Service Learning During Social Distancing


The global pandemic has created unique challenges for social workers and students preparing for a career in the field. As part of TCU’s Connected Campus Plan, Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences faculty and staff have been training and planning for high-quality online and blended instruction for the fall semester.

Associate Professor of Social Work Aesha John knows that the global pandemic has caught social workers in a double bind. While it has exacerbated almost every social issue from domestic abuse, to mental health, to addiction, it has also made seeking and providing services challenging in an environment that requires social distancing.

“In normal times, many needs of vulnerable populations go unmet, but right now, that has increased tenfold,” she said.

Associate Professor Aesha John will use tools like Padlet to foster engagement in her fall courses.

Associate Professor Aesha John will use tools like Padlet to foster engagement in her fall courses.


Master of Social Work Program Director and Assistant Professor Mary Twis echoed John, saying that with many opportunities for community engagement and service-learning absent to keep people safe and healthy, professionals and educators in the field have found creative ways to provide services and real-world experiences for students in virtual formats.

During the pandemic, the field experienced a sudden boom in telehealth, and the National Association of Social Workers has pushed for increased coverage for access to virtual services. TCU’s social work program will also provide opportunities for students to complete components of their social work internships virtually. For instance, some field placements are allowing students to meet with clients through telehealth appointments. Others have increased student access to macro-level social work tasks, such as assisting with program design and evaluation.

“The need for social work is still the same, but in some ways more pronounced than before. We have had to adapt quickly to providing services creatively and safely,” Twis said.

The pandemic has produced new challenges and opportunities for educators preparing students for careers and research in social work. John plans to implement approaches she has not had the time to develop in the past. She opted to teach in-person classes in the fall but some of her students will be learning remotely. She will use a flipped classroom approach so students can engage with content before meeting as a class and will use interactive tools like Padlet and Flipgrid to create shared idea boards and video discussions, enhancing collaboration and engagement inside and outside of the classroom.

John said that some elements of TCU’s social work program are difficult to recreate but that the pandemic has taught her to be even more flexible and creative than she was before.

“Social work classes tend to be very interactive and practice oriented with lively discussions and hands on activities,” she said. “Service learning is an important piece of many of our classes and our program is consistently ranked high on the sense of community that students experience with their cohort.”

­Twis opted to teach online because she felt that her content would be better delivered online than in a socially distanced classroom. She designed her fall Perspectives of Mental Health Practice course to require students to engage with and thoughtfully apply the content. Each week, she will lecture on Zoom and assign students to breakout rooms to discuss mental health symptoms observed in a case study. They’ll work individually to develop and defend a mental health diagnosis and case note for the case study, then critique one another’s case analyses in a discussion board.

John, Twis and their colleagues also have heightened awareness and care for their students who may be experiencing health or economic impacts from the pandemic.

“I am reminded that we are all human, first and foremost, and that I have an opportunity as an educator to offer an affirmation to my students that they have dignity and worth no matter their circumstances,” Twis said.

TCU faculty are committed to providing an outstanding academic experience for students, whether courses are online, in person or a combination of both. For more information and resources for fall 2020, visit the TCU Connected Campus site