Faculty embrace tech as university brings social work curriculum online

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Throughout his professional career, Dr. Goutham Menon has worked to cultivate a relationship between the two topics about which he is most passionate: social work and technology.

Now the director of the University of Nevada, Reno’s School of Social Work, Dr. Menon is in a position to parlay those interests into a means of addressing social issues and teaching a tech-savvy generation of social workers. “All of my work has been in the area of technology and its use in social and health services,” he said. “We come up with different ways to leverage technology for social good.”

His focus on technology makes him a perfect fit for the University of Nevada, Reno as the institution continues to develop its online presence. Already, the University accommodates some 22,000 students across 200 academic programs, and its online programs make its top-quality education accessible to people throughout the United States.

Full-Time Faculty, Fully Online
The University’s dedication to online education is exemplified by committed faculty like those in the School of Social Work who believe in the mission of promoting online learning. Starting this fall, thanks to Dr. Menon’s work and his faculty’s support, the school’s Master of Social Work program is available fully online.

“We have around 16 courses that we offer in the two-year online program, and we have 16 faculty members,” Dr. Menon said. “Each course is led by full-time faculty, which doesn’t happen in many other programs. … Here, we work very hard with faculty to make sure that everybody — each one of them, including me — is responsible for one course in the curriculum.”

In many other programs, Dr. Menon explained, faculty push back against online coursework, preferring to lead in-person classes rather than streaming lectures online. This resistance is not uncommon, as he knows from experience. He proposed an online MSW curriculum to a university early in his career, in 1998, but met with much resistance from the faculty, though the dean was very supportive. They could not see how a class could be taught using a “Hollywood Squares” format with students and instructors in the squares teaching and learning. Two decades later, as an increasing number of colleges and universities embrace online formats, it’s clear Dr. Menon was ahead of his time. When he signed on as head of the University’s School of Social Work in 2013, he listed establishing an online master’s degree program among his top initiatives. This year his efforts come to fruition — and this time around he’s working with faculty who are enthusiastic about the prospect of growing an online program.

“This is sort of a dream come true that everybody’s on board,” Dr. Menon said. “I don’t have to fight every day to get work done. It’s been a long time coming, so I am enjoying the ride right now.”
In line with the curriculum’s vision of teaching advanced generalist practices rather than training specialized social workers, the online MSW can benefit students across a range of backgrounds, locations and schedules. The aim is to provide an accessible, comprehensive education that graduates can use to serve their communities immediately.

Using Tech to Build Imaginative Learning Experiences
Online learning isn’t the only way Dr. Menon merges technology with social good at the University. He spends considerable time looking for ways that technology can help mitigate real-world social inconveniences, then uses the ideas he generates as learning projects.

Currently, Dr. Menon’s students and graduate assistants are working on two notable projects: A smartphone app that connects farmers directly to potential consumers and a website used to store, catalog and curate important documents for nonprofit organizations. Both will eventually become available to the public.
“It’s fun. It’s always fun to challenge kids to think big,” he said. “I’m so amazed at them, the ideas they come up with. … It’s like, wow — these kids can really change the world.”

Ready to make your contribution for social good? Learn more about your role in social work’s future with the University of Nevada, Reno’s online Master of Social Work program today. The School of Social Work at the University of Nevada, Reno has a long history of educating Nevada’s social workers and professionals in the United States. Its focus is to educate, advocate and empower.