The COVID-19 pandemic is a health and mental health crisis, to be sure. The pandemic is also a crisis of social injustice, inequitably affecting vulnerable and marginalized populations, according to the  Council on Social Work Education.

While much of the world is required to stand still, social work practitioners, educators, and policymakers are working to address the needs of these populations (National Association of Social Workers, NASW, 2020).

Social workers have long played a crucial role in health care settings, mental health practices, and community-based programs. There has never been a more important time for social workers to maintain their value- and ethic-based commitment.

Throughout the pandemic, society continues to learn valuable lessons. One such lesson is the need for future generations of front line workers, especially social workers. The education of a new generation of social workers serves as the launching point for enhancing economic, environmental, and social vitality of communities impacted by the pandemic and other injustices.

On March 16, preparing this new generation of social workers took an unexpected turn.

As we gained new knowledge about the spread of the pandemic, Ball State University joined universities across the globe requiring a strictly online learning platform. In a matter of days, our faculty and staff got to work to ensure we maintained our commitment to excellence, innovation, and inclusiveness in our classrooms. We had a social responsibility to ensure our program maintained both a client- and student-centered approach to education.

We established several goals and objectives that defined our collective efforts.

Our Goals

1. Conduct Research on Best Practices in Online Social Work Education

We consulted with social work programs across the country to adjust educational practices. We both received and offered support on success and challenges. We joined our colleagues across the globe in sharing educational resources, readings, and assignment modifications. We also relied heavily on support services provided by Ball State University.

2. Creating a Virtual Space for LearningSocial Work virtual classroom

While we all have access to Canvas (our classroom management system), we wanted to go above and beyond to maintain a fidelity to course objectives and relationships based on integrity with our students.

Through platforms like Zoom, WebEx, and a variety of online applications, we did our part to help students maintain a sense of connection with their faculty members and their fellow classmates.

We also showed ingenuity in our approach towards assignments, virtual office hours, and student feedback.

3. Keeping Students Connected with Administrators

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed all of us to various breaking points. Whether it was challenges with time management, motivation, discomfort with online learning, limited access to technology, or other life factors, we all had to show courage, perseverance, and hope.

To help with this, our administrative team put together a weekly video series to share with students. These videos provided students with current happenings at the departmental and University level, offered strategies for success, and expressed our gratitude for their flexibility.

Here are sample messages from Dr. Glenn Stone, department chair, and myself.

4. Inclusive Leadership Images: Admin Meeting Screen Shot, Curriculum Meeting Screen Shot, and Faculty Meeting Screen Shot

 Our administrative team usually met twice per week to work through the ongoing flux of University, local, state, and federal regulations.

This group provided an inclusive sounding board for sharing and discussing strategies for how best to support our students, faculty, and staff. This group never panicked, consistently developed contingency plans, and successfully navigated two months of uncertainty.

These efforts will continue during the summer months. In addition to administrative meetings, our department maintained their commitment to full faculty meetings, curriculum meetings, scholarship meetings, etc.

No stone was left unturned in our quest to maintain excellence and innovation in undergraduate and graduate education.

Be Lifelong Learners

The current public health crisis pushed many of our students, faculty, and staff to areas of new discovery, especially with best practices in online learning.

In our effort to learn from modern times, we facilitated several surveys to gain feedback for improvement in our online approaches, to explore student barriers to online education, and to gain a sense of student comfort level with online courses.

We also used surveys to gain a pulse on student concerns around practicum planning.

The End Result

Our goal was never perfection. Our goal was to control the chaos.

In a semester like no other—a semester that could have gone multiple directions—we came through the haze of uncertainty with our 350+ students hand-in-hand showing a pandemic cannot deter us from our enduring values.