Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

17116 Instrument Development: MSW Students' Research Knowledge Acquisition and Retention (RKA)

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 8:30 AM
McPherson Square (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Melissa Abell, PhD, Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Mary Secret, PhD, Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Nathan H. Perkins, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Jennifer L. Keast, MSW, Doctoral Student, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Purpose: Propelled by a commitment to quality education that prepares students to engage competently in research-informed practice and practice-informed research, graduate social work programs strive to develop procedures that measure overall educational outcomes that assess students' capacities to understand research knowledge as applied to practice settings. The literature related to social work student acquisition and retention of research knowledge is sparse (Unrau & Grinnell, 2005) with few measurement tools available (Bogo, Power, Regehr, Globerman, & Hughes, 2002; Smith, Cohen-Callow, Hali, & Haywood, 2007). In this presentation we will; 1) discuss the development and implementation of the (RKA) instrument and its feasibility for measuring research capacity; 2) present the findings of a longitudinal study using the instrument to assess MSW student research knowledge retention; 3) discuss the implications for how these findings can inform the research curriculum. Method: In the RKA instrument four vignettes describe research-related issues or problems associated with practice settings. Twenty-four multiple choice questions related to the vignettes ask about aspects of the research process; including use of existing literature, sampling, measurement, and data collection methods. Correct responses were summed to yield a total score with a maximum of 24. The study had three data collection points; pretest at the beginning of the foundation research course, graded posttest at the end of the one semester course, and follow-up test at the beginning of the one-year concentration research sequence (N=194). Another data collection occurred this spring (2011) at the end of the concentration research sequence. Those results will be analyzed this summer and added to the results.

Results: Paired t-tests indicated that students demonstrated significant gains from initial pretest to immediate posttest (p<.000). There was a moderate though significant loss of knowledge from the end of the foundation course to the beginning of the concentration research course (p<.008). A test of repeated measures showed overall gains from pretest to follow-up posttest at the beginning of concentration research F(2, 193)=177.09 p<.000. Although students' research knowledge and application is greater at the end of the research curriculum than at the beginning, the greatest knowledge gain appears to be at the end of the foundation course. Despite the gain in research knowledge, MSW students' overall knowledge and application of research methods was relatively low (M=14.34 at final posttest). In fact, only about 16 percent of the students scored 19 or above indicating that they answered 80 percent of the questions correctly.

Implications: Increased emphasis should be placed on the research content of the MSW program as more students are learning to use EBT. Yet, while CSWE mandates research competence for students, there are no clear guidelines on the meaning of competence. The RKA is one way of ensuring that graduates have the tools to critically utilize evidence-based practice (EBP). This comprehensive approach to measure the extent to which MSW students gain and retain research knowledge can help document social work education programs' adherence to accreditation standards and to ensure that social work graduates have the requisite skills to implement EBT.