Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Research Methods in Social Work and Social Policy 2

LEVEL 02 - Years 2, 3 in Modular Undergraduate Course


DEPARTMENT Social Policy and Social Work

DESCRIPTION This study unit is a continuation of SWP 2311. It is a foundation study unit that provides an introduction to and an overview of research methods used in social work and social policy. It emphasises the generation and appraisal of knowledge used in social work and social policy. The course is designed to explore and investigate theories, concepts, and methods of systematic inquiry, or the scientific approach to knowledge. Emphasis is placed on the value content of research in discerning the relationship between research, professional judgement, and action. The aim is for students to obtain basic knowledge and skills in research methods that are essential for effective and accountable practice in both social work and social policy.

The main steps involved in carrying out a research project are explored:

- Deciding on the research focus and developing the research question(s);
- Choosing the research design, selecting the appropriate method(s), and planning the logistics involved;
- Collecting and analysing data;
- Reporting on findings, and utilisation of research outcome.

The intent is for the student to acquire a critical understanding and ability to comprehend research studies and to do their own research, so as to be in a position to integrate research outcomes in their professional practice. Students are expected to learn how to develop their own research proposal, how to go about carrying out their research, and how to use research findings in day to day social work and social policy practice.

SWP 2321 follows SWP 2311 (offered during the First Semester) and involves students in practical research applications to allow them to develop the necessary basic competencies and skills relating systematic inquiry to day to day social work and social policy concerns.

Study-unit Aims

Professional social work and social policy practice takes place within a context that is demanding greater professional, administrative and political accountability. The professionalisation of social work, within the context of the knowledge-information revolution of our age, determines the knowledge base of social work and its development. Narrative, anecdotal, and casework information derived from clinical practice are increasingly being put to the test of systematic inquiry; the urgency for more empirically validated practice is increasingly accepted in all mainstream social work and practice. The same can be said in the development of contemporary social policy, which is increasingly being challenged by cost-driven considerations, necessitating a stronger research orientation to secure social policies that continue to respond to the people’s real needs, especially those most vulnerable. Consequently, the practice of professional social work and social policy requires knowledge and skills of systematic inquiry and the methods of social scientific research. Systematic inquiry develops the knowledge base of social work and social policy, and provides the basis for increased accountability.

The development of knowledge and skills of systematic inquiry are basic for practitioners to fully understand and utilise social work research literature, and for practitioners to evaluate the effectiveness of their interventions and practice efficacy. The field of social work is also characterised by a variety of practice models, theories and therapies. Social work research is contributing to the better understanding of competing approaches to practice interventions, through systematic study and empirical evaluation. Moreover, knowledge and skills of systematic inquiry are necessary for social policy analysis, community needs assessment, understanding community attitudes, marketing of social services, and other practices common to social work and social policy.

This study unit equips the social work and social policy student who is new to the field of research with the necessary knowledge and skills to engage in basic social work research and to critically consume social work research literature. The student will become acquainted with the logic of scientific research through a basic understanding of the philosophy of science. On a more practical level, students will be provided with knowledge on how to develop a research question from an area of interest or concern, and how to proceed from the research question to complete the research process. Students will learn to conceptualise a problem, operationalise concepts and variables to be used in a study, design methods and instruments for a study, develop an appropriate research design for completing a study, acquire a basic understanding of both quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection and analysis, and to undertake research with a strong concern for the ethical implications.

A basic understanding of the research process is expected to enable students to develop a critical perspective in the evaluation and utilisation of research findings. Students are expected to develop critical-analytic and creative skills in planning, designing, undertaking, reporting, assessing and evaluating research data, while learning the basis of the scientific approach to social work practice. Exposure to practical examples of research findings will influence students in appreciating the values and ideology underlying research.

Study units SWP2311 and SWP2321 are both compulsory given that they are designed to prepare students to undertake a substantial research project during the third and fourth year of the BA (Hons) course as part of the Dissertation Project. SWP2311 is a prerequisite for SWP2321. However, depending on previous experience or research courses taken, students may be allowed to register for only one part of the course as a 5-credit unit. In addition, every effort will be made to meet student’s individual research needs.

Learning Outcomes

1. Knowledge & Understanding: By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

1. Demonstrate understanding of systematic inquiry, the role of social work/social policy research and its relationship to social work/social policy theory;

2. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of meta-theoretical issues that determine different social work/social policy research methods and approaches;

3. Demonstrate knowledge and sensitivity to the ethics of social work/social policy research, and ability to design and implement a study that fully respects all ethical principles of social work/social policy research;

4. Demonstrate understanding of the logic of research design, including the use of sampling, the use of experimental and quasi-experimental designs, and the use of single-subject designs;

5. Demonstrate understanding of the terms reliability and validity, and how to increase reliability and validity;

6. Demonstrate knowledge of different modes of observation used in social work/social policy research, including the use of surveys, methods of field research, and unobtrusive research methods;

7. Demonstrate understanding of basic methods of data analysis and the use of statistical measures of description, association, and significance;

8. Demonstrate awareness of the social context of social work/social policy research and the social and political influences that affect the process of social work/social policy research;

