Social Work Research 3 Unit

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Social Work 562

Virtual Academic Center

Social Work Research

3 Units

SOWK 562 Social Work Research (3 units). Introduction to research methods, including conceptualization of research problems, literature review, research design, sampling, measurement, data collection and

data analysis.

This foundation course is designed to provide an introduction to research methods and to produce an appreciation of the research process. It will explore general issues that are related to the conduct of social work research as applied to social work practice and service delivery in complex, urban environments as well as program evaluation, and policy development.
In this course, students will review the characteristics and logical processes of social work research and understand the applicability of scientific and scholarly inquiry in advancing professional knowledge and improving social work practice to diverse clientele in numerous settings. Students will gain a conceptual and operational understanding of the various quantitative and qualitative methodologies used in the conduct of social work related research. Students will be prepared to participate in a range of research activities including (a) conceptualization of research problems; (b) review of the literature; (c) evaluation of research design; (d) sampling; (e) selection of measurement tools; (f) data collection; (g) interpretation of data analyses and (h) ethical considerations in the conduct of research with human participants. Attention will also focus on how racial, ethnic, gender, and lifestyle issues impact each stage of the research process.
Students will not be expected to carry out an actual study; however, they will complete a series of assignments, which prepare them to utilize research as professional social workers. Students are coached to achieve a level of disciplined conceptual and analytical thinking in the process of developing their assignments and critiquing existing empirical literature.


Objective # Objectives

1 Teach basic research principles and concepts within the framework of ethical practice of professional social work. Identify the ethical issues involved in professional social work research, including informed consent, confidentiality, use and abuse of sensitive data, the issue of withholding treatment to control groups, and the honest disclosure of findings.

2 Provide opportunities for students to increase awareness of and be sensitive to issues in the research process as they relate to various diverse populations such as gender, race, sexual orientation, social class, religion, and vulnerable and oppressed groups.

3 Teach and demonstrate the importance of the role of social work empirical research and evidence-based practice research as they apply to social work practice and policy. The principles of evidence-based practice research will be presented and students will have opportunity to apply the principles to evidence search, review of the literature, evidence appraisal and assessing the strengths and limitations of published research, and implementation of evidence in the context of individuals, groups or communities.

4 Present foundation-level research concepts and build student skills including the use research terms and vocabulary, the skill of identifying relevant social work research questions and hypotheses, identifying independent, dependent and other variables, the measurement of variables including describing the concepts of reliability and validity, methods for sample selection, the exploration of research design options and key foundation-level statistical concepts including descriptive and inferential statistics.

5 Provide students with the opportunity to solidify their skills and knowledge by developing introductory level reviews of the literature that follow a professional writing style and prepare students for analytic writing in the concentration year.

Two primary learning/teaching modalities will be used in class: (1) didactic presentation by the instructor and (2) critical discussion, interaction, and transaction among the instructor and students. Please note that it may be necessary for the instructor to make adjustments to the syllabus during the semester.
Student learning for this course relates to one or more of the following ten social work core competencies:

Social Work Core Competencies

SWK 562

Course Objective

1 Professional Identity

2 Ethical Practice



3 Critical Thinking



4 Diversity in Practice



5 Human Rights & Justice

6 Research Based Practice



7 Human Behavior

8 Policy Practice

9 Practice Contexts

10 Engage, Assess, Intervene, Evaluate

* Highlighted in this course

The following table explains the highlighted competencies for this course, the related student learning outcomes, and the method of assessment.

Competencies/ Method of

Knowledge, Values, Skills Student Learning Outcomes Assessment

Ethical PracticeApply social work ethical principles to guide professional practice.
Social workers competent in Ethical


 Fulfill their obligation to conduct themselves ethically and to engage in ethical decision-making.

 Are knowledgeable about the value

base of the profession, its ethical standards, and relevant law.

1. Apply strategies of ethical reasoning to identify ethical issues that are present in research contexts and be able to discuss strategies that could be used to address ethical

concerns. Standards of the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics and Belmont principles will serve as frameworks for considering ethical issues.

Exam Questions

Literature Review

(Students’ Ethical


Critical ThinkingApply critical thinking to inform and communicate professional judgments.
Social workers competent in Critical


 Are knowledgeable about the principles of logic, scientific inquiry, and reasoned discernment.

 Use critical thinking augmented by creativity and curiosity.

 Understand that critical thinking also requires the synthesis and communication of relevant information.

2. Distinguish, appraise, and integrate multiple sources of knowledge to conduct an up-to-date literature review on any social work research, practice, or policy topic, informed by research based-knowledge and practice wisdom.

Literature Review


3. Demonstrate effective oral and written communication by accurately and consistently utilizing foundation-level research terms in both speaking and writing.

Exam Questions Written Assignments Class Participation

4. Identify key elements, interpret, and describe the meaning of results presented in research tables

utilizing foundation-level statistical concepts.

Exam Questions

Final Course

Assessment Exam

Article Critique


5. Identify specific strengths and limitations in published research (e.g., journal articles, reports, and other communication forms) and describe how such issues affect interpretation of findings.

