IU School of Social Work co-hosts first conference on long distance education


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 distance 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 eager 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 in Indianapolis.

IUPUI Chancellor Charles Bantz welcomed the conference attendees saying the questions of how best to utilize technology is a key question for professions where human touch is a key part of what they do. “Technology has always had the ability to span space and time. It has also been pretty clunky and cost a lot,” he noted. “That’s why today is so interesting to have this conversation,” he said. “I won’t tell you I have a $100 phone in my pocket, but I have a super computer in my pocket,” he said. “It cost more than $100, but not $50 million like a super computer might have cost merely 15 years ago to have this kind of capability.”

IU School of Social Work Dean Michael Patchner welcomed the social work educators to Indianapolis and said the conference marks another step in the evolution of social work education. Dean 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.”

In the 1980s, the School of Social Work, whose administrative headquarters are at IUPUI, was one of the universities 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, Dean 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.”

Dr. Darla Coffey, President and CEO of the Council on Social Work Education, the accreditation body for social work programs, said when Dean Patchner came to her a little more than a year ago to discuss putting together the conference, she said yes immediately. “We didn’t image we would have nearly 400 people who also thought this would be a good idea.” Dr. Coffey said she was thrilled at the chance for social work educators to listen and learn from each other.

Rob Schneider