I teach at the programme of social work at Malmö högskola. I teach “theory of social work” and I tutor theses, so overall I am engaged with the general aspects of learning how to become a social worker. Half of my students are brand new to social work (and most of these to social science in general) and the other half are about to enter professional life.
My own background is as a sociologist, I recently finished my own doctoral thesis, in which social theory played a key role to understand the interviews and the material I collected.
One thing I find crucial is for social workers to understand the value of theoretical analysis of the social problems and the concrete situations they will meet in their professional life. As a social worker, every individual situation is new, and still it builds on all of the categorizations, structures, experiences and prejudices of thousands of interactions in the lives of the individuals and through history. Every time a social worker tries to help a person in need, structures of power and of humanism are set in motion. The social worker needs to make the person in need feel comfortable enough to engage in getting help, she needs to assess the situation in its complexity and she needs to know the helping structures enough to help the person in need become empowered by them. For a social worker, knowing about child rearing or drug abuse isn’t enough, they need to understand how the processes can develop negative spirals and they need to know what to ask to understand how the processes developed in a negative way for THIS particular individual – and suggest how to turn the process in a positive way.
A term that covers this process is “reflective practice” (see fx. Adams et al 2009), and what is interesting here from my “desk top perspective” is that USE of theory is crucial in the work they will be performing. I always tell my students I have the greatest respect for anyone daring to take on the challenge of social work, but me, I’m staying here… So sometimes I feel very insufficient there at my desk but then I tell myself that the hands on-courses have other teachers better suited for that, and the teaching team have a common responsibility of interweaving the different sides of “reflective practice”.
So how might my students use on-line resources? How can they learn more about social theory and usages of it? The Wikipedia-thing seems inadequate, facts/not facts seems not to be in focus. Information websites, laws, administrative resources: well that may be important and the online info is more easily available than books and catalogs. But then again – many administrative resources are only partly bound by rules, negotiation and tricks-of-trade can be just as important for gaining what you and your clients need.
Access to personal accounts and experiences that expand your everyday view of the world is one thing I suggest my students to search. Online communities of persons with various functional variations or alternative identities, sharing their experiences of oppression or resistance, have become important for many people in the world. The LGBTQ-communities, physical and mental functional variations, parents grieving dead children and so on and so forth – the internet has opened up immense possibilities of reaching through the majorities and the everyday “normal”. But then ethical questions arise: is it OK for a student to enter the communities and read? Can the accounts shared with peers be used for educational purpouses, research and thesis-writing?
And what more!!?? These are the questions I want to develop in the ONL – but now I need to hurry publishing before the webinar!