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MON: Social Work Education In A Connected Age - A Playground Learning Environment. (David Appel)

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David Appel
4 January 2019


Digitalisation transforms our society in manifold ways and a profession such as Social Work needs to respond to these transformations. Likewise, social work education needs to revisit its curricula and teaching methods. However, the speed at which transformations are happening is often overstraining the capabilities of innovation, adoption and implementation of educational institutions and their stakeholders (Davis et al., 2018). This is especially the case for a discipline like Social Work with a rather uneasy relationship with technology (Taylor, 2017).

My project addresses this complex challenge by implementing a playground learning environment into social work bachelor and master curricula. This playground learning environment is directed towards a twofold purpose: it (a) equips students with skills and competences for their professional practice in the digital world and (b) allows teachers to gain experiences with education technology as well as rethinking their roles as guides and facilitators. Both learning experiences are as crucial as they are challenging (Adams Becker et al., 2018).

Setting a playground learning environment apart from the core topics and related skills and competences of the discipline of Social Work is expected to act as a threshold concept for the second purpose (Meyer and Land, 2003). Rather than comprehensive documentation, such an environment can showcase ‘good practice’, enable direct experience with online learning opportunities, and serve as a transparent reference for discussing difficulties among teachers. Thus, it can help overcome preconceptions regarding the digitally mediated interrelatedness of people and content and foster the implementation of education technology in a shifting environment.

At the H818 Online Conference 2019, I will present the project and context in more detail. I am involved in revising both the bachelor and master curriculum in Social Work at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences and will explain strategy, approach and major challenges for implementing education technology at this institution. I will focus on design and purpose of the planned playground learning environment. In order to explore this approach in more detail, a prototype course will be available for conference attendees with a specific interest in this topic before, during and after the conference Based on the experiences running this prototype course, we will discuss opportunities, strengths and weaknesses of such an approach in a workshop. In my presentation I will provide an overiview on the prototype course and findings from running the prototype so far.


Adams Becker, S., Brown, M., Dahlstrom, E., Davis, A., DePaul, K., Diaz, V. and Pomerantz, J. (2018) Horizon Report: 2018 Higher Education Edition, Louisville, CO:EDUCASE.

Davis, C., Greenaway, R., Moore, M. and Cooper, L. (2018) ‘Online Teaching in Social Work Education: Understanding the Challenges’, Australian Social Work, pp. 1–13 [Online]. DOI: 10.1080/0312407X.2018.1524918.

Meyer, J. and Land, R. (2003) ‘Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practising within the Disciplines’, pp. 1–14.

Taylor, A. (2017) ‘Social work and digitalisation: bridging the knowledge gaps’, Social Work Education, vol. 36, no. 8, pp. 869–879 [Online]. DOI: 10.1080/02615479.2017.1361924.

Extra content

If you are interested in beta testing the miniMOOC prototype, please visit the course design on webjets. You will find a Google form where you can leave the necessary information to create a beta tester acccount.

The miniMOOC protoype is available until 28 February 2019.

David Appel
15:56 on 11 February 2019 (Edited 14:48 on 14 February 2019)

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