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Session Overview
Symposium 8: Transferring Innovative Teaching Approaches to Social Work Education: Preparing Social Work Students for practice with Computer Supported Scripts (CSS) and Standardized Client Simulation in Germany
Friday, 18/June/2021:
12:30pm - 2:00pm

Location: Parallel Session 2

Session Chair: Birgit Dorner

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Transferring Innovative Teaching Approaches to Social Work Education: Preparing Social Work Students for practice with Computer Supported Scripts (css) and Standardized Client Simulation in Germany

Chair(s): Birgit Dorner (Katholische Stiftungshochschule München)

Discussant(s): Mary Opio (International Doctoral School REASON (Elite Network of Bavaria) Munich Center of the Learning Sciences / Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU)), Carolin Auner (International Doctoral School REASON (Elite Network of Bavaria) Munich Center of the Learning Sciences / Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU))

Integrating research and practice is a challenge for helping professions much as there is consensus that this is a crucial element to navigate sensitive work environments with people in challenging life situations. Opportunities to foster skills relevant for practice with scenarios close to real life are rare but much needed.

In this symposium, we would like to present empirical findings from two projects that aimed at teaching practice skills by aid of case-based learning. While one project used standardized clients to stipulate active engagement with service users, the other used vignettes and computer-supported scripts to guide students through the cognitive process of assessment.

With its origin in medical education, simulation based learning provides an opportunity that puts service users at the center of social work interactions. It is a promising approach to provide training and room for reflection (on the intensive learning experience) thereafter, both of which are relevant for practice with real service users.

The origin of computer-supported scripts (css) is in the Learning Sciences and Instructional Design. Scripts offer an opportunity of guiding students’ focus to the most important aspects of an assessment. They have been proved to be effective in teaching complex domain skills.

Both studies were conducted is Bavaria, Germany, and the participants came from 6 schools of social work education. In both studies, students engaged with cases from the field of family and child welfare.

Teaching with simulation is at its early stage in Germany. Learning with computer-supported scripts is similarly novel to the field of social work. While appreciating the benefits of successful approaches from other fields, we would like to discuss the challenges and ethical dilemmas of adapting these in social work education.


Presentations of the Symposium


Knowledge Construction and Utilization in Social Work Education in Simulation-Based Learning Environments with Standardized Clients - a Qualitative Study.

Carolin Auner1, Birgit Dorner2, Sabine Pankofer2
1International Doctoral School REASON, Ludwigs-Maximilians-Universität München, 2Katholische Stiftungshochschule München

Social work is characterized by highly dynamic and complex situations which is often overwhelming also for professionals but is especially demanding for social work students. Universities have adapted different methods in their curricula to equip students with skills relevant for professional practice. Connecting the knowledge gained in theory to the social work´s diverse practice scenarios remains a challenge for many social work students nonetheless. Knowledge application in realistic scenarios is important for the development of complex skills and simulation and case based learning has been found to be effective in bridging this theory practice gap. In simulation based learning an opportunity for meaningful application of knowledge to professional problems is en-sured. There is however paucity of research on how social work students construct and use scientific knowledge during practice.

We raise the following research questions in our study:

1. What problem-solving strategy do social work students pursue with Standardized Clients in a Simulation-Based Learning Environment?

2. Which types and which quality of knowledge do they apply?

3. What other factors influence the process of problem solving?


 Sample: n=24 Social-Work-Students (B.A.) / 4th to 7th semester, Age: 18-40 years

 Learning Environment: Live- and Video-Simulation, Case Vignette: District Social Work, Initial Con-sultation of the Client with the Social Worker, follow-up meeting with individual feedback.

 Research-Design: Questionnaire on prior experiences, recorded Live- or Video-Simulation with a trained actress, focused interviews, think-aloud-memos and recorded additional interviews.

 The research-design, sampling, data sources, process and data-analysis follows the Grounded-Theory-Methodology


Based on our preliminary findings and on research, we observe that students largely have difficulties in dealing with clients´ emotions during the counselling sessions. Furthermore problem solving strategies, knowledge construction and use as well as professional attitudes differ amongst participants. For example: objectives, approaches, strategies and especially the contextualization of the clients’ specific problem situation during the assessment process are quite diverse. It appears that the constant balance between psychosocial and professional aspects, the appropriate level of emotion and empathy, the search for possible offers of support and the students' own insecurity are challenging the systematization of the consultation situation.


Teaching Assessment Competence in Social work with Flexible Computer Supported Scripts and metacognitive Reflection Prompts

Mary Opio1, Birgit Dorner2, Ingo Kollar3
1nternational Doctoral School REASON (Elite Network of Bavaria) Munich Center of the Learning Sciences ,Ludwig-Maximilians-Universit München, 2Katholische Stiftungshochschule München, 3University of Augsburg

As E-learning gains prominence in social curricula, there is need for research on how E-learning environments can be designed effectively to equip students with skills for practice.

Computer supported scripts (CSS) are scaffolds (instructional interventions) which provide learners with external guidance regarding when, how and in what sequence to perform certain activities. Research from the Learning Sciences shows that CSS can be used to support learners acquire domain specific skills .Providing learners with too detailed scripts, however, comes with the danger of limiting students’ autonomy and self-regulated engagement in the learning process

We build on Wang, Kollar and Stegmann (2017)´s research which suggests that adaptability can be used to realize the flexibility of CSS and research of Davis (2003) that argues that much as metacognitive prompting enhances self-regulated engagement, the form of reflection instruction influences how productive students reflect .

The aim of our study is to examine how CSS can be used to teach assessment in social work education and whether their effects can be boosted by aid of (a) granting learners the opportunity to adapt the CSS to their own needs and (b) providing them with different kinds of reflection prompts to help them in their adaptation process. We raise the following research question:

What are the effects of different types of external scripts (adaptable vs. strict) and metacognitive reflection prompts (specific vs. generic) as well as their different combinations on social work students’ assessment competence?

Method. We established a 2x2 quasi experiment, with the independent variables (1) CSS (strict vs. flexible) and (2) reflection prompts (specific vs. generic). In our pre-post-test design, social work students (n=100) received four case vignettes to stimulate their engagement in a child welfare assessment

Results: In our preliminary results, we observe that students in the adaptable script/generic prompt environment conduct better assessments compared to the counterparts in the strict script/generic prompts setting. Reflection in the generic groups is broadly contextualized to include responses on the learning environment ,the process of problem solving and the content of the provided cases.The focus in the specific reflection groups is however limited to single elements.

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