Making Changes to Assessment Methods in Social Work Education: Focusing on Process and Outcome

Patricia Cartney
2010 Social Work Education  
Moving towards delivering the new social work qualification led to many social work programmes considering the 'fitness for purpose' of assessment methods being used to assess the competence of social work students. This article highlights how changes in assessment methods were considered on one particular social work programme. The advantages and disadvantages of three particular assessment methods in relation to professional practice are debated here. Discussions emanating from these
more » ... from these considerations and subsequent changes made to the programme are highlighted. The specific focus is on the experience of one particular social work programme which is used as a case study to illustrate issues of general relevance in social work education. It is intended that the reflections presented in this article contribute to this broader arena of learning and teaching for professional practice taking place and continuing beyond the introduction of the new qualification. used. This article is based on the ongoing of one such programme's experience. It provides a brief overview of some commonly used assessment modes and how they relate to social work practice, but is offered primarily as a case study illustrating processes involved in changing assessment methods which may have resonance for programmes elsewhere and contribute to current debates about the use of assessment methods for social work students. Locating the Literature Literature in the field of social work education has traditionally focused more on the assessment of practice based learning in field settings. There is a paucity of literature on the assessment of classroom based learning (Crisp and Lister, 2002) in social work, however a wide range of material exists in the field of adult learning. Cree (2000) acknowledges that changes to assessment in social work tend to reflect changes in higher education generally. This wider literature has been criticised, however, for its tendency to omit discussion of the social, political and economic context in which learning takes place. It has been argued that this gives it a limited applicability to professional education (Taylor, 1997). This paper therefore explicitly places it within the broader framework necessary for professional practice. Adult learning literature emphasises the key role of assessment in students' learning. Gibbs (1999) argues that assessment is the most powerful lever teachers have to influence the way students respond to courses and subsequently behave as learners. Such perspectives appear to be cascading through other arenas, including those of professional education. An article by Wass, Van der Vleuten, Shatzer and Jones (2001: 945) published in the Lancet, began by arguing that 'Assessment drives learning...Pragmatically, assessment is the most appropriate engine on which to harness the curriculum'. Students tend to focus on what they need to do to successfully meet the assessment requirements for their studies. Boud (1998: 42) argued for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to focus on developing a 'holistic conception' in relation to student assessment and to move away from a narrow pre-occupation with 'fragments of assessment'. Designing the curriculum for the new qualification offered an opportunity to consider the 'total learning environment' (Brew, 2003) and to explore the role of assessment methods in promoting effective student learning. It also provided the opportunity to reconsider the methods used in the light of an increasingly diverse body of students. The lower age limit for entry to the new social work degree and the removal of the requirement for social work experience potentially opens up social work education to a wider body of students. Method of Enquiry Any enquiry involving students and faculty members must consider issues of power in the academic context. Brown and Glaser ( 2003: 157), argue that 'Assessment is ....an exercise of power'. Viewing assessment in this way, offers a broader framework where the loci of power is highlighted in relation to the different interests and actors involved in the process. The methodology described KAMIN, C.S., DETERDING, R.D., WILSON,B., ARMACOST,M.A. & BREEDON, T. (2004) The development of a collaborative distance learning program to facilitate pediatric problem-based learning www.med-ed-online.org.
doi:10.1080/02615470902906252 fatcat:z6a7alg6pbggvdrcxtznimtf7a