Improving social work methods and transnational teaching at multiple universities.
Social work is a profession and discipline dedicated to combating poverty and promoting the health and well-being of people. It fosters social integration into living environments, is dedicated to the social inclusion of disadvantaged groups of people, promotes social change and upholds fundamental democratic values and human rights. Its principal focus is on supporting people who are affected by and or at risk of poverty as well as delinquents, addicts, chronically and/or mentally ill people, children and young people in institutional care, and people with disabilities. In the project TransSoDia, three universities from Austria, the Netherlands (Saxion UAS, represented by Christian Schwital) and Germany (Kiel UAS, represented by Prof. Dr. phil. habil. Joseph Richter-Mackenstein) intensify their cooperation to support the inclusion efforts of social work professionals. The project partners aim to enhance the quality and pertinence of activities in social diagnostics and to develop cutting-edge technologies and innovative didactic designs.
Two specific instruments of cooperative social diagnostics forming the backbone of the project are as follows:
- The ego-centred network map can be used to record social relationships with family members, friends/acquaintances, colleagues and professional helpers. The cooperative visualisation and analysis of the network structure and the potentials for achievable social support constitute the starting point for inclusion and health-promoting interventions.
- In the biographical time bar, the biography of a person is understood as a multidimensional process. In accordance with findings based on a biographical interview, family, housing, education, work, health and support biographies of the client are lined up along a time axis. The collaborative analysis allows for targeted intervention planning that recognises self-identity and promotes individualised coping strategies.
Software solutions already exist for both diagnostic tools: easyNWK and easyBiograph. The latter is technically outdated and cannot be used on mobile devices. Users also request additional functionality concerning entry options, methods of visualisation and automated evaluations. Moreover, abstract symbolisations often limit the applicability of easyNWK and easyBiograph. Finally, experiences with distance learning and virtual counselling have shown how challenging application-oriented teaching and the cooperative use of social diagnostic procedures can be in virtual spaces. All of this is tackled by the project partners of TransSoDia.
Social diagnostics is an integral part of the curricula for social work and social pedagogy at all three partner universities. The professional exchange of the project partners about the teaching of social diagnostics, its theoretical foundations and concepts and the specific background of the partners and their individual experiences creates a fruitful environment for advancing network diagnostics and biographical diagnostics in the context of social work. The requirements for cooperative instruments are identified and specified by the involved students and practitioners. In an iterative process, prototypes are tested and evaluated, thereby laying the groundwork for professional, up-to-date and user-friendly instruments and information materials.
The project partners strive to level up teaching and education in the field of social diagnostics and lift it to a transnational level. The above-mentioned methods are further developed with a specific focus on digital use. The main goals of the project are as follows:
- To provide multimedia information and learning materials via toolkits on biographical diagnostics and network diagnostics;
- To create up-to-date software solutions that facilitate the use of biographical diagnostics and network diagnostics in virtual environments;
- To develop and implement innovative didactic designs and formats for the transnational and digital education of social work at universities.
All steps of the project are based on a participatory and iterative process.
- The scientific background and didactic know-how of the project partners guarantee that the commonly designed tools and manuals are evidence-based and communicated to a broad professional public. The professional exchange on the underlying principles, the purposes and the fields of application of the methods that are developed benefits all project partners, as it serves knowledge and competence acquisition.
- Interdisciplinary cooperation with computer scientists ensures that the developed software solutions meet professional and technical requirements. It also gives technicians insight into the needs of specific user groups and students of social work insight into visual information technologies in return.
- Teachers, students and professionals share their experiences with network diagnostics and biographical diagnostics, and are invited to test prototypes of the software solutions and toolkits. In focus groups, the experiences of those involved are discussed, and the insights gained are used to refine and improve the prototype.
- New didactic designs and teaching materials are used in undergraduate courses, as well as in continuing education courses at universities, and tested for their didactic suitability. This ensures that the concepts and materials hold water, are based on feedback from recipients and can be applied by professionals of different qualification levels.
In the last year of the project, dissemination activities are carried out to make the results known to the professional community. At transnational online events and conferences, social work professionals and teachers of social diagnostics are informed about the latest versions of the methods and web-based instruments. Software solutions and short manuals for easyNWK and easyBiograph are translated into English to make them accessible to an international professional community. The partner universities incorporate the teaching of the two methods of cooperative social diagnostics and the developed didactic designs and materials into their curricula.
Six tangible products are created in the cooperation partnership with TransSoDia:
- Formats, designs and digital elements for transnational blended learning university teaching become a main pillar in the curricula of the partner universities. This includes synchronous joint lectures, materials for asynchronous teaching, videos, podcasts and furthering the transfer of theory into practice.
- In line with the idea of lifelong learning, as well as intersectoral and international networking, transnational virtual training courses for social work professionals are designed. These are tested and evaluated in the course of the project with the aim of implementing evidence-based concepts in the education programmes of all partner universities.
- A multimedia toolkit for network diagnostics enables self-organised learning and the professional application of selected instruments. Aside from basic texts on network theory and instructions for analogue social diagnostic instruments, it contains manuals, tutorials and podcasts for the application of the network map (according to Peter Pantucek-Eisenbacher), as well as the corresponding web app.
- A new web-based software solution for the visualisation of biographical trajectories, including a multidimensional representation of life events and life phases, is developed. Additional functions of the program, such as the integration of photos and images, are specified on the basis of a participatory development process.
- A multimedia toolkit for biographical diagnostics aims to provide insights into the variety of structuring and visualisation possibilities of life history narratives and life histories. The collection of materials coming with the toolkit contains video tutorials illustrating the practical application of the biographical time bar, German and English manuals for the software, presentations and podcasts.
- Prof. Dr. phil. habil. Joseph Richter-Mackenstein, Kiel UAS (Germany)
- Christian Schwital, Saxion UAS (the Netherlands)