Course Spotlight: Master of Social Work Electives

Student in Sweater on Laptop Taking a Online Social Work CourseTrying to decide how to customize your degree or pick a professional development course from our more than 20 online social work course electives? We hear you—there are a lot of options to consider! We prepared a closer look at three of our popular MSW electives, including feedback from students who have taken the courses, to help guide your unique educational journey.

A quick reminder: While these courses are electives for the Master of Social Work program, they can also be taken individually (without enrolling in a degree or certificate program) for personal or professional development. 

Feel free to jump ahead to the course that interests you most (or explore all three):

  1. Contemporary Controversies
  2. Narrative Therapy
  3. Social Work Practice in the Rural Environment

SSWO 615 – Contemporary Controversies

Course description: This seminar provides an opportunity for students to engage in critical examination of controversial issues that impact the profession of social work today. The course focuses on developing student abilities to research, examine and critically evaluate a variety of positions on controversial issues and to develop and defend both verbally and in writing, a personal position that is ethical and consistent with one’s values and beliefs.

Course content will be determined to a large extent by issues of interest to students in the class. Issues to be examined will also include controversial issues of interest to the instructor. Controversial issues in social policy, social welfare policy, multicultural practice, child welfare, social work ethics and professional practice may all be addressed.

Note: This course is no longer offered starting with the Summer 2020 term.

It’s tough to keep up with the relenting pace of the news cycle that serves as a microcosm of everything affecting the social work field at the same time. Though you might have an instinctual reaction or opinion on some topics, SSWO 615 seeks to take these issues and put them under a microscope, investigating them from every possible angle to broaden your perspective.

The aim of this approach is to help you develop skills to communicate with those who may not agree with you on such controversies. Just like a doctor takes an oath to do no harm, social workers have a responsibility to uphold their code of ethics in order to best serve their clients. Learning how to make decisions together, even if you disagree on some fundamentals, is a vital skill to helping people access the services they need.

Throughout this course, the instructor will elicit in-depth conversations and encourage you to immerse yourself in all viewpoints. Students find they come out as a better, more empathetic social worker in clinical and community practice.

Plus, this class can broaden your perspective! You may believe you want to practice with a certain group of people, but the discussions and experiences you encounter in SSWO 615 could completely transform your perceptions.

This course can also be taken as an elective for UNE Online degree programs outside of social work.


SSWO 642 – Narrative Therapy

Course description: Narrative Therapy (SSWO 642) provides students with the opportunity to learn the theory and practice of Narrative Therapy. The UNE School of Social Work’s Mission states that the School provides opportunities for “transformative and collaborative learning that embraces the values of social inclusion and promotes enhanced quality of life for individuals and communities.” Narrative Therapy is one such opportunity by being specifically designed to encourage collaboration among student learners while offering a unique opportunity for personal and professional self-reflection and transformation. Students will have the opportunity to explore the historical development of this contemporary theory within the paradigm of social inclusion and to observe and practice Narrative Therapy through interactive role-plays and videotaped sessions with classmates and the instructor.

Narrative therapy encourages a reevaluation of the narrative people believe about themselves by confronting their perception of their own skills, knowledge, and values. An important tenet of the theory is to separate the person from the problems they face, and show that they don’t have to identify themselves by their mistakes or challenges. Narrative therapy is used in a wide variety of therapy situations and environments, including treating depression, addressing sex trafficking or learning disabilities, and much more.

While practicing narrative therapy is an incredibly valuable skill, especially in clinical practice, it can be tough to get the hang of it at first. Our online social work course SSWO 642 – Narrative Therapy provides a unique experience: the chance to practice narrative therapy through roleplay. While the full course (as with all UNE Online courses) is held asynchronously, students can use videoconferencing platforms such as Zoom or Google Hangouts to sync up with other students in the same time zone and put theory into practice. After all, it’s been shown that stories have incredible power over our brains. How could we improve ourselves by changing our own stories—past and future?

Quotes from students who have taken SSWO 642:

  • “The discussion forums were helpful and supportive. The activities such as the tree of life and migration of identity were useful. Doing these types of activities during courses helps increase the chances I’ll use them in future practice settings. I loved all of the videos as they contributed greatly to the learning experience.”
  • “This has been one of the warmest and most positive learning experiences I have had. I truly loved this course and am so appreciative of the knowledge that I have gained from it.”

