Bringing Best Practices to Life: Competency Based Learning at the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work
Seelio Best Practice: Define explicit learning outcomes at the beginning of the student experience so that students know from the beginning what they are working toward and can recognize and document mastery of skills along the way.
We’ve seen this best practice along with many others in our work with the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work (UM SSW). Mary Ruffolo, Ph.D., a UM SSW Professor and Director of the Continuing Education Program, has been using Seelio in her classes for over a year and has invited us into the process of exploring how portfolios can impact student confidence in connecting learning experiences to career goals.
Last summer, we collaborated with Mary to develop a web-based course that UM SSW graduate students could take to build a professional online portfolio to demonstrate the 13 core competencies they develop throughout their master of social work program at UM SSW. The 1-credit web-based course employs online modules, virtual meetings, and virtual group work to support students in developing an integrative learning portfolio.
The course curriculum explicitly focuses on helping students identify their professional goals and develop adaptive expertise, or the ability to draw connections between their studies and experiences as a professional social worker. With self-paced reflective activities, students are challenged to reflect on their key learning experiences, their top skills, and how they want to present those experiences in their upcoming job search. Group feedback through virtual meetings as well as community features on Seelio like comments, likes, and private messages, allow students to share their experiences and gain valuable insights from their peers and advisors.
Validating Our Hypothesis on the Impact of Portfolios on Student Confidence
We hypothesized that this combination of competency-based learning, reflection, and portfolio development would increase students’ confidence in their ability to articulate skills and learning experiences in a professional context. Two rounds of pre- and post-surveys of participating students validated our hypothesis– students reported increased confidence and optimism in their professional development and their ability to apply competencies from their degree program to their future as social work professionals.
Specifically, across two semesters, students in the web-based course showed significant gains in their:
- comfort applying facts, theories, or methods to practical problems or new situations (p=.0001);
- confidence articulating their goals (p=.018) and key learning experiences (p=.049); and
- confidence presenting their work to potential employers (p=.009).
Hear From Students & Learn More About Our Process
Two students recorded brief video segments to share more about their experience in the course. See what Aaron and Katie had to say. You can also find more details about the course and our work with UM SSW in a presentation we gave at the Online Learning Consortium’s Annual Meeting last October:
At Seelio, we apply these same best practices in our portfolio implementations across our partner programs, collaborating with faculty to identify the best fit for their courses and measuring and evaluating progress at each step along the way. At the end of the day, our goal is to empower students like Aaron and Katie to confidently pursue their professional goals with a digital identity that allows them to easily showcase their 21st century skills.