Relationships Matter: Building Positive Relationships between Social Work Educators and On-Line Students

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Young, Peter
McAuliffe, Donna
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Dublin, Ireland


Positive relationships between students and educators can enhance learning outcomes for students. This presentation will examine findings from research with graduating on-line social work students regarding the relational aspects of studying on-line.

Relationships matter in higher education in a range of ways. Students are more able to release long held views and experiment with the uncomfortableness of not knowing when educators have successfully created a safe learning environment. Students are also more likely to engage in discussions and ask questions when safety has been successfully created. In social work education, the relationships between teaching staff and students are particularly important, as they provide a model for relationships that may influence the way our graduates relate to service users in the future.

Our interviews with graduating on-line Master of Social Work students highlight a number of behaviours of teaching staff that can enhance the quality of relationships with students. These behaviours might happen intuitively and unconsciously in a face to face classroom, but may not automatically occur in an on-line context. For example, students form judgements about the character of a lecturer, and make predictions about the likely outcomes for them of asking a question, by observing the interactions between the lecturer and other students. Subtle clues, such as tone of voice and the care taken to not shame a student, can greatly influence the sense of safety in the classroom, and therefore encourage or discourage future engagement by students.

We discuss how on-line educators might replicate this process of fostering safety in an on-line learning environment. This understanding is increasingly important given the significant growth in on-line programs in higher education, and the growth of technology in social work education more broadly.

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Social Work, Education and Social Development Conference (SWSD 2018)

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Higher education

Social work

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Young, P; McAuliffe, D, Relationships Matter: Building Positive Relationships between Social Work Educators and On-Line Students, Social Work, Education and Social Development Conference (SWSD 2018), 2018