Engaging diversity and difference in practice : towards a conceptual framework for assessing student outcomes



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The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the sole accrediting body for social work education at the baccalaureate and master's levels in the United States, articulates the competencies that social work students should achieve through the Educational Policy and Standards (EPAS). Educational Policy 2.1.4, "to engage diversity and difference in practice" (CSWE, 2008), serves as the primary standard related to students' achievement of the ability to work with diverse populations in a competent manner. This standard is operationalized by only four very broad and relatively abstract practice behaviors. Although cultural competence models are the primary framework used for designing curriculum to help students achieve the engaging difference and diversity competency, critiques about the utility of cultural competence models abound. There is also a lack of literature that analyzes the relationship of cultural competence and engaging diversity and difference in practice concepts. The lack of clear conceptualization creates difficulty with identifying and evaluating specific outcomes and developing social work education programming that effectively addresses the outcomes desired. This dissertation presents an exploration of the construct, engaging diversity and difference in practice, through three articles describing two studies and a conceptual application of theory. The first article describes Critical Race Theory and used the theory as an approach for a logic model of a social justice course that has utility for teaching students to engage diversity and difference in practice. The second article explored social work faculty's experience of student's achievement of engaging diversity and difference in practice. This article reports findings from a qualitative study that yielded themes that describe the demonstration of engaging diversity and difference in practice. The third article describes findings from a concept mapping study that examined engaging diversity and difference in practice from the perspectives of social work faculty and field instructors. Comparisons between faculty and field instructors' ratings of importance, ease of assessment, and whether they adequately assess each element are reported. This dissertation addresses gaps in the literature and through the development of a conceptual framework moves toward the conceptualization and measurement of student outcomes in a key core competency.