Methods. We conducted a systematic review of articles (1) published in English-language, peer-reviewed journals that (2) focused broadly on social work policy practice education, pedagogical approaches or evaluating an approach, and (3) published from 1970 to 2020. To locate relevant studies we first searched major electronic databases (ERIC, SocINDEX, JSTOR, and SAGE) using keywords "social welfare policy" and "teaching", "policy practice" and "teaching", "social work" and "policy" and "teaching", "policy advocacy" and "teaching", "social welfare policy" and "education", "policy practice" and "education", "social work" and "policy" and "education," resulting in 106 relevant studies. Second, we manually searched journals focused on social work education or policy practice, including the Journal of Social Work Education, Journal of Teaching in Social Work, Social Work, Journal of Community Practice, Journal of Policy Practice, Advances in Social Work, Administration in Social Work, and Journal of Baccalaureate Social Work, returning an additional 71 articles. Third, we searched article reference lists for additional relevant articles and the library database by author name. Our final review included 152 relevant studies. We conducted a content analysis to analyze by research design, teaching method, outcome domain, and educational setting (level of education, year, discipline, etc).
Findings. Over a half (57%) of the articles reviewed were solely conceptual, about a third (40%) were empirical, and the rest a combination. Conceptual papers focused primarily on four areas: course design, curriculum development, teaching methods and assignments, and policy field placement experiences. Conceptual literature offered curricula recommendations and discussed the use of experiential methods at both undergraduate and graduate levels. Empirical studies were either descriptive or evaluative. Descriptive studies focused primarily on students’ perceptions of their knowledge and skills or attitudes and satisfaction. Evaluation studies assessed effectiveness of a specific pedagogical approach, assignment or a policy field placement. While the majority of studies measured students’ perceived knowledge and skills, a few did assess the impact of policy practice education on intended or actual involvement in policy advocacy.
Implications. While there is a growing recognition of the importance of understanding best practices for policy practice education, this systematic review reveals a lack of systematic discourse on the place of policy courses in the curriculum and policy content in courses. Additionally, lack of rigorous investigations into how pedagogical practices and engagement in policy practice post-graduation presents a challenge to understanding the efficacy of policy practice education.