Tag Archives: #SWTech

Professionalism, Social Work and The Connected Age

This blog outlines my digital journey and why it is that I am committed to finding ways for social work in England to engage more fully with the digital shift.

My initial interest in digital technologies arose out of a need to keep in touch with my family and friends when I left Ireland in 2008 to pursue a career in social work education in England. I experimented with a number of platforms and apps until I found those most suitable for maintaining my connections back home. At that time choices were fairly limited. I used Email, Facebook and Instant Messenger (IM). My usage was largely dictated by both my communication requirements and the functionality of the tools. It wasn’t long however, having ‘felt’ the benefits of these tools, before my mind drifted to the affordances of new technologies for teaching and learning in social work education. I began to notice how conscious I was becoming about my ‘presence’ (Rettie, 2003) online. This shift in my awareness was, in part, due to my role as a social work educator, tasked with the responsibility of professionally socialising students for contemporary social work practice. I became increasingly curious about professionalism, linked to the digital shift and began to explore human existence more broadly within the context of place and space (Hubbard and Kitchin, 2010). More recently my attention has shifted, to concerns about why it might be that an increasing number of colleagues are being called to account by the professional regulator for behaviours on social media (Schraer, 2014; Stevenson, 2014; McNicoll, 2016, Stevenson, 2016) that weaken the credibility of the profession and threaten public trust.

Since my journey into the online, and indeed to a greater degree the unknown, began I have taken the opportunities available to me to raise the profile of digital technologies in social work education, in a bid to highlight their relationship to professionalism in social work more broadly. I have embedded various methods into my teaching approaches to increase the digital awareness and capabilities of students, underpinned by the current professional standards for practice. An example of which is @SWBookGroup, an approach that incorporates the use of the microblogging platform Twitter to connect the profession in a global discussion for the purposes of consolidating learning through prompting reflection. The population of the group, both numerically and geographically, is testimony to its success. Another is @SWVirtualPal , a medium through which social work students, practitioners and academics can identify and connect with like-minded colleagues across the world to share interests and ideas. My social work virtual pal Laurel Hitchcock  and I have recently blogged about this work at the request of the Chief Social Worker for Adults in England. You can read the blog here… Local Practice with Global Connections.

Even though I felt like I was progressing my teaching methods and engaging in some really interesting work I remained dissatisfied about my understanding of the use of digital technologies in social work education. In some respects I felt like I was doing social work education ‘to’ and not ‘with’ students and had a deep desire to explore their digital experiences whilst engaged with their professional training. This need to know led me to design a study aimed at ‘examining the contribution of social work education to the digital socialisation of students in readiness for practice‘. Due to the rapidity of technological change I have been sharing the progress of my study as it evolves on my professional social media channel.  I have also blogged about this work and have just this week had a paper accepted for publication in Social Work Education: The International Journal entitled ‘Social Work and Digitalisation: Bridging the Knowledge Gaps.

There is still much to unpack and learn about social work in the connected age. I am often challenged about why I prefix the term professionalism with the word digital. My rationale for this is explained in the pending paper mentioned above, but in short it relates to the ongoing struggles that, as a profession, we seem to be experiencing in online spaces. The answer, as I see it, is quite simple; we need to account for the digital in everything we do. We need to reconsider the Professional Capabilities Framework in a way that reflects the digital shift, and we need to develop more pointed guidance that enables the profession to become more equipped and confident in online spaces. If we are to convey the complexity of the work and truth about who we are we need to do this ethically. Social media offers so many possibilities for this, so many opportunities to promote social justice and to tell the true and messy story of social work. A profession committed to the greater good.

My need to stay connected personally has led me down a path of connecting professionally. It is hoped, if you haven’t already, that you might join me on this journey, of connecting the dots between the professional and the digital so that we can exploit the affordances that new technologies offer to do social work and to tell our story in a better and much more informed way.


Hubbard, P. and Kitchin, R. eds. (2010). Key thinkers on space and place. London: Sage.

McNicoll, A. (2016). Social worker who used Facebook to communicate with service user suspended. [Community Care] Retrieved from http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2016/11/30/social-worker-facebook-messaged-service-user-suspended/  

Schraer, R. (2014). Social worker who sent ‘offensive’ tweets to David Cameron found fit to practise. [Community Care] Retrieved from  http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2015/08/11/social-worker-sent-offensive-tweets-david-cameron-found-fit-practise/  

Stevenson, L. (2014). HCPC sanctions social worker over Facebook posts. [Community Care] Retrieved from http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2014/09/10/social-worker-given-conditions-practice-order-disrespectful-facebook-posts/   

Stevenson, L. (2016a). Was decision to expel social work student for Facebook posts draconian or deserved? [Community Care] Retrieved from http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2016/03/02/decision-expel-social-work-student-facebook-posts-draconian-deserved/  

Stevenson, L. (2016b). Social workers ‘not equipped’ to identify risks of social media, reviews say: Serious case reviews into the deaths of two teenage girls found that social media played a “very significant” role in the girls’ vulnerability. [Community Care] Retrieved from http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2016/09/15/social-workers-equipped-identify-risks-social-media-reviews-say/

