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UGA School of Social Work faculty sprint to a popular MSW Online degree program

UGA’s School of Social Work launched their Masters of Social Work Online in September to address service shortages in rural and medically underserved areas in Georgia. The overwhelming interest from students living in these rural areas prompted the faculty to consider accepting nearly double its expected enrollment. 

According to Javier Boyas, Program Director of the MSW programs at UGA, the school aimed for an initial cohort of 25 students for the online degree. However, as prospective students began applying from all corners of the state, Boyas pushed to increase capacity and added a second cohort.  

Rachel Cassity, an Instructional Designer (ID) with the Office of Online Learning, has worked with the MSW faculty since 2019. The goal was to create the best online environment for their students. “The MSW program had an unexpected turnout with students and the professors were a little concerned about how to manage a larger cohort. I helped instructors understand that they are capable of running a larger program online when given the tools to succeed,” said Cassity. 

“The (MSW) program has students who are adults with other responsibilities besides being a student. When designing courses with the professors, I use my background in adult learning to make suggestions so the faculty have reasonable expectations”, Cassity said. 

Cassity used a process called a “design sprint” to help faculty produce high quality courses.  In a design sprint, the ID and the professors spend one week planning the primary components of their courses, usually with one ID and three faculty members. The planning includes learning objectives, which highlight what students need to learn from the module, and the major activities such as papers, projects, and tests that would be due in that module in a week by week layout. Then for the months to follow, the professors and ID develop the courses further by selecting readings, videos, and other materials and activities that will support the best learning outcomes for the students. 

An additional advantage to this approach is that faculty have an open line of communication with others teaching in the program as they create their courses. With the MSW Online, the communication led to professors thinking together about the resources and assignments they were creating for students, allowing them to build on each other’s work and creating a more cohesive program. 

“When an instructional designer engages the professors in the design sprint process, it allows them to have a better understanding of eLC (eLearning Commons) and gives them a lot more security when implementing the class and what they can expect their students to be able to handle,” said Cassity. 

According to Cassity, the most important part of designing a course is creating opportunities for feedback from students. This allows the professors to know where students are struggling and excelling so they can immediately address students’ needs and plan for redesigning some parts of the course in the future. 

Cassity has enjoyed working with the MSW Online faculty.

“The professors are fantastic. They care a lot about students, are passionate about the field, and are active in social work. With further collaboration between the instructional design team and faculty, the program can continue to flourish and allow for the online program to grow,” said Cassity. 

For the 2021-2022 year, the program will again recruit two cohorts of 25 students, while the school looks at expanding online capacity. The application deadline is February 15, 2021.