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22st Annual OLC International Conference
November 16-18, 2016 | Orlando, Florida | Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin Resort

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April 20-22, 2016 | New Orleans, LA | Sheraton New Orleans Hotel

Transforming Trauma Curriculum for the Online Teaching Environment: Balancing Student Safety and Intellectual Rigor

Ellen DeVoe (Boston University School of Social Work, USA)
Kathleen Flinton (Boston University School of Social Work, USA)
Session Information
October 14, 2015 - 12:45pm
Faculty and Professional Development & Support
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Theory/Conceptual Framework
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Northern Hemisphere E2
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 2

This paper describes the transformation of curriculum in the field of trauma for the Online Instructional environment in a graduate school of Social Work.

Extended Abstract

In this presentation, faculty discuss the transformation of trauma curriculum developed for delivery to social work students in a traditional classroom framework to the online environment. An essential component of effective trauma training is the development of a safe context which supports students to
delve into painful and often evocative human experiences of trauma and suffering while remaining engaged as adult learners. Because traumatic experiences are so often silenced, it is critical for students to develop skills to speak with and on behalf of the clients and communities they wish to help. Further, because of the high prevalence of trauma and violence globally, it must be assumed that there are trauma survivors among student populations and in trauma courses specifically.

Given the unique challenges inherent in teaching about trauma, faculty were reluctant to move curriculum into the online world. Specifically, instructors were concerned about their ability to develop safe and responsive classroom contexts due to their perceptions of the constraints and limitations of online platforms and tools. To address these concerns, course developers redesigned and rebalanced course material, modalities for content delivery, and online and offline student projects to ensure student well-being throughout the course. In the end, the online environment provided an exceptionally rich learning environment in which diverse methods of learning and interaction were not only effective but well-received by the first cohort of learners (N=45) and instructors. In fact, a surprising impact of the online course structure was its facilitation among students of adaptive self-care strategies to prevent burn-out and address vicarious traumatization. Specific adaptations, strengths and lessons learned through this process will be discussed, including considerations for building infrastructure to support student psychological safety without compromising content or depth of learning. Implications for online teaching in sensitive areas of behavioral health practice are presented. Audience participation will be strongly encouraged.