Taylor, A.M.L (2015).  Examining the Contribution of Social Work Education to the Digital Socialisation of Students in Readiness for Practice. [Google Docs] Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B2Q7-K-y7OQhVkxielVpYWY5ZWM 

Taylor, A.M.L (2017). The Unintended Impacts of I  Daniel Blake. [Blog] Retrieved from https://amltaylor66.wordpress.com/2017/06/02/the-unintended-impacts-of-i-daniel-blake/ 

The unintended impacts of I Daniel Blake

I Daniel Blake first came to my attention whilst scrolling through the local theatre listings, on what was a fairly drab Saturday afternoon, set aside for data analysis. Many of you will recognise and maybe even appreciate the avoidant behaviours of this early stage researcher. However, in my defence, I am sure that I’ve heard it argued that it is within these avoidant moments that the most useful unintended happenings arise… and arise they did.  There was little in the brief synopsis of the Ken Loach  film that suggested an epiphany of any kind could occur, or that justified the abandoning of my analysis. In truth I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I just remember being quite curious and booking tickets for what looked like an interesting watch.

Interesting it was. The opening scene (I Daniel Blake Trailer) included a series of intrusive questions, delivered in a manner that even the most saintly amongst us would struggle to ‘hear’. This set the tone for what was an incredibly challenging watch. The story that unfolded stopped me, literally, in my #digitalbydefault tracks! A term that I had become so familiar with through the writing of The LearningWheel Book.  Indeed on reflection perhaps far too familiar with.

My encounter with Loach’s work forced me to revisit my responsibilities as a social work academic interested in digitalisation, and to reexamine the idea of knowledge impact relating to my current research project. The study outlined, stemmed from anxieties about the preparedness of the profession to contain and respond to the digital shift, and ironically here I was faced with its realities. Cue justification for my doctoral tardiness. As I navigate this study I remain, more now than ever, acutely aware of the speed of digitalisation and the UK Governments drive to default to the digital by 2020.

As I travel around England working with Local Authorities at various stages of their digital journeys , I am frequently reminded of the need to provide opportunities and methods through which digital knowledge gaps can be explored. As a result I have developed a Digital Professionalism Mapping Tool for Social Work.

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Click on the link to access and download the tool: Digital Professionalism Mapping Tool.

This mapping tool has been adapted (with permission) from the work of David White  , who is keen for his original method to be used across disciplines for the purposes of reflection – as noted below.

“You can find out about the ‘standard’ V&R mapping process here which is an effective method of making visible individuals’ engagement online. This process has been used by people in various contexts globally with one of my favourites being by Amanda Taylor with Social Work students. This starts from the principle that if we now, at least in part, live online then Social Workers need to be present in online spaces (or at least understand them as somewhere people are present)” White, (nd). 

David provides this example of mapping digital usage and presence online  

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As you can see, David’s use of technologies and online presence bridges both the professional and personal, but as an academic this is less likely to be cause for concern. For social work the implications of blurring professional boundaries has always been acutely felt, however how often do we consider how worlds might collide in the online, or the ramifications of this?

Social work as profession is starting to see and feel the impacts of the digital shift. Therefore the social in social work, once again, needs re-thought. We need to think more about how technologies are permeating our lives and therefore the lives of those we serve. I Daniel Blake outlines a set of circumstances that are becoming increasingly familiar in practice.  In addition to this, are issues such as  sexual abuse, bullying or scamming that need considered in past, present and future terms, to enable us think about what has changed due to the involvement of technologies.  Furthermore, to enable us consider what might constitute an appropriate practice response to issues emerging in the networked age.

Practitioners are set to see a steep rise in the use of technologies, both as tools of the trade but also influencing how issues present. Before we can even begin to deal with the practice issues, like and similar to those mentioned above, we need to address the digital capabilities of the profession. The Digital Professionalism Mapping Tool is one viable option. It is designed to assist students, academics and practitioners to chart or as White explains ‘make visible’ (nd) the range of tools and online platforms they use and the various purposes for which they use them. It helps to identify those practices that may maintain or perhaps blur professional boundaries.  The Visitor – Resident axis provides a context in which to define the tools that are being used, with the Professional – Personal axis positioned to consider where the tools, platforms or technologies are being used. Reflecting on their own digital maps, students, academics, and practitioners can then consider if said usage might in any way impact upon perceived professionalism and public trust.

It appears, from the Twitter Hashtag #IDanielBlake, that a significant proportion of the social work profession have now seen the film. If you are a social work practitioner, an academic, a student social worker… indeed linked to social work in any way and haven’t seen, it I would suggest that you do… and you do so as a matter of some urgency. I would also urge students, academics and practitioners to consider their own digital journey as related to the requirements and standards for practice so that attention to digital professionalism can be evidenced as part of ongoing professional development.

Reflective prompts to help populate your map:

  • Which technologies do I use and for what purpose?
  • Which do I use in my personal life?
  • Which do I use in my professional life?
  • Is there any crossover between the professional and personal and if so what are the benefits or ramifications of this?
  • What has this mapping of my online behaviours and practices shown?
  • How might I address any knowledge gaps?

I hope you find this tool as useful as I have. I have found it particularly helpful to thinking out how to make best use of my doctoral studies. Please feel free to share it and to get in touch @amltaylor66 should you have any questions or ideas for developing it further.