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Smyth among top social work professors using Twitter wisely


Published October 17, 2013

“Digital technologies have become so prevalent in our culture that social workers who don’t understand these technologies and how to use them are in danger of being culturally incompetent with some client populations.”
Dean Nancy Smyth
School of Social Work

School of Social Work Dean Nancy J. Smyth is among top social work professors using Twitter to engage students and connect them to the social work community, according to a list compiled by a directory of online master of social work programs.

Smyth, who has been a strong advocate of teaching social workers how cyberspace can make them more effective, was among 16 social work professors in the United States cited for their pioneering work in using social media to circulate their work. The list, prepared by the Online MSW Programs website, a directory of CSWE-accredited online master of social work programs, recognized Smyth for having more than 2,500 Twitter followers.

“Our goal was to bring awareness to the use of social media in both academia and social work, and to create a valuable resource for students to find and connect with social work professors,” says Aaron Tooley, a spokesman for the Online MSW Programs.

“We are sharing this information in hopes of getting more people to follow Dr. Smyth and the other professors who made the list.”

 Since becoming dean in 2004, Smyth has moved the UB School of Social Work toward more effectively using technology to engage social workers around the world. Most recently, the school began offering a course in “Social Work Practice and Technology” where students learn how to use technology like text messages, video games, Second Life, social media and other cyberspace tools to make a difference in people’s lives in a digital age.

“Digital technologies have become so prevalent in our culture that social workers who don’t understand these technologies and how to use them are in danger of being culturally incompetent with some client populations,” says Smyth. “For example, we know that adolescents won’t disclose cyberbullying to adults who don’t understand mobile technologies and their importance to teens’ lives.

“Five years ago, I was telling therapists, ‘You can’t ethically practice anymore and not be online because online is where people now get access to evidence-based intervention manuals and best practices that might never be available in print,’” says Smyth.

If social workers are to achieve their goals—reaching those in need, healing them, changing the world through their knowledge and passion—they need to harness the power of cyberspace and the world of e-patients, issues Smyth thinks and talks about with colleagues, both in her “real life” and in virtual spaces. She maintains a blog, “Virtual Connections.” Her Twitter feed is

“All these technologies are becoming embedded in people’s lives,” she says. “So for social workers, it becomes really important for us to have a good grounding in the technologies, how they can be used helpfully and how they can run into problems for people.”

The principle behind Online MSW Program’s list closely follows Smyth’s educational philosophy.

“The Internet has changed the way we find and access information, and social media has changed the way we interact with people,” according to the introduction to the group’s list of Twitter-distinguished professors.”

“With more than 1.1 billion users on Facebook and over 550 million users on Twitter, social workers must understand these new forms of media and communication to better help their clients and patients.”

To qualify for the list, the professors had to be active Twitter users who engaged with their followers. The majority of professors on the list have more than 200 followers and at least 400 tweets over a sustained period of time.

“We definitely recommend following these professors to learn more about the field of social work and to stay current on hot topics,” according to Tooley.