Friday, January 14, 2022

New UI School of Social Work MSW curriculum emphasizes social justice and other enduring understandings at the heart of Social Work.

white and gold text on a black background: making social justice work, with Iowa Social Work logo in top right corner

The University of Iowa School of Social Work is now in the final stages of a complete curriculum redesign for the school’s Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. The process began nearly four years ago, with the intent of building cohesion, eliminating unnecessary or outdated modes of instruction, and increasing the emphasis on social justice and other enduring understandings throughout the entire learning experience.

“We have made changes and updates over time, but we were overdue for a full redesign,” said Carolyn Hartley, PhD, who is an Associate Professor in the School of Social Work and co-chairs the Curriculum Redesign Committee. “We really didn’t want to do it piecemeal; it was time to take an intentional step back and re-envision the curriculum.”

“The faculty started the process, called backward design, by asking what we want our social work students to look like when they walk out the door. Then we rebuilt the curriculum based on our answers to that question.”

Fellow committee co-chair Megan Gilster, PhD, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work, explained, “Our learning goals are expressed as ‘Enduring Understandings’ at the heart of the Social Work profession, no matter what practice area students choose to pursue. These concepts have lasting value beyond the classroom. They tell us what students ought to understand—not just what we want them to know. They don’t simply learn facts, they gain deep and enduring understanding of core principles. Ultimately, that will make them amazing social workers.”

During Unity Week at Iowa, we want to focus on one of these Enduring Understandings in the new UI School of Social Work MSW:

Commitment to advance social justice and fight discrimination and inequity.

The Master of Social Work degree at Iowa continues to meet all competencies for accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which plans to announce revisions to their Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) in Spring 2022. Like the new UI Social Work curriculum, the revised EPAS are more explicit than ever about including anti-racist and anti-oppressive content in practice, research, and policy.

Hartley said, “The timing of our re-design with the new EPAS has been great – our re-design incorporated most of the new EPAS before we even knew what they were going to be. We had already substantially enhanced the social justice content in the new curriculum, so I would say we are ahead of the game.”

As you might guess from the school’s vision statement—“Making social justice work”—the University of Iowa School of Social Work has been teaching about social justice, oppression, and anti-racism for many years. The new MSW curriculum achieves greater integration of this content across all courses, rather than siloed in a single or a few diversity courses.

Hartley explained, “It expands the content overall, and pulls the threads of anti-racist, anti-oppressive social work practice across all of the students’ courses” as they progress through the master’s program.

The school’s ongoing goal is for the curriculum to be responsive to changes in the field, including the new, more explicit anti-racist/anti-oppressive focus of the EPAS. As we grow in our understanding of structural and institutional racism and discrimination, it is our responsibility and our challenge to incorporate this knowledge into the curriculum and assure our teaching is not only current, but forward-thinking and cutting edge—to the benefit of our students and the communities they will serve.

“This is going to require a lot of change and growth from our faculty. In many cases, they will have to redesign courses that they have been teaching the same way for years, but that’s kind of the point,” Hartley said. “The world of social work is constantly changing, and we understand the imperative to adapt our methods to make sure our graduates are ready to lead and make change in the world.”

The School of Social Work will implement the new first-year curriculum in its MSW Programs this fall and will transition entirely to the new curriculum by Fall 2023.

Learn more:

MSW Program

Video overview of new MSW curriculum