About Dr. Dana Grossman Leeman, M.S.W., Ph.D.: Dr. Leeman is an Associate Professor of Practice and the program director for the online M.S.W. program in the School of Social Work at Simmons University. She earned her M.S.W. from the Boston University School of Social Work in 1989, where she majored in casework with a minor in group work. Dr. Leeman earned her doctorate from Simmons University in 2004 and her dissertation focused on relational resilience in the life stories of child survivors of the Holocaust. She currently teaches MSW 577, Introduction to Social Work with Groups.
After earning her M.S.W., Dr. Leeman worked primarily in mental health settings. She worked as an inpatient social worker in a psychiatric unit for five years, then in a partial hospital program with patients who had co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse disorders, many with trauma histories, doing individual, group, and family work. Dr. Leeman also conducted a family therapy externship program, where she studied different systemic and strategic family systems therapy approaches in addition to working full time in the partial hospital program. In the first 10 years of her career, she also did private practice with individuals, couples, families, and groups. She joined the faculty at Simmons University in 1996 as an adjunct faculty member teaching a group social work course. Since then, she has taught several different social work courses including social policies, human behavior, and social action, and became a full-time faculty member in 2007.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Currently, there are approximately 25 universities offering fully online M.S.W. programs. How long has the program at Simmons University been offered and how is it structured? Why did Simmons University decide to start offering a new online M.S.W. program?
[Dr. Leeman] First, we were seeing many, many inquiries for our admissions team from prospective students who wanted to know if there was an online degree program. As demand for a degree earned online increased, it seemed incumbent upon us to respond.
So it was really to meet the growing needs of students who wanted to avail themselves of a Simmons degree but who weren’t living locally, or who were living closer to Simmons but because of their lives – work, family, other responsibilities – just couldn’t have done it if they had to commute to campus. The time that it would take to commute was going to make it not feasible for them to do their M.S.W. at Simmons, and they wanted to become clinical social workers. So that demand created an opportunity for innovation.
I think the second thing is that we understand that the possibilities for creating quality online education are there. And we’re able to do exciting things to bring our on-campus program online. The quality of the teaching will be the same, because many of the tenured and full-time faculty members are creating these courses. We have at our disposal an array of technological tools that enables us to deliver content differently and to be creative in ways that we aren’t able to be on the ground. And I think that we are creating a program that is extremely dynamic – rigorous, but really current. I think there are a lot of things about it that will help create a culture of warmth and accessibility but retain the things that make Simmons one of the top schools in the country: the rigor, the quality of the training, the agencies where we place students – all of these things are going to be consistent. So we thought, “If we’re going to do this, we’re going to make sure that it’s done right.”
Students begin the program in cohorts. There are five starts a year, spaced out every few months over the course of a calendar year. Students may begin in one cohort, but it doesn’t mean they’re not going to interface with students from another cohort. It depends on the classes they take and class times. We’re going to be offering day and evening classes; there may be a point at which we have multiple sections running on any given day at different times to meet students’ needs. They will begin with one group but will merge as they continue their study with other students as well. We’re going to be creating many activities and events for students to meet each other, to support and learn from each other, and to be in this experience with each other as the program progresses.
Students are exposed to both synchronous and asynchronous content for each course. The synchronous content is the live session, which is 90 minutes a week. And in addition to readings and papers, students will spend approximately 75 to 80 minutes a week doing asynchronous class time, which usually comprises a series of lecture videos; roundtable discussions with instructors and students; and experiential activity videos that students will reflect on either by recording a video themselves or by writing something, posting comments on the wall, or tweeting, depending on the course. This is going to help them develop their conceptual framework outside of the live session so they can use the live class time to deepen their knowledge and to practice skills that they can then bring out into the field. We think that they’re going to begin learning asynchronously and then really both deepen, practice, develop and hone skills in the live sessions. That’s how things are structured.
In terms of how long it takes to complete the program, it really depends on the student. If you come as an extended program student, you might complete the program in 36 months; if you come full time, it’s generally about 18 months. The traditional on-campus two-three-four-year plan isn’t quite the same for the online student.
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