Online Clinical Practice for Social Work Students: A Q&A

We’re showcasing colleges and universities who are incorporating Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) training into their schools of health curriculum thanks to the unique partnership between Kognito and NORC at the University of Chicago.

Today’s featured interview is with Noell Rowan, PhD, an associate professor and the director of the BSW program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) School of Social Work. Her contributions to the social work community have been recognized by many awards and honors for her LGBT research as well as her innovative teaching. As a licensed clinical addictions specialist, Dr. Rowan has practiced social work in the areas of mental health and addictions for more than 20 years.

The excerpts below highlight Dr. Rowan’s experiences using online role-play simulations in her social work curriculum. You can also read more about this program in a previous interview with Dr. Rowan here.

Background: How UNCW incorporates online simulation into its social work curriculum

Students at the UNCW School of Social Work are assigned the SBI with Adolescents simulation toward the end of the semester as a way to put all of the information they’ve learned into action.

Prior to the simulation, students learn about motivational interviewing and motivational enhancement therapy through a guest lecture. A role play scenario using two student volunteers follows the presentation. This all helps lay the foundation for helping students know how to observe and respond to warning signs of substance use disorders before they assume the role of a social worker in the hands-on, interactive learning experience.

Students have been receptive to the experience, and their scores reflect their engagement. UNCW students who have completed the simulation scored an average of 86% on the assessment.


Q&A with Dr. Rowan, associate professor and BSW program director

What feedback have you received from students who have completed the simulation?

Some folks I typed back and forth with during the pandemic have said that they really enjoy it. It was an opportunity they haven’t had before, to be in this virtual world, and the opportunity to learn an evidence-based skill without making a mistake with a [real] human being. So yes, it’s been a big hit.


What do you hope to accomplish with the simulation in your classes?

It’s all aimed toward building their confidence for when they actually see clients. I really enjoy that they can make a mistake and then they can remove it and then start over. It’s really pretty nifty.


Would you recommend these simulation tools to your colleagues and peers?

Oh, absolutely. And very enthusiastically. I was featured in our College of Health and Human Services newsletter talking about the use of Kognito in our curriculum and how helpful it has been so far.


Are other instructors or faculty in your program using similar types of tools or any kind of digital curriculum?

I’ve been the pilot person. However, this semester we have purchased a whole bunch of different Kognito simulations. They haven’t been done yet, but we have a plan.

One of my other classes that I teach—a human behavior course that first semester MSW students take—will use the adult SBI simulation. This provides an ability for the students to apply theory to practice at that very beginning, sort of establishing engagement and building rapport.

And then there’s my colleague who teaches a part-time program, she’s putting that same simulation in hers. It’s a different section of the same course, but it’s with a whole other cohort of incoming part-time students.

In the spring, one of my colleagues is going to use the other one that we’re getting [SBI with Adolescents: Comorbid Substance Use and Mental Health] in his addictions course. It’s an individual and group treatment course. He’s going to put that one in there because it’s more in-depth than the other one I’ve been using.

And then in our social work 341 course—the last practice class for our senior undergraduate students—we are giving them the one that’s aimed toward the BSW folks [Building Family Bonds: A Virtual Home Visit].

We are grateful for Dr. Rowan’s feedback, and are thrilled to see UNCW harnessing the power of simulation throughout its social work program after its successful pilot year!

Experience an SBIRT simulation

Want to experience the impact of hands-on practice leading important patient encounters? Take an interactive demo of one of Kognito’s simulations.

The SBIRT simulations were made possible thanks to our partnership with NORC at the University of Chicago. Learn more about the partnership here.

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