28 August 2010

On the maze of social work

Thanks to the Fighting Monsters blog, I've been introduced to this mini-action-maze on the Association of Directors of Social Work site. It has only four stages and is linear in format but it's a good try. It starts from a case-study, and at each stage you are asked what you would do and confronted with three alternatives, of which one is "correct" and leads to the next stage, and two are incorrect and take you back to the previous screen.

Going back to my now long-gone days teaching social work I have some reservations about its verisimiltude (why is this referral coming in at 4pm on a Friday? [OK, the Friday is necessary for the story] The school would have been aware of the injury from the morning. And I hate to say it, but the first response in many offices would be to leave it to the Emergency Duty Team--and it could be argued that would be right...) and about the practice, such as of going on a first visit alone. And although the responses to the wrong choices unveil what would have happened next had that choice been made, they don't actually explain why the choice is the wrong one. And it is enormously over-simplified...

Even so, it does pose real questions and could be used as a teaching aid in a wide variety of courses, even for qualified staff.

My own first take on the action maze idea was originally about supervision in a residential social work setting, but I've put one on the web about mentoring new staff in higher education, which people can try here. (Warning; it's technically pretty crude--it's been around for eight years now--and you may have to resize your browser window to get it to show properly.) I'm mentioning it principally because this one does not have any right or wrong answers; it simply has opportunity costs. Unlike undertaking a role-play or other simulation, all the possible outcomes are pre-determined (this maze has about half-a-million potential routes through it), so the cost of the mentoring session you do have is all the others you could have had but didn't. And since it simply has to stop when its (simulated) time is up, the judgement you make of what you have achieved is principally up to you. And actually, that is probably truer to the reality of most social work (and teaching) practice than the neat and tidy "Child Protection Challenge".

Incidentally Peter Davies (Davies and Mangan, 2007) argues that opportunity cost is a threshold concept in economics; it would be an interesting exercise to see whether a maze might provide an effective way of addressing it.

Davies P and Mangan J (2007) "Threshold Concepts and the Integration of Understanding in Economics" Studies in Higher Education 32 (6)

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