One of the responsibilities of social work educators is to encourage students to challenge the status quo, question practice that violates the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) principles (National Association of Social Workers [NASW], 2008), and continually self-assess their learning progress and needs while engaged in their senior field internships.
Students document their progress in each of these areas in a paper journal, referred to as a LOG. The LOG is shared with agency supervisors who monitor the activities and perspectives of students as they engage in their field experiences. Students have often shared their hesitancy in revealing what they view as provocative thoughts to their agency supervisor for fear of reprimand, correction, or being viewed as incompetent. As a result, students admit to carefully crafting their LOGS to the point of stifling their critical thinking, social justice instincts, and ultimately hindering their professional development.
Based on the principles of adult development and adult learning (Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, & Norman, 2010; Bain, 2004; Drago-Severson, 2004), my Teaching Scholar project was designed to answer the question: How might small group BLOGS impact student development?
The purpose of the BLOG was to create a course climate that students found safe and supportive while challenging their current way of knowing. Kegan (1982, 1994) refers to this climate as a holding environment. A holding environment, in the educational context, is a climate that must first recognize and support a student’s current way of knowing without frustration or impatience. The second function of the holding environment is to stimulate and invite students to more complex ways of knowing so they grow in their development (Drago-Severson, 2004, p. 35).
The present study incorporated a somewhat unique holding environment to foster student development. Using D2L discussion boards with restricted access to group members, students submitted weekly posts that included discussion among themselves. Students were encouraged to view the BLOG as a true discussion; with the least emphasis on grammar and structure, and the most emphasis on critical thinking.
From an instructor perspective, the BLOG produced anticipated and unanticipated positive results. Students who rarely spoke in class were highly participatory in the electronic discussions. Many groups did not limit their discussion posts to the required bi-weekly time schedule. Some students posted comments several times each week, asking for ideas or verification of their decisions in unusual field situations. Values and ethical conflicts were woven into many discussions as the students increased their client contact throughout the semester. Furthermore, students preferred the BLOG format to the traditional LOG as it allowed for more meaningful and honest entries by the majority of students.
The BLOG pilot was not without limitations. However, it did point to some benefits of a holding environment such as the confidential, electronic discussion group-to foster student development (Drago-Severson, 2004; Kegan, 1994). With a few adaptations, the BLOG format has the potential to increase student participation, critical thinking, and self-reflection.
Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass.
Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Drago-Severson, E. (2004). Becoming adult learners: Principles and practices for effective development. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. National Association of Social Workers. (2008). Code of ethics. Washington, D.C.: National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Press.
Gail Trimberger, MSSW,
Assistant Professor, Interim Chair