Abstract: Developing Critical Consciousness for Evidence Informed Practice across Difference: Using Applied Social Science to Undergird Social Work Diversity Pedagogy (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

102P Developing Critical Consciousness for Evidence Informed Practice across Difference: Using Applied Social Science to Undergird Social Work Diversity Pedagogy

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Jason Sawyer, PhD, MSW, Assistant Professor, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA
Shuntay Tarver, PhD, MSW, Assistant Professor, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA

Teaching methodologies draw concrete, practical bridges among philosophy, theory, and practice (Casey, 2016). This project analyzes student responses to methodology for teaching difference practice based on applied social science paradigms: Traditional/Rational, Interpretive/Experiential, and Critical/Radical. Based on Humphrey (2013), Sawyer and Brady (2021), Thomas, Netting, and O’Connor (2011), and Guba (1990) it allows practitioners to select effective practice approaches based on context, values, and practice goals. It corrals and categorizes various difference practice approaches, such as cultural competence, cultural humility, anti-oppression, and others based on their underlying historical, epistemological, axiological, and ontological assumptions clarifying contextually applicable approaches. Its efficacy depends on students’ critical consciousness oriented toward skill development.

Literature argues for evidence-informed skill building, less ambiguous pedagogical standards, and systematic development of diversity teaching methods (Olcon´, Gilbert, & Pulliam, 2020; Sawyer, 2020). Many human service disciplines struggle to teach and develop effective approaches to critically conscious practice across myriad differences (Robinson, et. al., 2016). Social work education remains among those challenged in usefully guiding diversity practice (Azzopardi, & McNeil, 2016).

Cultural competence dominates social work practice, research, and education (Carpenter, 2016; NASW, 2017). It simultaneously holds privileged status and draws critiques (Fisher-Borne, et. al, 2015). Its widespread meanings, reinforcement of institutionalized racism, acceptance of equalized oppressions, colonialist epistemology, and paradoxical value base draw criticism across disciplines (Johnson, & Munch, 2009; Pon, 2009). Students also report it’s “ambiguous, implies an endpoint, and is suggestive of something that can be measured” and question “what basis and whose authority someone’s practice could be deemed to be culturally incompetent” (Harrison, & Turner, 2011, p. 343).


As a pilot, researchers capture student learning experiences in a core curricular human services course centered on developing critical consciousness across multiple dimensions of difference. Using a blend of phenomenology and content analysis, researchers analyze journal reflections of ongoing class activities and focus group dialogues. We explore the following research questions: (1) How do students reflect learning experiences designed to raise critical consciousness? (2) Using an empirical lens, how do student reflections relate to applied social science frameworks? (3) How does class content impact practical skill building? (4) To what degree are students prepared to practice across cultural, identity, and power-based differences?


As in most qualitative research endeavors, data analysis is ongoing (Creswell, & Poth, 2018). As of this writing, student responses coalesce five broad themes. These include: (1) unveiling, (2) power analysis, (3) critical contextual analysis, (4) discomfort and tension, and (5) eclecticism.


Across disciplines educators need to develop evidence-informed pedagogies for critical consciousness raising informing practical skill building (Azzopardi, & McNeil, 2016). Dominated scholarly literature argues for particular practice approaches based on unsystematic preferential criteria, and a shaky evidence base (Gottlieb, 2020; Nguyen, et al, 2020). This leads students to decontextualize practice and reinforce arbitrary forms of harmful eclecticism (Green, Bennett, & Betteridge, 2016). Grounded context-based methodology to guide analysis of content serves as a foundational starting point for critical consciousness development toward evidence informed practice skills in this area (Sawyer, & Brady, 2021).