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A survey of graduate social work educators: teaching perspectives and classroom environments




Danhoff, Kristin Lindsay, author
Morgan, George A., advisor
Buchan, Victoria V., advisor
Seiz, Robert, committee member
Jennings, Louise, committee member

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Social work educators have the challenging task of preparing students to be ethically, morally, and socially responsible professionals. As professionals in the 21st Century, social workers are faced with ever increasing complexity and change. Teaching philosophies are at the foundation of what educators do in the classroom. Research about teaching perspectives in social work education is limited. The purpose of this descriptive, survey study is to better understand the teaching perspectives of graduate social work educators when teaching human rights, social and economic justice (HRSEJ) content and the actions educators reported taking to create their classroom environment. The current study is a quantitative, online survey design. Two separate instruments were combined into one online survey hosted on SurveyGizmo. The two instruments were the Teaching Perspectives Inventory (TPI) and a newly developed Classroom Environment Scale (CES). The 45-item TPI had 5-point Likert scales and the 12 item CES had 7-point Likert scales. Participants in the study were graduate social work educators in CSWE accredited programs who had experience teaching human rights, social and economic justice content (HRSEJ). Fifty graduate faculty responded to the online survey and 48 completed the whole survey. Findings suggest that the majority of these graduate social work educators held teaching perspectives that aligned with the theoretical basis of this study. In this study, the majority of graduate educators held a Developmental perspective (42%) with an additional quarter that held an Apprenticeship (26%) perspective as dominant. Although infrequently dominant, this sample of faculty had a higher mean score for Social Reform than any of the other groups of professionals in the TPI database. When comparing the current social work educators who teach in private vs. public or denominational vs. all other types of institutional auspices, no significant differences were found. Also, this study compared the social work course where the HRSEJ content was covered by the faculty member, and no significant differences were found for individual courses. There was a relationship between the actions related to the classroom environment and the Developmental, Nurturing, Social Reform, and to a lesser extent, Apprenticeship perspective. Faculty in this study also began to define what components they felt were necessary for an environment that would support critical thinking. Educators in this study identified dialogue around the exposure of students to different points of view as crucial in supporting critical thinking in social work education. Just over a half of all respondents also felt that respect, safe climate, and the modeling of openness was key to an environment for critical thinking. In this study, when an educator was more likely to share feelings, they were also more likely to challenge all students to explore their assumptions, use their own feelings to model the importance of questioning habitual ways of thinking, and recognize the risks for students to explore their assumptions. Recommendations for social work education are to take notice of our teaching philosophies and the impact they have on student's experience and learning. To answer critics requires that the profession thoughtfully examine all of the elements of the teaching/learning exchange and to understand how they impact the profession, the student, and educators alike.


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adult education
teaching philosophies
social work education
classroom environments


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