The COVID-19 pandemic and changing learning modalities (i.e., online education) have challenged social work education in specific ways, including limiting traditional opportunities for applied learning (e.g., in the classroom, in internships). Thus, there is an increasing need to develop online learning activities promoting knowledge application and skill development.
Online synchronous simulation may address these needs. Simulation, traditionally delivered in-person, offers experiential learning wherein students interact with standardized clients (i.e., trained actors) in scenarios structured to replicate ‘real world’ practice in a 'low-risk' environment. While online simulation has yielded some promising results in social work education, additional research is needed to ensure emerging adaptations of simulation to online formats are effective and appropriate.
This study evaluated the feasibility and acceptability of delivering an online simulation activity to Master of Social Work (MSW) students. Three iterations of a Zoom-based simulation activity were completed in December 2020. Students(n = 32) participated in a live telehealth scenario with a standardized client mandated to undergo assessment for suspected opioid use disorder.
Students were recruited from a University in the Midwestern United States. Data were collected via (1) Zoom recordings of simulation sessions and (2) exit surveys with participating students (65% completion). Surveys solicited students’ feedback on the simulation experience and their self-perceived readiness for social work practice. Descriptive statistics were analyzed using SPSS 27, and thematic analysis was used to analyze audio-video recordings.
The activity proved feasible to implement online in a manner consistent with the three-stage process of simulation-based learning (i.e., prebriefing, simulation, debriefing). It also provided an acceptable means of student exposure to the online service delivery environment and service provision to a stigmatized population (i.e., individuals with opioid use disorder).
When students were asked to rate how helpful the activity had been to prepare them for their current and/or future social work practice (0–10), they found the activity to be useful (M = 7.81, SD = 2.22). Highlighted aspects of the activity’s acceptability to students include: (1) a supportive, non-judgmental learning environment; (2) realistic portrayal of practice; (3) exposure to new aspects of practice; (4) observation of peers and different approaches to practice; and (5) opportunities for discussion and processing.
Conclusions and Implications:
Online simulation is a feasible and acceptable approach to (1) providing students with opportunities to practice emergent social work skills and (2) preparing students for the realities of contemporary practice (e.g., telehealth).
In keeping with the 2023 SSWR Conference theme, students should be given opportunities to work with stigmatized client populations to effectively address inequities. Online simulations are a solution to developing students’ practice skills and decision-making for such clients without risking harm due to lack of proficiency. Social work educators should consider the utility of implementing online simulation in their courses and programs where appropriate. Implications for social work education and pedagogical research are considerable.