The Heights: A Learning World Built to Train a More Capable Social Worker

Concurrent Session 5

Brief Abstract

The Wurzweiler School of Social Work is committed to connecting passion to purpose by training Social Workers who can navigate modern obstacles and complex systems—to heal a fractured world. “The Heights” is a learning experience that provides a rare opportunity for students to be inside the context, to engage critical scenarios, and to “see” communities through new lenses.


David has more than 12 years’ experience integrating teaching and learning using technology. Trained as a clinical psychologist, he has a deep passion for preserving human connections and relationships within digital environments, and has developed a specific expertise in program design and differentiation. An expert in online education, David has led engagements with over 20 premiere universities, provided direct consultation to more than 1,000 faculty members, and launched dozens of online programs spanning engineering, healthcare, psychology & counseling, computer science, business, education, law, analytics, cyber and homeland security, and sports management. His previous roles include Director of Learning & Impact, Director of Faculty Engagement, Academic Program Director, Director of Advisement, and Director of Online Academic Operations. David holds a PsyD, an MA in Forensic Psychology, and an MA in Clinical Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and a BS in English, Education from Indiana University, Bloomington.
Brook Corwin has been working with faculty at elite universities to design, deliver, and support outstanding online courses since 2010. A creative, collaborative instructional designer and instructional technologist, Brook specializes in adapting on-ground teaching strategies for digital platforms and asynchronous delivery. At Everspring, he has led engagements with the Raymond A. Mason School of Business at the College of William & Mary; the School of Business at the University of Kansas; and the Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University. Prior to his work at Everspring, Brook served on the instructional design team at North Carolina State University and on the instructional technology team at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Brook holds an MA in Interactive Media from Elon University and a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Additional Authors

Prior to my focus on teaching, I have worked with at-risk teens, in crisis intervention. In my role as director of a large, urban senior center with multiple programs I was involved in overseeing a vital Intergenerational program that paired many high risk adolescents with older adults. Since shifting my full-time focus to teaching, in addition to face-to-face classes, I have taught several on-line PhD courses and am currently developing an on-line generalist practice class. Since 2003 I have shifted my to teaching full-time. I have focused on teaching a number of graduate level courses in Social Work including Foundation Practice, Human Behavior in the Social Environment, Trauma Informed Child Welfare, Policy Practice, Social Welfare Organization, Diversity and Family Systems. I am committed to providing a rich educational experience that focuses on best practices incorporating a case-based and evidence based framework. I have taught several PhD courses and am currently developing an on-line generalist practice class. In addition, I have been actively involved in enhancing participatory educational experiences. To that end I have developed an educational field experience that allows our MSW students the opportunity to visit a maximum-security prison where they are able to spend time interacting with a group of inmates. Through this involvement students have gained a greater understanding of some of the many risks and inmates face and the traumas in their history and current circumstances that are often connected to substance use including opioids This year, in addition to teaching I published a chapter on SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment) focused on educating MSW level social work students on the use of motivational interviewing in working with clients struggling with substance abuse. These areas of interest and knowledge enhance the education of our students in their work with clients facing personal struggles as well as difficult circumstances and environments.
My name is Mary White. I am the Associate Director of online Field Education at Yeshiva University, Wurzweiler School of Social Work. I reside in Caribou, Maine and work entirely on-line. I earned my MSW in 1997 from the University of Maine at Orono. Prior to earning my graduate degree, I worked for a community mental health center providing case management services to people with serious and persistent mental illness. After graduation, I continued to work for the same organization in different capacities. I was a therapist for several years and later became a social work administrator. I worked for this organization for 18 years. After working there, I was employed by a high school providing counseling to students and their families. I served on my local school board and sat on two committees: policy and curriculum. I also served as a committee member on the local Community Action Program Policy Council and also served on their board. Nearly 10 years ago, I began teaching on-line at The University of New England in their graduate social work program and more recently at Yeshiva University, Wurzweiler's School of Social Work program.

Extended Abstract

When the Wurzweiler School of Social Work—located in New York City—decided to launch a new online Master of Social Work (MSW) program, the school knew it had to create a new kind of learning experience if it wanted to create a new kind of social worker. Early discussions identified two main conclusions. One, social workers “see” communities through different lenses. Most of us walk down the street and are not aware of the support services we are walking past, where the nearest grocery store is located, or the most direct path to the hospital. Social workers view communities through the eyes of those who need to use community services. Two, to be successful, social workers must know how to manage a set of critical situations. In the field of social work, there are some experiences that all social workers should know how to manage. Conducting a home visit is one example. In collaboration with Everspring—an education and technology company in Chicago—the faculty design team implemented a virtual community called “The Heights” to create an opportunity for online MSW students to try out their Social Work skills in a lower-risk learning world.   

The presenters have set four learning objectives:

  1. Discuss the importance of a program design process for launching a new online program.
  2. Explain how “The Heights” is connected to Wurzweiler’s MSW curriculum.
  3. Make the case that “The Heights” is innovative in how it prepares students to be social workers.
  4. Demonstrate the features of “The Heights.”

Attendees can expect to see the following features demonstrated:

An Interactive Map

“The Heights” gets its name from a fictional community. This community includes maps of urban, metro, suburban, and rural areas, which represent the various community types that social workers support. Wurzweiler is in the heart of a dense urban area, but through “The Heights,” students have the ability to experience a variety of environments. This was important to the faculty design group. They want students to be able to operate in any community. Trying to figure out a transportation option for a client in New York City is very different from a client living in a rural area.  

Community Lenses

As students view and engage the interactive map, they have the ability to turn on different lenses to “see” a community through a specific perspective. Social workers keep track of certain aspects of communities that help them do their job. They often need to know crime rates, demographic information, transportation routes, socio-economic statuses, and so on. “The Heights” provides an opportunity for students to consider multiple community factors, while visualizing them on the map.

Points of Interest

The community map includes points of interest that serve two purposes. First, they create context for students to practice making decisions. Points of interest can be toggled on and off to illustrate where specific support services are located. Places like hospitals, community centers, and police stations can be easily located. Second, the points of interest act as information centers. They house pictures, videos, documents, and descriptions of services provided. The faculty group can easily create points of interest to refresh content or add an element that might be needed for an assignment.

Map Search

Students and faculty can search for points of interest by keywords, like “church” or “Bright Star Hospital.” Points of interest can also be found by entering a unique location ID into the search bar. These features makes it easy for students to locate a point of interest while referencing it for an assignment so there is no confusion. It is also fun to see the map zoom to a point of interest.

Interactive Branching Scenarios

Students can navigate to points of interest to participate in “choose your own adventure” scenario-based learning experiences. For example, students conduct home visits by traveling to an apartment building or house in “The Heights” and then engage a scenario that allows the student to process information (text, audio, video, and images) before making a choice to a prompt. Each choice creates a new element to the situation, culminating in a unique learning path that students can examine later. Each scenario in “The Heights” has been identified as being “critical” to the development of social workers.

The presenters and the Wurzweiler School of Social Work feel that “The Heights” moves the needle on how social workers are trained and how technology is used to teach soft skills. By thoughtfully simulating situations and experiences that social workers encounter on a daily basis, students have the opportunity to practice more, safely fail and try again, and to feel confident in their abilities before testing them live in the field. Come to this session if you like to learn about smart uses of technology to enhance learning, if you like gamification, or if you are a scenario-based learning geek.