Final Course

Assessment Exam

Literature Review

Article Critique


Diversity in PracticeEngage diversity and difference in practice.
Social workers competent in Diversity in


 Understand how diversity characterizes and shapes the human experience and is critical to the formation of identity.

 Recognize that the dimensions of diversity reflect intersectionality of multiple factors including age, class, color, culture, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity and expression, immigration status, political ideology, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation.

 Appreciate that, as a consequence of difference, a person’s life

experiences may include oppression, poverty, marginalization, and alienation as well as privilege, power, and acclaim.

6. Utilizing an understanding of the fact that culture can shape the power structures faced by individuals and groups, articulate and promote attention to issues in the research process as they relate to diverse populations, such as racial and ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians, women, and a range of other groups.

Exam Questions

Literature Review




Research Based PracticeEngage in research-informed practice and

practice-informed research.

Social workers competent in Research

Based Practice:

 Use practice experience to inform research, employ evidence-based interventions, evaluate their own practice, and use research findings to improve practice, policy, and social service delivery.

 Comprehend quantitative and qualitative research and understand scientific and ethical approaches to building knowledge.

7. Articulate, orally and in writing, reasoned and relevant conclusions based on research findings that can inform practice, policy, and/or

further research. This includes the ability to describe the relevance of research to the discipline of social work.

Literature Review


Article Critique


8. Identify and accurately describe the purpose of foundation-level research concepts and techniques utilized in published research. This includes the ability to:

a. Identify research questions and related hypotheses.

b. Identify independent and dependent variables and describe how the concepts of reliability and validity affect the measurement strategies chosen.

c. Identify and describe other foundation-level research techniques used in research such as methods for sample selection and research design options.

Exam Questions

Article Critique


9. Utilize foundation-level research concepts and techniques (as in student learning outcome 8) to develop introductory level research reviews of the literature that follow a professional proposal development style. This includes the ability to discuss how theoretical or conceptual frameworks inform research choices.

Literature Review



Assignment Due % of

Final Grade

1) Written Assignments 30%

2) In-Class Exams 20%

3) Article Critique Presentation 20%

4) Sequence Final Assessment Exam Finals Week 20%

5) Class Participation & Unit Assessment Quizzes Ongoing 10%

1) Written Assignments
Literature Review Assignment (25% of Course Grade)
The ability to locate and summarize research around specific problem areas is a key skill you will need to develop. The purpose of this assignment is to locate, summarize and synthesize existing theoretical and empirical knowledge about a social work problem area, including intervention or treatment related

information. If you do not yet have a field placement, then you may choose to focus on a topic related to mental illness, homelessness, military social work or child welfare, all areas of research focus for faculty at the USC School of Social Work. The assignment has three Sections including a Literature Search and Reference List, Problem Formulation and Intervention.

Measurement and Operationalization Assignment (5% of Course Grade)
As a professional social worker, it is very likely that you will have responsibility for understanding and/or using specific tools for measuring outcomes of interest to you, your clients, or an agency where you work. You will need to understand what it means to “measure a variable” of interest and you will want to be able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a measurement process. This will often involve you selecting measurement instruments and utilizing other data collection techniques. The purpose of this assignment

is to teach you how to find, evaluate and critique appropriate testing and measurement tools in social work. To complete this assignment, you must identify two variables that you will operationalize for the assignment. You will measure one variable with a known scale or instrument and one variable with any other data collection technique (client self-report, observation, archival/known data or biological/physiological techniques). Suggested Length: 2 to 3 pages.

Note: Additional details for each of the assignments as well as grading rubrics are included in the Course

Documentation and Due Dates posted on the Syllabus Addendum distributed by your instructor.

2) Exams (20% of Course Grade)
There will be two in-class exams, each worth 10% of the course grade. The exams will consist of short answer items and vignette-based questions. Exams will be held during class. Exams will typically be administered during Week 8 and Week 14, but this may vary by instructor and may be changed based on coverage of the needed material and University holidays.
3) Article Critique (20% of Course Grade)
Professional social workers are expected to be critical consumers of social work and other related literature. The ability to read and evaluate the methodology and conclusions from an empirical article is a key skill you will need to develop. The purpose of this group assignment is to read and describe an article including a critical analysis of the literature review, the sampling methods, the research design, the measures chosen, the statistical analysis, and the outcomes and conclusions. The group will complete and post a presentation regarding the article and each student will complete a 1 page group process questionnaire.
4) Final Assessment Exam (20% of Course Grade)
Students will complete a final assessment exam, which will measure their ability to apply the knowledge acquired during the course. Vignettes and descriptions from published research articles will be presented and students will be asked to answer questions about specific aspects of research methodology including ethics, research design, sampling, measurement, and interpretation of statistical results. The exam will be administered during Finals Week, as per the USC Finals Week Schedule for the cohort. Please check the date of the Final Assessment Exam to ensure your availability.
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