Dec. 23, 2021

Cross-cultural exchange proves invaluable in weathering pandemic storms

Dialogue between UCalgary and Jamia Millia Islamia faculties of social work in collaboration with Academics Without Borders is mutually beneficial experience
Portrait of UCalgary Faculty of Social Work professor Christine Walsh.
UCalgary Faculty of Social Work professor Dr. Christine Walsh, PhD. Courtesy Christine Walsh

Building solidarity and community across institutes of learning around the world is key to flourishing during these troubled times says Faculty of Social Work professor Dr. Christine Walsh, PhD.

“I learned a lot about how we as educators, researchers and practitioners were really struggling during these different difficult times in connecting with our students and vulnerable populations that have been impacted by COVID 19,” says Walsh. “That was a shared phenomenon. Considering how to develop best practices for doing the work that we do is something that we as a global community need to think about. We need people to journey along with us — across disciplines, across universities and across countries. We need that community to help us move forward and do good work.”

Walsh’s remarks follow the successful conclusion of a series of online workshops led by Walsh and fellow social work professors Dr. Angelique Jenney, PhD, Dr. Dorothy Badry, PhD, and a cohort of senior-level PhD students. The series, entitled Cross-Cultural Dialogues for Social Transformation: Enhancing Social Work Research & Teaching Methods, aimed at developing a collaboration between social work academics in Canada and India by engaging through a series of interactive discussions designed to improve social work research and teaching practices.

The series was organized by the UCalgary Faculty of Social Work in collaboration with the Jamia Millia Islamia Faculty of Social Work and Academics without Borders (of which Walsh, Badry and Jenney are volunteers). The weekly sessions (held between August and October of this year), covered such topics as emerging models in virtual field supervision, decolonizing social work education through the incorporation of Indigenous worldviews, and blending qualitative and quantitative research designs.

A path leads to the entrance of the School of Social Work, Jamia Millia Islamia University

The School of Social Work at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, India.

Courtesty Jamia Millia Islamia

The impetus for the project was manifold. Site visits initially planned in Calgary and New Delhi were shelved due to the pandemic, but the COVID crisis underscored the need for a dialogue as academics became cut off from their peers and students, and research became increasingly hampered. The situation added to an already challenging time for the field of social work in India, which lacks national standards for curriculum or requirements for fieldwork.

“We wanted to know what they wanted. I think, in general, they had lack of access for advanced training,” says Walsh. “Particularly in the time of COVID, so that’s what we hoped to do while really creating a dialogue.

The interesting things for us is that we would share our practices, but also all the folks in the forum would share what they were doing around a particular area, so I think the sharing was really mutual.  

She adds that one of the forums was led by young Indian scholars.

Through the series of 13 workshops attended by 40 to 60 social work educators across Northern India, the UCalgary presenters were able to offer insight in building research capacity and improving pedagogical methods. The project was well received, earning consistently high marks on a followup questionnaire.

“For me, as a young academician teaching social work, this summer school provided an opportunity to witness new research areas with advanced techniques and methods,” says Bhat Iqball Majeed, an assistant professor of social work at the Central University of Jammu, J&K, India.

“This summer school indeed provided me a chance to engage in a meaningful discussion on various aspects of social work profession like fieldwork practice, response to COVID-19 by professional social workers as well as engagement of social work faculties in exploring newer areas of research.”

Walsh says the series of workshops benefited the UCalgary team equally. It provided PhD students the opportunity to present in an international forum and gave faculty members some needed perspective on the shared challenges and common solutions for social workers worldwide.

“Even though we’re seemingly so different as social workers, researchers, educators and practitioners, we really struggle with many of the same things,” says Walsh. “I think sometimes as educators, we think about providing education to rather than really having this enhanced dialogue and sharing, so I really learned a lot about what kind of practices were going on in India.”