In social work education, these challenges have often meant that professional identity has been left to the implicit curricula of course work and field education. As a result, there may be limited opportunities to bring lived experience to a discussion of professional identity or no explicit discussion of professional identity at all.
This paper sets out the curriculum development process undertaken with current students of the Master of Social Work (MSW) at the University of Melbourne. Students were engaged as a cohort of lived-experience collaborators, to develop a professional identity framework and aligned curricula. The aim of elevating students in this curriculum development was to ensure that their diversity of lived experience was given adequate prominence and that the curricula developed was able to reflect and incorporate the diversity of students (and future practitioners).
Seven final year MSW students were recruited to paid positions to engage in the co-design of professional identity curricula. Students were selected based on racial and gender diversity and interest in professional identity development. The student group was engaged in 8 monthly sessions during 2020. An iterative and experiential methodology was employed. Data was collected in relation to experience of professional identity creation across the course, which was then returned in later sessions as experiential, pedagogical activities for them to participate in. Data was collected about the consultative/co-design process as a whole and the contribution of group formation and experiential activities on their professional identity development.
This iterative and experiential methodology led to the design of two subjects, drawn directly from the data gathered from the student consultative/co-design group. These subjects focus on instructor facilitation (as opposed to direct teaching), the centring of student personal/social identity and lived experience, and providing opportunities and frameworks for students to negotiate the role of that personal/social identity and lived experience in their own professional identity development at the start and end of the MSW.
Implementation of these co-designed professional identity subjects has enhanced both the student and instructor experience of the MSW. The co-design methodology described in this paper was central to this success. It demonstrates the importance of including students in curricula development if lived experience and personal self are sought to be explicitly included in the MSW. Future research in relation to this curricula development will include the impact of these subjects on confidence in field placements, student belonging and professional identity development in early career practitioners.