Dr. Larry Bennett, Professor in the School of Social Work has a challenge. Most Social Work students enter the field wanting to help people – either through direct service, programming, or advocacy. However, the National Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics requires that social workers evaluate their interventions to assess their effectiveness. This means that in addition to learning about mental illness, case management, and therapeutic interventions, social work students need to master the tools of assessment.
Within the School of Social Work, there is an internship requirement for undergraduates and graduate students; Dr. Bennett estimates that the School of Social Work routinely works with over 100 different agencies in Indiana and Michigan. Dr. Bennett takes advantage of the fact that each student is already partaking in an internship when they enroll in Practice Evaluation (SWK-S472 and SWK-S623). In his courses, students learn what Bennett calls “evidence-based practice”, which are practices that have been assessed and determined to be effective. Students first collaborate with their field instructor to come up with an implementation plan to utilize throughout their internship –something also of utility to the social agency. In Dr. Bennett’s classroom, students then fine-tune that plan, create a way to assess and evaluate it, and then present their plan and findings at the end of the semester to their classmates.
Graph depicts a SSD, Single System Design, with baseline and intervention data points.
At the undergraduate level, students have the choice to work with single clients, evaluate an entire program within the agency, or some combination of both. Undergraduates can choose projects that directly benefit the agency, like a program evaluation. Program evaluations could involve agency focus groups or client satisfaction surveys. To evaluate an individual client, students use what it called a Single System Design, or SSD. A typical SSD project in the undergraduate course uses some form of motivational enhancement or prompting intervention to increase group attendance or medication compliance.
The graduate course differs as those students are required to focus on individual clients and to produce a publish-ready
document for their program. Graduate students also conduct a SSD project, and use statistics to assess its effectiveness.
According to Dr. Bennett, “social work students are often anxious to begin their internship so that they can put their new skills in practice; but, it’s the part of their program they look forward to and enjoy the most.” Dr.Bennett has made it his mission to teach these students how to evaluate the work they are doing in their internships and field placements so that it has a meaningful and long-lasting impact on clients and agencies.