Bridging Disciplinary Boundaries (January 11 - 14, 2007)

Saturday, January 13, 2007: 4:00 PM-5:45 PM
Pacific C (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)
Using Research Methods to Define and Measure Socially-Just Practice: Action-Research, Construct Development, and Praxis
Speakers/Presenters:Mieko Yoshihama, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Melissa Peet, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Beth Glover Reed, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Robert Ortega, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Abstract Text:
Acquiring the knowledge and skills for social justice learning and practice is a lifetime endeavor and critically important for effective social work practice. At this roundtable, we will describe and discuss the multiple research processes employed at the University of Michigan to develop, operationalize and test social justice constructs in order to create social justice competencies for the MSW curriculum. The roundtable will use multiple pedagogical approaches, including didactic presentations, experiential/reflective exercises, and small group discussions. We will alternate brief presentations with interactive discussion. The brief presentations include the research methods we have employed (with examples of results) and various ways of depicting the underlying constructs. Dialogue among participants will focus on alternative frameworks and approaches, including their own work and implications in other settings.

Using an action research framework, the social justice competencies we will share were developed through a number of phases, and will continue to be revised with additional research and experience. The initial constructs were generated from theory and practice-based knowledge. Subsequently, several types of research have informed further development. These include quantitative (e.g., a survey administered at three intervals) and qualitative methods (e.g., content analyses of: focus groups with students, field instructors and field staff; individual interviews with faculty; student reflection papers; student work on developing learning portfolios; and documents from faculty curriculum workgroups). Multiple investigators have worked separately and together to triangulate multiple sources and types of data and analyses.

In factor analyses of the survey data, we identified four latent constructs, examined how these constructs changed over time, and explored whether construct structures varied across students' identity categories. We coded qualitative data both inductively and deductively. We identified examples of current social justice-related competencies and how students understood these and relationships among them, as well as other examples of knowledge and skills that students felt were important. We examined similarities and differences among students in relation to their identity categories, whether they experience disadvantage or advantage on particular categories, their level of knowledge and experience at the beginning of the MSW program, their concentrations and their track and developmental stage within the program. Content analyses of faculty workgroup reports suggested many ways to translate the broader constructs into sub-competencies appropriate for particular courses.

We also examined the qualitative data of different subgroups of (e.g., women, students of color, international students) to explore the extent to which the language and focus of the competencies would capture the experiences of students with multiple positionalities, different worldviews and capabilities. We considered whether global or international perspectives were sufficiently included. We revised and added a number of items to capture construct elements that were not clearly present in earlier versions.

The current structure has four sets of major construct areas with sub-competencies and a set of overarching principles. In the roundtable, in addition to the discussion of past research methods, we will engage participants in a substantive discussion and critique of the current revised constructs and possible steps for validating and measuring these.

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