School of Social Work awarded new Wayne State program assessment grant

Assessment Team
From left: Shirley Thomas, Neva Nahan, Joy Swanson Ernst

A three-member team at the Wayne State School of Social Work is among the first recipients of the university’s new Program Assessment Grant, which has been created to promote best practices in program-level assessment of student learning outcomes. Starting in 2018-19, as many as five program assessment grants of up to $3,000 each will be awarded to assist in the piloting, creation, or significant revision of a program’s assessment instruments or process, or to obtain professional development in program assessment.

Social Work’s Shirley Thomas, assistant clinical professor, Neva Nahan, coordinator for research, and Joy Swanson Ernst, associate professor and associate dean for academic affairs, were awarded $3,000 to fund “Getting More Specific: Engaging Stakeholders to Move from Competencies to Learning Outcomes.” The project will implement a stakeholder-engagement process to determine how students, faculty and practitioners understand the social work competencies taught at the undergraduate and master’s level and how this is represented by learning outcomes.

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) since 2008 has used competency-based learning with agreed-upon outcomes as the basis for assessing and substantiating individual student achievement within social work programs. Social work competence is the ability to integrate and apply social work knowledge, values and skills to practice situations, and Wayne State social work students must demonstrate knowledge and practice of nine competencies established by CSWE and a tenth that is unique to the Wayne State School of Social Work.

According to Ernst, the competencies are so broad that that it is difficult to operationalize them to measure student learning outcomes or behaviors – particularly in field education placements, which are considered integral to social work training. Consequently, the team at Social Work will use the grant-funded stakeholder-engagement process to conduct small-group discussions among faculty, students, and practitioners (drawn from the Board of Visitors, alumni and field instructors) to determine where student knowledge gaps exist. This data will then be used to develop clear student learning outcomes for each competency, refine the Field Instructor Assessment of Student Competencies instrument, and develop new benchmark assignments that accurately reflect the learning outcomes of the program.

“The School of Social Work is thrilled to be part of this first cohort of grant recipients and to help demonstrate the value of assessment funding with this important program to evaluate student learning outcomes around competencies – which are the bedrock of social work education,” Ernst said.

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