I believe that video technology can improve how we as social work instructors provide feedback to students on their clinical skills, enhancing previous teaching methods that relied on more traditional process recordings. Over the years, there has been much debate over the use of process recordings of client interviews as a learning tool in social work education; some instructors have found the practice outdated. Process recordings require students to painstakingly write down their conversations with clients, to the best of their abilities, aware that what they remember may be, in part, a construction of what was actually said. While process recordings can be effective in teaching students the art of practice, the use of self, critical-thinking skills, and the integration of theory and practice, they are being used less and less in teaching and supervision today. This may be because of students’ complaints that they are time-intensive.
What if there were a way to capture the essence of process recordings, but in a way that’s more in tune with the contemporary student and university? Modern video technology can here come to our aid as instructors and save on the labor of students writing copious notes of client interviews. The use of such technology may also be a better means to achieve objectives and improve student outcomes. With the advent of free software on students’ tablets, smartphones, and cameras, it becomes easy for students to video-record each other in mock client role-plays and then show these role-plays in the classroom. This provides a forum for instructors and students to discuss, reflect on, and critically analyze the clinical process and provide meaningful feedback to each other. These mock interviews allow students to demonstrate what actually occurred in simulated client-worker interactions rather than re-create their recollections of what took place. Providing feedback to students based on their written process recordings is limited by what the student chooses to portray or remembers about the encounter. In contrast, videos provide us with a moment-to-moment replay of the client-worker interaction.
Although process recordings are often reviewed only by a supervisor (or instructor) and the student, videos can be shared more widely. As a result, using videos of student work in the classroom opens up many more possibilities for learning. This kind of sharing between students can stimulate more discussion, greater feedback, and critical thinking. Students can reflect and share their thoughts on what is happening, encouraging multiple perspectives and ways of looking at the interventions. Instructors and other students get to see, listen to and really get a feel for the encounter between the client and worker on a visceral level by watching the video and participating in discussions and experiential exercises related to the interview. The video can be stopped at any time to explore the meaning of a particular moment or question an intervention that occurred. The instructor can pose questions: What would happen if another student chose a different intervention, line of inquiry, or paid attention to something else in the interview? These ideas can then be acted out in a role-play by students or the instructor at that moment in the classroom to observe what happens. There are limitless avenues for teaching and learning using such videos in the classroom.
Another significant advantage of videos over process recordings is the ability to observe both verbal and non-verbal communication in the interview, providing students with a richer picture of the interaction. Teaching students to pay attention to process in an interview involves attending to the relationship – the rapport the client and worker have with each other and how well the worker picks up on the client’s feelings. This is hard to ascertain when reading the somewhat dry text of a process recording. Watching a video provides significantly more clues into the quality of the worker-client relationship. One can observe the client’s affect and whether it has changed during the session. Is there a natural flow, a give and take, to the conversation? Is the client showing signs of resistance, or reacting to something the worker has said? How well is the worker connecting to the client and tuning in to the client’s feelings? Does the client seem far away, distracted, or fully engaged with the worker? Are there moments of silence and what do they mean? What can be learned from body language and tone of voice?
I started using student videos, as well as other video-recorded mock interviews I had produced, in the classroom 15 years ago. Although students were a little self-conscious when the concept was first introduced, they often let go of their worries in the context of a classroom environment that emphasized constructive feedback and learning rather than hard judgment of each other. They were given license to make mistakes, understanding that this was an expected part of their path as students. Also teaching from a social constructivist perspective, I explained that there was no one right way of practicing and how looking at and weighing all the possibilities improved our understanding of clients and clinical interventions.
Once they’d gotten the hang of it, students were engaged and the classroom became a forum for animated case discussions. Instructors and students together questioned whether a particular intervention was effective or whether another approach would have been more successful. Students reflected on what they said and how the client responded and whether they could have approached the situation differently. They examined what theory or practice concept informed their interventions and engaged in active critical thinking and self-reflection. By “going live” with their videos in the classroom, students could identify and demonstrate the practice and interviewing skills they used to other students and ask for feedback on their actual clinical work.
Social workers today are being held more accountable, asked to explain the effectiveness of their interventions with clients and evaluate their practices. Much goes on behind closed doors, and there is a growing interest in demystifying the work that happens in the privacy of the clinician’s office. Video recordings can provide some of this transparency. They are a way for workers to identify theories and practice approaches used with clients, and communicate what led to successful treatment. This gives more confidence to outside funders and third-party payers that we can articulate and evaluate our work. We can demonstrate how our interactions with clients are based on a body of knowledge that is well established, has undergone the rigors of scientific research, and is cited in professional journals. In this sense, social work is moving toward relying more heavily on evidence-based practice.
We can talk about what we do with clients, and espouse the theories we think we use in practice, but it is quite another experience to dissect what is really taking place. I believe using video-recorded interviews to teach about social work theory and practice is an incredibly effective way to engage students in the classroom, evaluate progress, and measure student competencies. By revisiting process recordings and holding on to what was valuable, we can bring them to a new level using the technology that is readily available today.