BPD Update Online, Spring 2002
Developing Criteria for Online BSW Course Development and Review
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Carol J. Williams, Associate Editor

Over the past few years, social work educators have begun to use the World Wide Web as a Teaching Tool. While some courses are offered totally on the web, others are face-to-face courses augmented by web components. Although there have been some guidelines promulgated for the development and assessment of web-based distance education courses in general, no one has taken on the task of developing criteria for the assessment of courses in baccalaureate social work which utilize the web as a total or partial means of teaching and learning.

Faculty are moving quickly to put course materials online, but many are doing so without adequate educational technology support and with little training in the hallmarks of good course design and delivery. There is great concern in today's teaching environments about whether these courses are contributing to desired educational outcomes as well as tenure and promotion requirements. For social work educators, there are no guidelines as to how these online courses should be developed and organized in order to determine their pedagogical soundness or their capacity to meet social work curriculum outcomes. Furthermore, the development of online teaching materials is time consuming and complex. Faculty who develop online materials for their courses rarely receive adequate credit in the retention-tenure-promotion process.

BPD Technology Committee members Robert Vernon, Irene Queiro-Tajalli, Darlene Lynch, Debra Gohagan, Lynn Adkins, and Carol Williams have begun a project to develop an evaluation tool for assessing the integration of pedagogical principles and social work specific and unique classroom and learning characteristics. It is anticipated that faculty who are interested in best practices for online teaching and course development will use this tool to develop online, web-based or web-enhanced courses, to document the quality of their current online courses, or to identify areas to strengthen in their current courses. They will also have the opportunity to submit their courses for voluntary peer review.

The task of developing the assessment tool is a complex one. First of all, courses have to be classified according to the level of web involvement, ranging from the minimum level of placing the course syllabus online to the maximum level of teaching the entire course online. Second, courses must be classified by the CSWE curriculum area(s) they address so that reviewers with expertise in the appropriate substantive area can be selected. Third, the teaching style of the instructor must be assessed as teacher-centered, student-centered, or a combination of the two. Fourth, teaching practices (in terms of course requirements, expectations of students, currency of content, timeliness of feedback, grading practices, etc.) must be assessed. Fifth, learning factors (including access, content, learning styles, interaction and communication, and assessment) must be examined. Sixth, technology factors including hardware, software, interface and technology support must be evaluated.

The first draft of the tool was presented at a lab session in the APM Media Technology Center. Participants served as a focus group to offer feedback for enhancement of the criteria, and to be the first to apply it to an actual online course. The focus group members made important contributions to the process. Questions raised by participants included the following:

Should the evaluation process focus on specific course modules rather than on the course as a whole? The rationale for this suggestion was that different modules of a single course might employ different teaching styles and cover different curriculum areas.
How will reviewers be selected? It will be challenging to develop and maintain a pool of reviewers with skills in technology, knowledge of teaching practices, and expertise in the various CSWE curriculum areas. Development of criteria for selection of reviewers will be another important aspect of this project.
How will Distance Education experts be involved in the project?

Watch for an update on this groundbreaking project at the BPD Conference in Pittsburgh. In the meanwhile, if you have suggestions for the development team, please email them to: caroljwilliams@worldnet.att.net

Click here to email to Carol Williams

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