INCORPORATING SPATIAL ANALYSIS AND GEOGRAPHIC INFORMATION SYSTEMS IN SOCIAL WORK CURRICULUM
University of Nevada, Reno (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Conference name: 9th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 14-16 November, 2016
Location: Seville, Spain
Abstract:Since 2014, University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) academic and library faculty have collaborated to introduce spatial analysis and geographic information systems (GIS) techniques into graduate level coursework for social workers. Though social work is not traditionally data-intensive, these techniques can be transformative when integrated with traditional social work practice and human services strategies as they provide the ability to effectively visualize areas of interest and easily communicate these details to policy makers. Social work practitioners worldwide have identified that spatial analysis can be hugely beneficial to their work, but adoption into formal academic curriculum has been slow to gain traction. Through formal coursework, social work students at UNR today are recognizing the value of incorporating GIS as a new tool available to them and have implemented these techniques in a real world situation, gaining valuable experience and enhancing their employability in the process.
Because social workers are primarily occupied with providing much needed human and social services, learning new techniques and technology sometimes falls by the wayside. In these courses, the librarian and faculty member teamed up to deliver GIS education in a way that positions students to effectively incorporate these techniques in practice. For their in-class project, the students studied different aspects of the local homeless population. After gathering demographic data about these people in the field, the students returned to the classroom to learn spatial analysis concepts, followed by hands-on exercises using available spatial analysis and GIS tools, all of which were a part of the freely available Google Drive suite. By surpassing more costly and more time-intensive GIS software the students were able to analyze the dataset and present the meaningful patterns in the data in an easily understandable, visual manner. The class’s takeaway is they now have a new skillset, new ways to deliver information about their practice to stakeholders, and new resources in which to rely on in the future. By incorporating GIS education into social work coursework, these students now have the ability to go into the field and transform lives.
Keywords: GIS, social work, spatial analysis.