A Conversation About Research with Linda Moore, Editor, JBSW
BPD Update Online, Winter 2003
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by Carol J. Williams, Associate Editor

Linda Moore, Editor, JBSW

1. What is the connection between research and professional identity as a social work educator? Must we engage in research to fulfill some professional obligation over and above tenure and review?

I believe that as an educator I am responsible for finding out, for creating new knowledge, for providing access to information and for informing my teaching. Research allows me to do all of this. Because TCU and most major research universities expect faculty to be involved in scholarship activities and research and thus base tenure and promotion on productivity, for many of us it is a necessity. Beyond that though, it is exciting to acquire new information that answers questions or provides new mechanisms for teaching. I can't imagine not writing and examining and asking questions. For me, it is part of my professional identity as an educator and as a social worker who believes in the Code of Ethics. It is also great fun to find out new stuff!

2. What is the connection between research and teaching in the classroom

Research informs teaching. For me, it allows me to broaden the material I present to students. Because I have a deeper understanding of the material and a broader perspective, I can be more open to other perspectives as well. It also allows me to get more excited about the material when I know where it comes from and how it was studied. I have seen too many textbooks with mistakes in information and heard too many stories based on a sample of 5 to just accept blindly what I read. I want to be in there finding out and understanding how to evaluate the reseach I consume.

3. Are there different obligations to engage in scholarly research if one is BSW vs. MSW vs. PhD faculty or if one is in a so-called "teaching institution" vs. a "research institution"?

Obviously there are different obligations according to university or college policy and teaching assignments can affect the ability to do research. It is pretty difficulty to engage in grant-writing and research, scholarly activity and presentations if you are teaching 4-5 courses well. However, I would argue that we all have a responsibility to engage in the development of new knowledge and to contribute to the existing knowledge base. We can do that in many ways including evaluation of teaching, engaging students in research, and developing new models for teaching. We can collaborate to stretch our resources. Students watch us and when they see us producing, they begin to understand the ethical mandate to enhance the knowledge base.

4. Are there different expectations if the faculty member's terminal degree is MSW vs. PhD?

I don't believe there should be but certainly many schools do have different expectations and often different levels of faculty appointments. I think there are more resources available to those holding the Ph.D. Doctoral education provides a stronger emphasis on research and scholarship and often helps people develop linkages for research and publication. I still believe that if we are educators at any level, we have an obligation to engage in scholarship.

5. Research comes in many flavors. Can you consider working on a local program evaluation and needs assessment as research even if it is never published in a refereed journal?

Yes, particularly because it can inform teaching and it does contribute to what we know about what works and what is necessary for future program development. I think we can get very narrow about research and forget that there are many ways to contribute to the knowledge base. I do wish educators would try harder to get results of these kinds of activities into refereed journals. Too often they are used in an agency or community but not shared with the larger population. We are often re-creating studies instead of sharing our knowledge with each other.

6. Institutions have different resources available for faculty to engage in conventional research. How do we in social work compensate for this difference in resources? For example, some smaller programs do not even have resources to pay for travel to present at professional conferences. How do faculty in these programs compensate for limitations on funding?

This is a tough question. I have been lucky because TCU is very generous and thus I have been able to use conferences and other resources to develop my own research agenda. I think we can do more on the local level and begin to use the technology available to provide support for those who have few resources. Mentoring, editing, collaborating via the internet is becoming easier and breaking down some of the travel barriers. We need to consider more ways to enhance the opportunities for colleagues who struggle with funding restrictions.

7. The JBSW likes to think of itself as relatively unique in the world of refereed journals. How is it different from, say, Social Work, or JSWE?

My first reaction is to say well it's the best but realistically, it is the best at what it does.
Each of these journals is strong because it has its own niche. JBSW found its niche quickly because there was such a need. Baccalaureate education is special and often faces different issues from those faced at the graduate levels. To be able to read about these issues without trying to extract them from an article that addresses all levels of social work education is helpful. JBSW addresses the issues, conflicts, teaching strategies and ideas that baccalaureate educators face and provides suggestions, solutions and new ways to address them. It also then provides an arena for baccalaureate educators to publish on what affects them without having to broaden these subjects to include other levels of education. I also believe there is a comfort to many of us at having "our own" journal that addresses our needs and understands our struggles.

8. Tell me something about your own journey along the road to integrating research with teaching.

I was so lucky to go to Virginia Commonwealth University at a time when they were preparing MSWs as baccalaureate educators. I was expected not only to learn how to teach but how to take on the faculty role, including research. I saw the process with my professors and had to begin the process while still in school. That happens for many in doctoral education but few MSWs will get such preparation. Because of my experience, I was able to collaborate with a colleague from that program. I also received wonderful mentoring from my first director at TCU who was a scholar. Gradually I tried to mentor new faculty and amazingly, that got me deeply involved in scholarship and successful in publishing. Now I just get excited about new ideas for study and jump right in. The more you do, the easier it is to do.

9. What is your advice to faculty who are feeling timid about the research enterprise, who might want to take a first step but don't know how?

Just jump in or ask for help. You need a topic or arena that you love and that is really the first step. If it gets you excited, you will read about it and study it and try to find out more. Curiosity is a great thing. Also, there are sessions at the BPD conference and at the CSWE APM on how to publish. You can contact colleagues who are publishing. The important thing is to write and then get someone to edit for you. Go to your university's Writing Center, ask a colleague to look over your material and never take the editing personally!

10. Much is being written about the "student researcher" or the "student scholar". How important is it for BSW students to engage in research prior to graduation?

I think it is crucial. It helps students understand the ethical mandate to contribute to the knowledge base. It helps them be effective consumers of research. It helps them learn how to evaluate their own practice and agency programs. It gets them excited to do research and, in many cases, to go on for advanced degrees. If we are to have the credibility we crave as a discipline, we will have to do credible research and students are at the forefront of the effort. I don't ever want to hear them groan when I say the word research. I want to see excitement. I am proud of the efforts of my colleagues at TCU in publishing with students, presenting with students and taking students to conferences to help them connect with the importance of scholarship in the life of a professional. If not at the BSW level, then when?

11. Should BSW field faculty require a formal research project prior to graduation?

I think so because so much of the research we need to do as a profession is agency-based. It helps students connect with research better when it affects them personally and they can see the results. It forces them to understand the process including issues related to human subjects. It also helps field instructors stay connected to the research process.

12. Why is it that so few practitioners engage in even the most rudimentary research? Is the prospect for integrating research into practice getting better?

I hope so. I think the better we prepare practitioners to understand the research process and how it can enhance practice, the more this will be done. It is often a resource issue and it takes time which is often needed just to provide necessary services. We have to help our students who will be the practitioners see how important research is to solving clients problems and changing oppressive systems.

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