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Ohio University Southern professor revolutionizes social work education with innovative learning lab

Ohio University Southern Associate Professor of Instruction of Social Work Dr. Joy Shytle has endeavored to reshape social work education. 

Endowed by the estate of alumnus C. Paul Stocker, the 1804 Grant that Shytle received has provided her with the means to establish a pioneering Social Work Learning Lab at the Southern campus.

The genesis of this project traces back to the retirement of Shytle’s aunt.

"She was a therapist for 49 years and was going to gift me the contents of her office... I thought, ‘I don't have anywhere to put that,’" Shytle said. This initial dilemma caused Shytle to envision a dedicated space for social work education, which led the creation of the Learning Lab.

At the heart of this initiative lies a commitment to enhancing social work practice through innovation and collaboration. Rather than relying on traditional methods, Shytle has embraced cutting-edge technology to enrich the educational experience. Central to the lab's offerings is virtual reality (VR) training, facilitated by Meta Quest headsets and dedicated computers. These immersive scenarios allow students to navigate diverse social work settings and hone their skills in real-world contexts.

In addition to VR training, Shytle has forged partnerships to expand access to learning resources. Through collaboration with Triad, students gain access to a vast database of Licensed Social Worker prep questions. This resource not only reinforces theoretical knowledge but also provides invaluable feedback to guide student learning.

"It gives them feedback on not only the right answer and why it's the right answer, but feedback on where they need to do better," said Shytle.

Recognizing the financial constraints faced by many students, particularly in low-income areas, the lab also serves as a resource hub for practicum support.

"Instead of having to buy their own material, we have materials here that they can use for their social work practice," Shytle said.

By offering a range of materials for student use, including a lending library stocked with donated books, she aims to alleviate the financial burden associated with educational resources. And with students using these resources in the community during their practicum, Ohio University Southern is injecting resources not only into the classroom, but out into the community.

Beyond its tangible resources, the Social Work Learning Lab fosters a nurturing learning environment.

"The students love the space because we have fidget toys and they can get up and they can get a fidget toy if they need it... It's just a very warm space," said Shytle.

As the project unfolds, Shytle remains committed to empowering future social workers to tackle real-world challenges. Through a combination of innovative technology, practical resources and a supportive learning environment, the Social Work Learning Lab stands as a beacon of progress in social work education. In the words of Dr. Shytle, "The sky's the limit on what they want to create."

March 26, 2024
Staff reports