Social media and social work students: the boundaries just got more complicated

Lomax, Robert and Nix, Ingrid (2015). Social media and social work students: the boundaries just got more complicated. In: Joint Social Work Education Conference (JSWEC 2015), 15-17 Jul 2015, The Open University, Milton Keynes.



Negotiating public and private boundaries, as well as the personal and professional boundaries, is ever present in social work practice and education. The use of social media in social work education, research and practice is an emerging area of discourse for service users, students, practitioners and educators. This paper focuses on the use of social media by students studying an open access Level 1 module ‘Foundations of Social Work Practice’ at The Open University (UK); a distance learning institution.

The paper first outlines the findings of a literature review focused on the way in which students use social media while studying, its relevance to their learning, and how personal/professional boundaries are negotiated. Social media’s affordances, in terms of supporting learning are also considered, as is the educator’s role and actions in supporting students to manage the boundaries between informal and formal learning. Cross-cultural considerations regarding the use of social media are also discussed.

The paper then presents the initial findings of a scholarship investigation exploring social work students’ attitudes to using social media as a tool for communication. Twenty one students responded to an online module survey which included questions about their social media use during their studies and their views about its use in social work practice.

The results reveal respondents’ differing practises in how they integrate social media into their patterns of communication. Respondents use social media for a range of purposes related to their studies – such as information sharing and peer support. The complex navigation of the boundaries between University provisioned learning technologies and those in the public sphere are considered. Respondents’ views of the appropriateness of using social media in social work practice are highlighted.

The paper concludes by suggesting some implications of social media use for educators preparing students for professional social work practice, including consideration of positive opportunities for appropriate use that successfully transcend the oft perceived boundaries between practitioners, educators and service users.

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