Evaluating Human Rights Impact in Social Work Education: The Million Bones Example
The Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) now require social work educators to teach their students to “advance human rights” (CSWE, 2009). Accordingly, educators must develop—and evaluate—novel methods of teaching that address this “human rights” accreditation standard. This presentation will highlight results from the first study to explicitly evaluate the human rights content of a social work teaching intervention.
Human rights material was integrated into a required undergraduate Macro Practice class using One Million Bones (OMB), a “social arts practice” which aims to raise awareness of global human rights atrocities (www.onemillionbones.org). Social work students were given the opportunity to become human rights educators and practice macro-level social work skills as they organized events for hundreds of participants in a dozen community settings. The presenters evaluated this teaching strategy by applying quasi-experimental and survey methods to two major research questions: 1) Do students who have taken part in OMB have higher levels human rights exposure (HRX) and human rights engagement (HRE) than students enrolled in a different section of Macro Practice (not exposed to OMB)? and 2) Do students exposed to OMB increase their HRX and HRE over the course of the semester? We hypothesized that 1) students exposed to OMB would have significantly higher levels of HRX and HRE than students who were not exposed to OMB; and 2) students exposed to OMB would significantly increase their levels of HRX and HRE over the course of the semester.
All students taking Macro Practice in spring semester 2012 were eligible for this study (N=57). Two previously validated scales—Human Rights Engagement in Social Work (HRESW) and Human Rights Exposure in Social Work (HRXSW)—were administered to the OMB participants at the start of the semester, and to all sample students at the semester’s end. Analysis of descriptive statistics, measures of internal consistency, as well as independent sample and paired sample t-tests were completed using SPSS statistical software.
Responses were obtained from 44 (77%) of the 57 eligible participants. Students exposed to OMB scored significantly higher on the HRXSW (M=5.80, SD=0.94) than did students in the non-OMB course (M=4.73, SD=0.73; t(42)=2.13, p=.041), indicating significantly higher levels of HRX. Students exposed to OMB also scored significantly higher on the HRESW (M=6.44, SD=0.56) than did students in the non-OMB course (M=5.99, SD=0.79; t(42)=2.20, p=.034), indicating significantly higher levels of HRE. Furthermore, study respondents exposed to OMB (n=23) experienced a significant mean score increase of 1.54 on the HRXSW (p<.001) and a mean score increase (not significant) of 0.13 on the HRESW (p=.143) over the course of the semester.
This study is the first to evaluate the human rights content of a social work teaching intervention. This first step suggests that targeted educational interventions have the potential to increase students’ HRX and HRE—and therefore help social work educators meet human rights educational standards. Such research and practice are necessary for social work to participate in advancing human rights globally.