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School of Social Work to offer MSW classes remotely this fall

image of Lisa de Saxe Zerden, Ph.D.
Lisa de Saxe Zerden, Ph.D.

The UNC School of Social Work will continue to offer MSW classes remotely in the fall, a decision School leaders said was necessary to ensure the safety of all students, faculty and staff during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The School hopes to offer in-person classes in the spring 2021 semester.

“We understand that this is not the ideal situation for many of you, and we share in your disappointment,” Lisa de Saxe Zerden, the School’s senior associate dean for MSW education, recently announced to incoming and returning students. “After much consideration and lengthy discussions—receiving input from faculty and students across every end of the spectrum—we have concluded that this is the safest way to hold classes, and it allows everyone to participate and not feel unnecessary pressure to come to campus with worries about safety protocols and physical distancing regulations in our building – many of which are difficult for us to meet.”

The plan does not affect the School’s smaller doctoral program. Currently, five of the program’s seven classes this fall will be taught in person, with instructors and students following required health and wellness standards and protocols. Two other classes will be taught remotely, though they may begin with in-person instruction before shifting to a virtual format.

One of the biggest challenges for the MSW program has been adjusting plans for student field placements, School leaders said. These internships provide students with critical practice hours needed to fulfill their degree requirements. Field program staff continue to work with field instructors to determine which agencies will be able to provide field placements remotely, in-person, or a hybrid of the two, Zerden said. In some cases, students will also have the option to delay their field training until the spring or summer 2021.

“Flexibility is going to be necessary, and we anticipate that circumstances will be very fluid as we navigate this new COVID-19 reality,” Zerden said. “In general, we are pleased that most field instructors remain committed to working with student interns.”

Faculty are equally determined to ensure that the student experience is as normal as possible. Instructors have been encouraged to consider on-campus office hours and small group in-person discussions where safely possible.

Students will also continue to have the opportunity to participate in professional development activities via a virtual format throughout the semester. These activities and events typically include workshops on a range of topics such as self-care, preparing for the job search, clinical licensure information, and networking.

School leaders said they recognize that students may be facing other challenges that will require additional support. Administrators, faculty and staff will work with these students to ensure they can continue their academic journey at UNC, Zerden added.