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Charles L. Baker, MSSW

Kent School of Social Work
Social Work 622: Issues in Policy and Service Delivery

Charles L. Baker, instructor in Kent School, made his Social Work 622 (Issues in Policy and Service Delivery) more learning-centered this spring semester! In a graduate class which focuses on various sectors of social work practice, including child welfare, substance abuse, mental health, and care for the elderly, students are asked by the end of the semester to analyze one of these sectors and identify a specific national, state, or local policy that could be improved.

Students have repeatedly expressed their surprise and satisfaction at the depth of learning gained from this experience.

—Charles L. Baker

In the past, students wrote "lengthy papers" or worked in groups to research one of these sectors and then present their findings to the class. Baker noted that these group presentations were often Powerpoint presentations filled with "overly dense" text which "left the other members of the class bored." When working in groups, "team members regularly sub-divided the analysis to such a degree that members did not engage each other in healthy discussion and debate about what they had learned, and therefore turned a rich learning experience into 'just another assignment.'"

To increase learning, Baker changed the assignment into a Fishbowl Discussion. He created three circles:

  • The Inner Circle (The Team): The Inner Circle is content-driven. As Baker explains, the team "must thoroughly research the service system and visit three service delivery sites to conduct an interview at each. These students are expected to discover a good deal about the entire system and the individual sites in multiple areas from how services are funded to how agencies handle client grievances." All members of this team participate in a detailed discussion of their topic on the day of the Fishbowl Discussion.
  • Second Circle - Quality of Communication: Students in the second circle pay close attention to the Team's discussion and use a checklist to analyze the communication behavior of the individual Team members. The Second Circle has the same number of students as the Team, and each student in the Second Circle is responsible for analyzing the communication of one specific member of the Team.
  • Outer Circle - Content Coverage: The rest of the class makes up the Outer Circle. Their task is to keep track of specific content aired in the Fishbowl Discussion (using a checklist prepared by Baker) discussed by the Inner Circle, and crediting each team member who adds to the discussion on specific topics.

At the end of the Team's Fishbowl Discussion, the Second Circle reports out on the communication behaviors of the Team. Finally, the Outer Circle reports out on the contribution of content by each Team Member. Baker then leads a whole class discussion, inviting all members of class to reflect on what they have learned about the topic or to make connections to other content in the course.

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