9. Demonstrate an awareness of minority, disability, and gender issues in research and an understanding of how to develop research practices that are sensitive to minority, disability, and gender issues;

2. Skills (including transferable [generic] skills): By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

1. Demonstrate ability to compare and contrast quantitative and qualitative approaches to social work/social policy research, describing the relative strengths and limitations of different approaches;

2. Demonstrate ability to formulate a research question and to design appropriate instruments of measurement that may be used to answer the research question;

3. Demonstrate an ability to understand, discuss, evaluate and criticise social work/social policy research articles;

4. Use library resources and the internet in developing a scholarly approach to learning;

5. Within the context of the above, to pursue individualised learning needs, directly reflective of social work/social policy research, and to share the results of continued learning.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings

Main Texts

- Darlington Y., & Scott, D. (2002). Qualitative research in practice: Stories from the field. Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press.

- Padgett, D. K. (1998). Qualitative methods in social work: Challenges and rewards. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

- Rubin, A. (2007). Practice-oriented study guide for Rubin/Babbie’s Research Methods for Social Work (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.

- Rubin, A., & Babbie, E. (2008). Research methods for social work (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

- Szuchman, L. T., & Thomlison, B. (2004). Writing with style: APA style for social work (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole – Thomson Learning.

Strongly Recommended Resource Books

- American Psychological Association. (2001). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

- Herbert, M. (1997). Planning a research project: A guide for practitioners and trainees in the helping professions. London, EN: Cassell.

- Rosen, L. J., & Behrens, L. (1997). The Allyn & Bacon handbook. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Other Assigned Readings (a selection from the readings below)

- Alaggia, R. (2002). Balancing acts: Reconceptualizing support in maternal response to intra-familial child sexual abuse. Clinical Social Work Journal, 30(1), 41-57.

- Allen-Meares, P., & Lane, B. (1990). Social work practice: Integrating qualitative and quantitative data collection techniques. Social Work, 35, 452-458.

- Butler, I. (2002). A code of ethics for social work and social care research. British Journal of Social Work, 32, 239-248.

- Cannon, L. W., Higginbotham, E., & Leung, M. L. A. (1988). Race and class bias in qualitative research on women. Gender and Society, 2, 449-462.

- Cree, V. E., Kay, H., Tisdall, K., & Wallace, J. (2004). Stigma and prental HIV. Qualitative Social Work, 3(1), 7-25.

- Di Terlizzi, M. (1997). Talking about work: I used to talk about nothing else, I was excited and it got a bit too much for my parents. Disability & Society, 12, 501-511.

- Forbes, H., & Dziegielewski, S. F. (2003). Issues facing adoptive mothers of children with special needs. Journal of Social Work, 3, 301-320.

- Gibbs, A. (2001). The changing nature and context of social work research. British Journal of Social Work, 31, 687-704.

- Hepler, J. B. (1994). Evaluating the effectiveness of a social skills program for preadolescents. Research on Social Work Practice, 4, 411-435.

- Kohler Riessman, C. (1994). Making sense of marital violence: One woman’s narrative. In C. Kohler Riessman (Ed.), Qualitative Studies in Social Work Research (pp.113-132). London, EN: SAGE Publications.

- Kools, S. M. (1997). Adolescent identity development in foster care. Family Relations, 46, 263-271.

- Newton, L., Rosen, A., Tennant. C., Hobbs, C., Lapsley, H. M., & Tribe, K. (2000). Deinstitutionalisation for long-term mental illness: An ethnographic study. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 34, 484-490.

- Reed, J., & Roskell Payton, V. (1996). Past the age of consent? A discussion of some ethical issues arising in a study involving older peple. Health Care in Later Life, 1, 51-61.

- Richey, C. A., & Hodges, V. G. (1992). Empirical support for the effectiveness of respite care in reducing caregiver burden: A single-case analysis. Research on Social Work Practice, 2, 143-160.

- Singh Dhooper, S., & Schneider, P. l. (1995). Evaluation of a school-based child abuse prevention programme. Research on Social Work Practice, 5, 36-46.

- Weber Cannon, L., Higginbotham, E., & Leung, M. L. A. Race and class bias in qualitative research on women. Gender & Society, 2, 449-462.

Recommended Readings

- Gibelman, M., & Gelman, S. R., (2001). Learning from the mistakes of others: A look at scientific misconduct in research. Journal of Social Work Education, 37, 241-254.

- Girden, E. R. (1996). Evaluating research articles: From start to finish. London, EN: SAGE Publications.

- Marlow, C. (1998). Research methods for generalist social work (2nd ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

- Slife, B. D., & Williams, R. N. What’s behind the research? Discovering hidden assumptions in the behavioural sciences. London, EN: SAGE Publications Ltd.


ADDITIONAL NOTES Pre-requisite Qualifications Completion of 1st year of BA(Hons) in Social Work or Social Policy.


Assessment Component/s Resit Availability Weighting
Assignment Yes 30%
Examination (2 Hours) Yes 70%

LECTURER/S Edgar Galea Curmi

The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the study-unit description above applies to the academic year 2017/8, if study-unit is available during this academic year, and may be subject to change in subsequent years.