Social Work to retool its curriculum

January 26, 2001

Nick Marinello

Come this fall, the School of Social Work will unveil a restructured curriculum that should offer a more convenient and organized route toward gaining a master of social work degree at Tulane. According to Suzanne England, dean of social work, the coming changes will mark both practical and philosophical shifts in the school.

"The new curriculum will place a heavy emphasis on learning what we call 'relationship-centered practice,'" said England. "How to work with and in relationships with others." With such an emphasis, the school will better meet the new demands on social workers.

"Agencies in the forefront of practice, such as Family Services and others, are looking for individuals who are skilled in prevention, early intervention, outreach and community development, as well as having clinical expertise," she said.

Among the steps toward reaching this goal, the school will expand its part-time program to an eight-semester, 32-month curriculum that will allow students to take courses at night and on weekends. This is a departure from the current part-time program in which students can stretch the first semester of the full-time curriculum over three semesters before enrolling in the full-time program.

"In the current economy, many students are simply unable to give up their full-time jobs for the remaining three semesters," said Ron Marks, associate dean of social work.

The school will continue its full-time program that comprises four contiguous 15-week semesters, said England, who added that the school's joint-degree programs with public health and law also will remain viable options for students. While the school will retain approximately 70 percent of its curriculum content, it will significantly restructure the way that content is delivered, said England.

"The goal is transparency," she said. "We want to present students with a clear view of our curriculum-what it is about and how the courses relate to each other. There will be more team teaching and problem-based learning."

According to Marks, the new curriculum will be refashioned around a "shell" that will act as its foundation. The shell will consist of a number of clusters that organize the integral themes of the curriculum: professional development, theory, tools and methods. Each cluster will contain instructional modules that can vary in length and extend the curriculum's flexibility.

"For example," said England, "if we are putting together a syllabus for a learning experience related to computer technology that requires a relatively short period of time, then we might create a module that could be taught on two consecutive Saturdays. "We are taking the content and developing the length of the modules from that content. And we are clustering similar material to make it easier for students to understand how they relate."

The school also will integrate a week of "reflection" into its first-semester curriculum. "This will not simply be a time when students can go off and be by themselves," said Marks. "It will be a week where there will be no formal classes, but students will have opportunities within the school for panel discussions and other means to reflect together on some of the material that has been presented."

Both England and Marks said that the three-year curriculum-development process, which also included the development of a program niche assessment and a new mission statement, has been a positive one for the school's 16-member faculty.

"We have a faculty that is energized about teaching," said England. "They have taken this curriculum and built it from the ground up. This faculty will own this curriculum because they made it." "One of the most direct impacts this process has had, which was not foreseen, was that the faculty has become a more cohesive and productive team," said Marks. "It was a happy byproduct from the demand of putting this together."

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