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Theory & Model-Building in Social Work, a Course Syllabus

Theory & Model-Building in Social Work, a Course Syllabus

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Published by Jane Gilgun
Theory and model building are important in all of the sciences, including applied social sciences like social work. This course syllabus provides topics and readings that are relevant to building theory and models that promote the common good. This is a syllabus for a PhD-level course in social work. Topics include participatory action research, logic models, intervention research, task analysis, evidence-based practice, deductive qualitative analysis, and grounded theory.
Theory and model building are important in all of the sciences, including applied social sciences like social work. This course syllabus provides topics and readings that are relevant to building theory and models that promote the common good. This is a syllabus for a PhD-level course in social work. Topics include participatory action research, logic models, intervention research, task analysis, evidence-based practice, deductive qualitative analysis, and grounded theory.

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Published by: Jane Gilgun on Sep 17, 2010
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University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, USASchool of Social WorkSW 8861 Theory & Model Building in Social WorkFall 2010Jane F. Gilgun, Ph.D., LICSW267 Peters HallPhone: 612/624-3643jgilgun@umn.eduFax: 612/642-3744Office Hours:toll free: 1 800 779 8636Tues 11:30-12:30or by appointmentMissy Lundquist, MSW, Ph.D. studentOffice hours:Co-Director, Facing Cancer Together Program,by appointmentAngel Foundation, Minneapolis77 Peters HallPhone: 651/261-4998Lund1086@umn.eduCourse Syllabus
This is a PhD-level course that prepares students to integrate research, theory, andsocial work practice to produce various types of models of interventions, programs, andpolicies. Because the course is taught within a school of social work, which is values-basedand emancipatory, the course guides students to reflect upon their own values and the valuesand mission of the discipline and to figure out ways to integrate these values and mission intotheir work with models of practice.The course, therefore, is practical and applied and requires that students learn bydoing; that is, they work with the components of models of practice. By doing this, students willbuild their capacities for analyzing, modifying, and developing models.The logic of the course is as follows. We begin with considerations of definitions of theories and models, their components, and uses. We move on to considering what a modelof social work practice would look like, and then we consider ways of analyzing, modifying,and developing models of practice. Throughout the course we examine models and theoriesthat members of allied fields have developed, providing a variety of perspectives.In this course, practice is defined as activities that social workers carry out in variouscontexts in accordance with definitions of social work, such as work in policy, communityorganization, social development, organizational development and management, directpractice, and any other domains where social worker have a presence. The methods for developing models of practice that we examine in this course are responsive to these multipledomains.Models, in general, are representations of how things work. A helpful synonym is thenotion of schema, which has many meanings, such as contents of neural connections in thebrain that are roadmaps for the various actions we take in our everyday lives. Schemasencode our expectations of ourselves, others, how the world works, and how we are to act in
 
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the world. Schemas can also be thought of as guidelines for assessment, plans of action for accomplishing tasks, and evaluation plans. “Inner working models” is a synonym for schemas.Models, schemas, roadmaps, and inner working models involve “putting your money whereyour mouth is,” meaning that you do not get to only talk about a social issue, but you actuallyshow that you have performed actions or have plans to do so in response to the social issue.You walk the talk. You describe a social issue and you take steps to do something that holdspromise of making things better.Another idea about models is the notion that they represent processes that are linked toconsequences that model developers, for the most part, have anticipated. Model developersalso are prepared for unanticipated consequences and have procedures in mind for responses to them.In summary, models represent some portion of human experience and, in addition,represent actions for modifying the conditions under which persons have their experiences.The effectiveness of practice depends upon the quality of the underlying models.Models that are consistent with the values and mission of social work have explicit or implicit values, start where clients are, and view the focus of their practice as persons ininteraction with various environments.Theory, in general, is representations of relationships among concepts. Theories maydescribe, categorize, or explain, or combinations of these. Descriptions of multi-faceted socialissues that are organized through concepts are the basis of higher order theorizing and canprovide a foundation for model-building.Theories are one component of models. Theories and models can be at various levelsof abstraction and can account for sequences of processes, such a model of participatoryaction research with low-income women on Sullivan Island, South Carolina, or for parts of aprocess, such as a model of assessing children with cerebral palsy and their families.Conversely, sometimes theories are also models of how things work.An important question is where theory comes from and what kinds of theory arerelevant to social work. The course will introduce two or more methods of theory developmentthat can be linked to models of practice. Students will gain expertise in these methods of theory development over the course of their studies in other courses and in their subsequentresearch experience. This course represents only a beginning, a handshake.
Course Goals & Objectives
The overall goals of the course are to develop students’ understandings of thecharacteristics of social work models of practice, to help them to develop a framework toanalyze models of practice, and to help them to begin the process of acquiring skills in theoryand model building.The point of creating, critiquing, and implementing models is, in general, to contribute tothe social good and, in particular, to create conditions where individuals can thrive. The centralevaluative criterion for models of practice in social work is the degree to which they fulfill thesegeneral and particular goals.
 
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By the end of the course, students will have a growing sense of 
tensions between logical-rational models of practice and human sciences models;
their own philosophies of science and when logical-rational models apply and whenhuman sciences models apply;
the history of social work thought and how this thought connects to human sciencestraditions such as starting where clients are, person-environment interactions, andsocial justice/care values;
how to integrate their personal and professional values and experiences into themodels of practice that they develop;
the historical roots of their own values and philosophies of science;
how issues related to power, gender, ethnicity, age, ability, social standing, physical &personality characteristics, income, and other indicators of social “worth” and locationcan be built into models of practice;
the issues that contribute to gaps between research, theory, and practice;
their own capacities to develop strategies and skills that show promise of bridging thesegaps;
the multiple components of models of practice, including how research, theory, andreason contribute to these multiple components;
growing expertise in integrating various sources of information and ideas into modifyingexisting models of practice and creating their own models of practice;
the many kinds of models of practice, some that contribute to assessment, some tointervention, some to evaluation, and some that encompass all three of these areas of practice; and
that models of practice can be created to respond to issues of policy, communityorganization, social development, organizational development and management, directpractice, and any other domains of social work practice.At the beginning of the course, students may find these objectives overwhelming. Thecourse, however, will build on students’ own experiences and interests and will show themthat the ideas that are embedded in these goals and objectives are already part of how theyview the world. In many ways, this course will help students give names to and tocontextualize how they already think about social work and social welfare. In the final analysis,the course may well lead students to claim and reclaim social work’s proud intellectual andvalues-based heritage and will be able to use this heritage to contribute to social work modelsof practice and thus to individual and social good.Many conflicting social forces work against large-scale social change that leads tosocial justice and care in the various domains in which we work. On the other hand, as social

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