A word from the instructor:

“Narrative found me when I was about 5-years into clinical practice and swept me off my feet and I’ve been immersed in it ever since. I have found it to be the most hope-inspiring, person-centered, trauma-informed, empowering, and healing approach of all the contemporary theories. It is based on the belief that we all have the right to reclaim authorship of our life-stories and in doing so embrace and direct our own healing and growth. This course pilots an all new video-practice experience that is the first of its kind in our MSW curriculum. It provides a ‘real-time’ clinical practice experience for students and allows for deeper feedback and coaching from instructors. Students who take this course and faculty who teach this course have been extremely positive about the engaging and skill-based nature of the discussions and assignments.” – Craig Owens, MSW, LCSW, Assistant Clinical Professor, UNE School of Social Work

Read More: Learn about our online course GPH 702 – Policy: An Interprofessional Approach

SSWO 675 – Social Work Practice in the Rural Environment

Course description: This elective course is designed to provide students with an overview of micro, mezzo, and macro social work practice in rural environments. Students will be introduced to the unique characteristics of rural environments with attention to various populations, geographic factors, local resources and issues specific to diversity, health, and social exclusion, environmental justice and community development. Students will learn empowering practice skills needed to provide services in the rural environment and the critical importance of establishing collaborative partnerships with individuals and private, governmental, and not-for-profit organizations.

Note: This course is no longer offered starting with the Summer 2020 term.

Those of you from rural areas know that a catch-22 exists there: those living in rural regions have the hardest time accessing services, and yet they are often the population that needs those services most.

This online social work course emphasizes understanding the intertwined elements that affect rural populations, the social services systems that can be employed to reach this unique population, and most importantly, how to work with rural community members as they try to navigate their hardships and systems.

Let’s take one example: Regular mammograms can be life-saving tests, alerting a health provider to instances of breast cancer so that it can be treated before it spreads. Those who live rurally may be uninsured or have to skimp on their annual physical due to insufficient funds, time, or transportation, but successful advocacy has led to the rise of mobile mammogram units. While this initiative is noble and useful, such units are sometimes only able to stop in a particular locale once a year. Furthermore, if rural inhabitants consider missing even one day of work in order to use the mobile mammogram, they might face the possibility of losing a full day’s pay, not having enough resources to leave their farm or homestead on its, or lack reliable transportation to or awareness of the mobile unit. Instead, that person may feel forced to forego their annual mammogram altogether, and have to hope that they are still well rather than receive care.

SSWO 675 further explains the larger impact when social service systems aren’t available, and how to work with people to access those services in a better way. With the strength of advocacy and an understanding of local and state laws, a social worker in a rural environment could get the mobile health truck to stay longer, come on a different day, come twice a year, stop in at previously-identified individual homes, and so on.

Social workers hold a mountain of potential; when concentrated, just one social worker can have a major impact on the individuals who make up a rural population.

Quotes from students who have taken SSWO 675:

  • “Through this class I have learned that in a rural area, not only is the individual your client, but also the community as a whole. Because rural towns have such limited resources, social workers end up taking on a greater role in the community and can become influential leaders when it comes to creating change or influencing policies.”
  • “I learned from class discussions and readings the importance of creating opportunity within rural areas in order to keep people there and to make it a sustainable place to live. We have to be open to the ideas of community members and help create a place that people will want to enjoy for the rest of their lives.”
  • “I enjoyed the major assignment that required us to identify a social problem that affects rural communities, then develop micro, mezzo and macro strategies that would address and resolve this problem. It was a creative assignment and it tied all the material presented in the class quite effectively.”

A word from the instructor:

“The practice of social work is fundamentally the same in any environment and rural social workers will discover similar problems as found in vast metropolitan areas such as high poverty rates, inadequate housing and inadequate access to health care; however, the scarcity of resources and professionals including medical providers, socioeconomic underdevelopment, physical distance from services and lack of public transportation are compounding factors of living in rural America. These factors create a dilemma for the specialized practitioner who quickly adjusts to become a “person” of all trades to meet the needs of rural clients needing micro, mezzo and macro interventions.” – Judith Boudman, MSW, Associate Lecturer, UNE School of Social Work

Enroll in an Online Social Work Course

We hope these behind-the-scenes looks have inspired you to learn more! If one (or all three) of these courses piques your interest, you have a few options:

  • If you’re already a UNE student, reach out to your Student Support Specialist to see how you can work one of these electives into your course plan.
  • If you’re looking to take a single course without enrolling, contact our Enrollment Counselors to register.
  • If you want more information on online learning, take a look at this guide to how our online courses work.
  • If you want more information about our online MSW program:


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