Researching the contribution of social work education to the digital socialisation of students in preparation for practice in the technological age

Amanda Taylor@amltaylor66
University Central Lancashire

The purpose of this paper presentation is to provide an overview of a current research project which aims to investigate how technologies are being exploited within social work education for the digital socialisation of student social workers in preparation for practice. To examine how equipped they feel on qualification to navigate a practice landscape that is embroiled, shaped and influenced by the technological age (Cooner 2004). 

Social work practitioners are navigating unchartered waters when it comes to practice in a digital world; practice where the boundaries between practitioner digital knowledge, skill and ethics are not explicitly understood in terms of appropriateness and professionalism. This being evidenced by the investigations of two practitioners (Stevenson, 2014; Stevenson, 2016) and one student social worker (Schraer, 2015) who have been called to account by the professional regulator (HCPC) for online behaviours that left users of services, agencies, peers and the practitioners themselves vulnerable.  However as yet little has been done to address the knowledge gaps that have come to light through these investigations.  It is on this premise that this study began and is being pursued. 

The study is phenomenographic in nature. A small scale study that employed semi-structured interviews (based on the work of White & Le Cornu, 2011) to capture the experiences of 10 students social workers from under and post graduate programmes at the point of completion of their professional studies; as it was felt that they would have experienced the curriculum in its fullest and therefore more able to reflect the actualities in terms of exposure to digital technologies. Early findings indicate that the use of and discussion about technologies for learning and ultimately practice requires review.  Furthermore, they suggest that there is a lack of consistently in the usage of technologies that appears to be leading to student ambivalence regarding the realities of the technological age from a learning and practice point of view. 

Literature and study around phenomenon of technological advancement amounts to a vast body of knowledge, yet the same cannot be said of literature pertaining to technology in social work education and practice, where we find a knowledge base that is quite embryonic and disparate in comparison. The studies that do exist make a recurrent case for a more consistent and proactive use of technology for teaching and learning in social work education.

In as much as this study pertains to social work students and social work education digital socialisation is an issue being unpacked across not only professional courses but education more broadly. It would be useful to share this work with like-minded colleagues and consider its relevance through the conference themes:

  • Becoming digitally capable in a social world
  • Being informed and in control of your digital identity
  • The evolution of curriculum design


Cooner, T.S. (2004) ‘Preparing for ICT Enhanced Practice Learning Opportunities in 2010: A Speculative View.’ Social Work Education. Vol.23 (6) pp.731-744.

Schraer, R. (2015) Social worker who sent ‘offensive’ tweets to David Cameron found fit to practise. [online] Available at:   Accessed (09 June, 2016).

Stevenson, L. (2014) HCPC sanctions social worker over Facebook posts. [online] Available at:  Accessed (09 June, 2016).

Stevenson, L. (2016) Social work student ‘expelled’ from course after anti-gay Facebook posts. [online] Available at: Accessed (09 June, 2016).

White, D. S. & Le Cornu, A. (2011) Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. [online] 5th September 2011. First Monday.  Available at: Accessed (9th June, 2016).