The Heights: A Learning World Built to Train a More Capable Social Worker
Concurrent Session 5
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.
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:
- Discuss the importance of a program design process for launching a new online program.
- Explain how “The Heights” is connected to Wurzweiler’s MSW curriculum.
- Make the case that “The Heights” is innovative in how it prepares students to be social workers.
- 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.
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.
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.