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Engaged Scholarship

These modules work to achieve two overarching aims: clinical integration and knowledge translation and dissemination. First, writing a case study means that students commit to specific ontological and epistemological claims. Students demonstrate how a relevant social work practice must rigorously stay close to client experience while situating that experience in specific contexts or environments. Writing a case study means understanding the role of narrative in everyday life. And because writing demands specificity and commitments, and makes us aware of our assumptions, it requires students to reflect upon their practice. The self-reflexivity that results from writing improves student integration of philosophy, theory, and technique. Second, students are taught to build field-ready knowledge using phenomenological and grounded theory approaches to qualitative inquiry.  Thirdly, through a student designed and managed website, our engaged scholarship goal is realized through a multimedia project (the third year portfolio project) that centers the student case study and engages other practitioners, students, and constituencies. Students are asked to integrate foundation and clinical modules and through the Internet translate and disseminate practice-based, clinical, social work knowledge. In short, student multimedia projects create portals into a web-based (using video, text, images, etc.) medium that seeks to engage clinical constituencies (researchers, policymakers, clients, students, and practitioners) in a conversation about the relevancy of social work.

The Language of Engaged Scholarship

The DSW Program at Rutgers expects that students not simply express their own ideas, but to respond to what others have said—to be part of a conversation about ideas. To this end, we expect students to learn to present their own ideas clearly as they relate to others’ ideas by making viable in-module verbal contributions, by writing usable online blog contributions and assignment responses, and by learning the case/frame method of narrativizing a case study. Our program has an evolving lexicon toward these aims:

Close Reading: The careful, sustained interpretation of a brief passage of text. Such a reading places great emphasis on the particular over the general, paying close attention to individual words, syntax, and the order in which sentences and ideas unfold as they are read. This requires students to define key terms and phrases and respond to them.

Case/Frames: Using a theoretical idea from one reading to “frame” (or create a paradigm for interpreting) the “case” (or example). The case should ideally complicate the frame. Terms or practice models might be used as frames in a paper of dueling paradigms.

Engaging the Voice of Another: Utilizing “a social, conversational base” in which students are both self-reflexive and looking toward traceable scholarship. This move requires entertaining objections.

Creating New Knowledge: Using connective thinking across disciplines and synthesis as a means to assert one’s own, new point. This involves making an argument for why and how something matters, thinking about the implications of new knowledge.

Understanding Audiences: The audiences for the case study are students of social work, other practitioners, people who want to learn about theory to practice interventions, and any popular audience interested in the topic.

Understanding Lenses: To teach the lenses or perspectives from which DSW students might write, which include client/patient perspectives, the perspective of the practitioner (who may be objectifying the client/patient), the perspective of a social scientist (i.e. the anthropological lens), the historical perspective (involving case records or industry standards, and creative approaches to writing in the students’ fields.


Epistemology: The branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge and is also referred to as “theory of knowledge”. It questions what knowledge is and how it can be acquired, and the extent to which any given subject or entity can be known. Much of the debate in this field has focused on analyzing the nature of knowledge and how it relates to connected notions such as truth, belief, and justification.

Phenomenology: The philosophical study of the structures of subjective experience and consciousness, primarily concerned with the systematic reflection on and study of the structures of consciousness and the phenomena that appear in acts of consciousness. This ontology can be clearly differentiated from the Cartesian method of analysis which sees the world as objects, sets of objects, and objects acting and reacting upon one another. In its most basic form, phenomenology thus attempts to create conditions for the objective study of topics usually regarded as subjective: consciousness and the content of conscious experiences such as judgments, perceptions, and emotions. Although phenomenology seeks to be scientific, it does not attempt to study consciousness from the perspective of clinical psychology or neurology. Instead, it seeks through systematic reflection to determine the essential properties and structures of experience.

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