Social work and the digital – part 1
What does social work have to do with the digital world?
When my 5-year-old son Felix has to do something he really dislikes, such as tidying up, he usually checks whether there is any last chance to avoid the task with a resigned “Do I have to?” Many of those engaged in social work seem to have a similar attitude towards the world of the digital – be they experienced social educators or young students, they seem to be asking in annoyance: “Do I have to?”. And as in Felix’s case, my answer is “Yes!”. In this article I want to explain why I believe this “Yes!” is important.
Digital media as tools…
…for information and professional development
For social work professionals) the internet in particular offers a wide range of opportunities for professional development and information. Firstly, there are numerous informal and free learning resources:
- websites of institutions and projects, which are often linked with
- repositories of current, open-access specialist articles.
Secondly, there is an abundance of fee-based teaching and learning services, such as
- online training
- part-time blended learning study programmes
…for creating networks with others
Professional networks play a major role in coping with everyday working life, for emotional wellbeing as well as for professional development. Such networks exist in both the analogue and digital world. In Germany, many are not aware of the options for social media networking in the professional context. Facebook, for example, can do much more than revive contacts with old classmates whom you may or may not like. The group “Soziale Arbeit” (“Social Work”), for example, has over 8000 members, many of whom regularly post links or initiate discussions. There are also numerous opportunities for networking and exchanging views on Twitter – every Tuesday at 8 p.m. the weekly chat about educational issues connects people under the hashtag EDchatDE (current topics: https://edchatde.wordpress.com). A further opportunity for networking, which Hendrik Epe recently outlined in his blog, is corporate blogs.
…for social work itself
Social media are also increasingly being used as a way to carry out social work: be it providing support to people who are caring for dementia sufferers (https://www.demenz-anders-sehen.de) or offering counselling, e.g. to children and young people. Of course this is only a small selection of the range of possibilities that have emerged in recent years for digitalizing social work tasks. And it is closely related to the insight that digital worlds themselves have become a social space.
Digital media as a lifeworld
For young people in particular, the virtual world has become an important social space. A BITKOM study of 2014 shows the proportion of children and young people who are active in social networks:
If social work is serious about focusing on people’s lifeworlds, and about providing outreach services, then the internet and social networks are among the places where practitioners from the social field should be operating.
Read part 2 next week: “Digital social work: a piece of cake? No!”