at the BSW, MSW, and doctoral levels had a generally positive orientation toward research, and that doctoral students were most likely to view research as important and useful. As a whole, both social work education and the profession have shown a positive orientation toward the research endeavor. This positive orientation toward research includes a basic belief in the validity of research for monitoring and evaluating policies, programs, and interventions (NASW, 1999) and the importance and usefulness of research to practice. Various studies have pointed out how research skills can help social workers provide appropriate mental health counseling, case management, and social services; manage an agency; and advocate appropriate social welfare policies (Lawson & Berleman, 1982; Posavac & Carey, 2007; Rubin & Babbie, 2011). The current emphasis on evidence-based practice attests to the belief that research is a valid method of discovering truths for practice.

Importance, Usefulness, and Validity of Research

Although CSWE and NASW have highlighted the importance of research for effective practice, critical thinking, and knowledge building (Antle & Regehr, 2003; Moore & Avant, 2008; Rubin & Babbie, 2011), not all students agree that research and empiricism are important to the practice of social work. …

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