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IU School of Social Work co-hosts first conference on way to provide social work education online



INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana University School of Social Work and the Council on Social Work Education hosted the first-ever conference dedicated to exploring the best ways of providing social work education online.

At a time when technology has opened the door to new possibilities for online education, nearly 400 social work educators from around the country arrived in Indianapolis to learn from each other and to discuss how to maintain quality social work education in whatever form it is being offered. The conference was held April 15-17 at the Crown Plaza Hotel.

IUPUI Chancellor Charles Bantz welcomed the conference attendees, saying the question of how best to utilize technology is a key issue for professions in which human touch is an integral part of the job.  

IU School of Social Work Dean Michael Patchner said the conference marks another step in the evolution of social work education. Patchner recalled when he applied to get his Master of Social Work degree at West Virginia University, he was turned down. “The reason? Because social work education had accreditation standards where you needed to be a full-time student,” the dean said.

In the 1980s, the School of Social Work, whose administrative headquarters are at IUPUI, joined other social work schools that created part-time programs, a weekend-work-study program. The programs though were “suspect” because some people thought that unless you were immersed full-time in a university setting with social work faculty, somehow you came out differently, the dean said. “But we got beyond that and now half the students nationally go part-time.”

The same has held true for online education issues, Patchner said. While faculty at the School of Social Work were initially reluctant to teach courses online, they now realize that you can replicate what you have in face-to-face classrooms in an online environment,” he said. “Today, this is the first conference in our profession’s history where we are gathered together to look at all of those (online) issues.”