Earlier this year, Samford University’s Master of Social Work expanded its program offerings to include both online and face-to-face options, providing more flexibility for students seeking a graduate social work degree.
“We were excited to launch the online option for our Master of Social Work program because we know that online education is growing, especially in the field of social work,” said Lisa Baker, professor and chair of the School of Public Health’s Department of Social Work.
“There is a natural concern of how one could take a degree that is practice-oriented and transfer it to an online environment,” she continued. “But we’ve been able achieve this successfully because we’ve made it a priority that our online program captures the same experiences our face-to-face students have.”
To do this, the department has embraced the dynamic role technology can play. Faculty have incorporated virtual reality into their courses, and, new for this year, online students have the opportunity to engage with simulation through telepresence robots.
“This means that students who aren’t on-site can remotely maneuver one of our robots to participate in a simulation experience taking place in our Experiential Learning and Simulation Center,” Baker said. “We are incorporating the most modern technology to create the most meaningful experiences for our students.”
The department’s two telepresence robots, nicknamed Sam and Ford, were purchased with grant money available through the Public Child Welfare Program, a Title IV-E Stipend Program, and the Alabama Higher Education Consortium.
Essentially, the telepresence robots are iPads on wheels. Using video conferencing software, students can talk with and hear from classmates, faculty, standardized patients and other individuals near the robot, controlling its movements through an app on their smart phone or tablet.
While this dynamic technology provides a unique opportunity for online students to engage with their professors and classmates, it is just one aspect of the relational focus Samford's Master of Social Work program is known for. “All of our online courses are developed in-house by the faculty who are teaching the face-to-face class,” Baker said. “Our courses incorporate the faculty’s perspectives and his or her own unique style of teaching while also meeting the standards for quality and rigor that we expect from our program, no matter the medium.”
“Ultimately, we want our online students to feel as connected to campus as our face-to-face students and that has been our priority since day one,” she said.