Social work education in a pandemic

Published on 7 Apr 2020

Ariane Critchley, Lecturer in Social Work at the School of Health and Social Care (Edinburgh Napier University), offers initial reflections on how social work education has had to adapt and where she has drawn support. 


Ariane Critchley
Ariane Critchley, Lecturer in Social Work at ENU

As the threat of Covid-19 became clearer, in universities we prepared to bring face-to-face learning online. Clearing essential books and houseplants from a deserted office felt surreal. There followed an extremely steep learning curve in transferring lectures, assessments and contact with students to virtual platforms. I needed to redesign our dissertation approach for final year students who were poised on the brink of their fieldwork. The Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) sent out timely guidance and advice for Higher Education. 

At Edinburgh Napier University we have a good range of licensed technology, and fantastic support from learning technology colleagues. However, free mainstream platforms can feel more accessible for educators and students alike. A crash course in the ethics of technology was needed. Thankfully we have leaders in the field in social work, including Dr Amanda Taylor-Beswick and Dr Denise Turner to point the way. Connecting to colleagues through email, Microsoft Teams and Skype suddenly became essential activities. Caroline Bald’s #SWJoinin chat on Twitter on Thursday evenings proved a tonic. I found ways to bring the Scottish Social Work PhD and ECR community activities into the virtual world. 

The responsive advice of other academics helped, such as Professor Deborah Lupton’s collated  resources on Doing fieldwork in a pandemic, or Professor Lena Dominelli’s Guidelines for social workers. Learning from the expertise of academics who have worked through disasters helped reframe my expectations of my work life in these early days. I particularly enjoyed Aisha S. Ahmad’s Why you should ignore all that Coronavirus-inspired productivity pressure on being realistic about productivity, as we adjust to the crisis. 

Yet within all of this activity and rethinking, upholding student welfare is the greatest and most important challenge. Our students are under tremendous pressure to be active in the workforce; bringing their skills to essential care and support settings. Yet we will need their contribution as qualified social workers in the time to come. Many of our students have caring responsibilities, some are now home schooling their children. Steering a path between paid work, family, and studying has become a more fraught and complex journey. I have been impressed by the cool, calm and professional approach our students have brought to their online learning. It gives great hope for the future of our profession. The task for us as educators is to light a navigable pathway into that future. 

Contact: A.Critchley@napier.ac.uk