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The goodness of fit: A qualitative multicase study of community-based graduate social work education-at-a-distance

, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, United States

Doctor of Philosophy, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign . Awarded


This is a qualitative multicase study of two graduate social work courses taught to community based students at a distance via audiographic and two-way interactive video technologies; a study undertaken to identify and explore educational issues related to adult, telecommunications based distance education. It is naturalistic, emergent, responsive, and issue-centered; stimulated by the multiple interests, concerns, intuitions, and viewpoints of the students, professors, administrators, and other insiders whose perspectives and understandings I have tried to evoke and portray. Thus, this study is descriptive/interpretive, relating key observations and key passages from insider interviews.

The distance education context played a prominent role in the study; still, many issues that emerged here have less to do with distance than with the process of graduate social work education. An issue that I see as paramount is perhaps best expressed as that of the "goodness of fit" between the graduate social work classroom environment and students' expectations of it: In both cases, there was discrepancy between what students expected to experience as community based students in a graduate social work course and what they actually experienced in their classrooms; subsequently, they came to question the fit between the perceived interactive, cooperative spirit of the social work field, the collaborative community of social work practitioners/students, and a classroom environment that, to their ways of thinking, diminished the interaction and the dialogue essential to the dialectical teacher/student relationship that they valued and expected.

The stories depicted here are not optimistic. Perhaps I could best characterize these graduate social work courses, taught at a distance, as well-intentioned, but poorly received. A concern for access is part of the university's "outreach mission" to provide educational programs and opportunities to citizens throughout the state: Community based courses and distance education are responses to that obligation. In offering these courses to the social work students via distance education technologies, the Office of Community Based Graduate Programs saw itself as extending a helping hand; the students, however, saw an electronic hand, near robotic, reaching out palm up, into which they first had to deposit their tuition, values, and expectations.


Medley, F.C. The goodness of fit: A qualitative multicase study of community-based graduate social work education-at-a-distance. Doctor of Philosophy thesis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved August 3, 2021 from .

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