Rebecca Gomez is the first to admit that she is not a “techie.” She had never taught an online class before she helped launch the online master’s degree program in social work at Our Lady of the Lake University, located in San Antonio, Texas. But that didn’t stop her from leveraging technology to bring top-tier training and clinical field experiences to students across the nation who were seeking a meaningful career in social work.
For Gomez, an effective online program in her field connects students to faculty, staff and their peers so they can encourage each other to engage. Since social work is intrinsically linked to interpersonal skills, the program leverages key technology, like videos and VoiceThread, an app that allows students to role-play client assessments and receive direct feedback. Students also receive assignments that require them to complete supervised internships by engaging in their own community so they can better understand the challenges that their clients may experience.
That emphasis on engagement has paid off, with retention rates of 80 percent in 2016 and program growth from 29 students in 2012 to more than 800 students last year. What’s more, onsite classes have now integrated many of the tools from the online course, including Blackboard and VoiceThread.
While the success of the program is clear, Gomez also appreciates the value of offering the program in the field of social work. “It’s a social justice issue for our students because whether due to rural areas, military or employment, they don’t have access to a degree unless it’s in an online format,” she said. “It’s a really powerful tool to reach people where they are, which is what social work is called to do.” — Julia McCandless