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Our Mission

Unlocking social work knowledge

Social work knowledge is locked. Students must pay an exorbitant price to access the core curriculum of social work. As the price of textbooks increases exponentially and the market shifts towards renting rather than owning textbooks, the onus is on social work educators to reclaim social work knowledge for the community.

OER has the potential to transform higher education.  Faculty who create and share OER bring resources from behind paywalls into the open, where it can be adapted, remixed, and repurposed by other faculty as a community of scholarship in pedagogy.

Why is OER the answer?

For students, open textbooks are available for free, on the first day of class, and in perpetuity after the class is complete.  Students using OER take more courses, withdraw and fail less, and perform better on learning assessments across multiple studies—particularly for students historically marginalized from higher education.  Additionally, students generally rate open textbooks to be of equal or superior quality to traditional materials.  

For faculty using open textbooks, they can edit textbook content, mix different textbooks together, repurpose textbook content for a new use, as well as create and share derivative materials freely.  Faculty who adopt OER will eliminate cost barriers for students to access course materials and contribute to a social work commons—making instruction a collaborative endeavor.  Faculty also generally rate open textbooks to be of equal or superior quality to traditional materials.  For a summary of the major studies on OER, please refer to this literature review:

 Open by 2025

Open Social Work Education was founded with an ambitious goal: turn the core curriculum of social work open by 2025. For each domain of social work education (policy, research, theory, and practice), OWSE will facilitate the publication of a peer-reviewed open textbook and ancillary materials such as slideshows, activities, and quiz banks. How can we accomplish such an ambitious task?

In short, we will create working groups for each core domain. First, these working groups will submit for grant funds through state and university sources to support the creation of an undergraduate textbook. Each group’s textbook will come in both web/HTML editions (hosted on Pressbooks) and print editions (published at cost via Amazon). OSWE will work with university librarians to find peer reviewers for each textbook via the Open Textbook Network reviewer grant program. After pilot testing and peer review of the undergraduate book are complete, the working group will follow the same process for a graduate textbook.

The research methods working group has already begun its work. In August 2018, we published Scientific Inquiry in Social Work, an open textbook on research methods for undergraduate students this summer, we are (in Fall 2018) soliciting peer review from educators and building ancillary materials including a quiz bank, slideshows, and scaffolded activities. A second edition of the undergraduate textbook will be completed in August 2020 that will incorporate interactive design elements and formative assessments.

In Fall 2018, we began work on a graduate research methods textbook. Multi-Paradigmatic Research Methods (working title) represents a collaboration across multiple institutions and disciplines. The final product will include interactive content and formative assessments, following best practices in instructional design. Our target date for the publication of our first edition is August 2019. We are actively seeking funding for our project through the Virginia Libraries OER Grant Program.

Our Collaborators


Dr. Matt DeCarlo founded Open Social Work Education in 2017.  He is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Radford University. At Radford, he is the chair of the OER Committee and the campus leader for the Open Textbook Network.  He is the author of Scientific Inquiry in Social Work, the first open textbook in social work education in the Open Textbook Library. He lives in Roanoke, Virginia with his wife, Emily, and son, Finn.


Research methods working group

Dr. Matt DeCarlo, Assistant Professor, Radford University School of Social Work

Dr. Nicole Lee, Associate Professor of Teaching, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work

Dr. Cory Cummings, Assistant Professor, Monmouth University School of Social Work

Kate Agnelli, Senior Legislative Analyst, Virginia Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission

Dr. Dalia Khoury, Research Survey Scientist, RTI International

Tom Snediker, Learning Architect and Instructor, Radford University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning

Tom Woodward, Associate Director of Innovation, Virginia Commonwealth University Academic Learning Transformation Lab

Stephanie Walker, Enhanced Learning Spaces Specialist, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work

Hillary Miller, Scholarly Communications Librarian, Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries

Student contributors

Open Social Work Education has been fortunate enough to receive help from a growing body of students who have contributed ancillary resources, edited materials, and assisted with research studies.  

Courtney Crenshaw, MSW Student

Amanda Parsons, MSW Student

David Cacamis, MSW

Daniel Brooks, MSW