“Not A Tech Person”: My Journey in the SCDS Program

Technology and I don’t get along. After several instances of crouching under a table to frown at an adapter while attempting to project my slideshow for a presentation – scored by my classmates’ muffled tittering and my own sheepish mumbles of “this should be working,” I have generally tried to steer clear of anything pertaining to technological and digital spaces…for my own well-being and others’. It’s a running joke – almost a rite of passage – in the School of Social Work to announce your afflictions to: (1) math, (2) science, and (3) anything to do with tech or computers.

However, after the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, which swiftly shut down the world six months into my Master’s, I was confronted with the necessity of digital scholarship. Suddenly, I had to shift my entire project from in-person focus groups to Zoom, which, at the time, was a pretty unknown platform. This experience, to put it mildly, shook me up; I found myself in frequent panicked dialogues with my peers about how we were supposed to carry on as usual when many of us didn’t know how to translate our projects to the digital space.

Despite numerous challenges, I finished my MSW thesis and began my PhD entirely online. Surprising myself (and many others), I decided to apply to the SCDS Graduate Residency program. I felt genuinely excited about the possibilities of integrating social work perspectives into a digital scholarship residency; perhaps seeing social workers in these spaces would inspire my peers to pursue their own interests, too. Perhaps I could support re-writing the narrative surrounding tech aversion among social workers.

My plans were lofty and optimistic. Much like the way my MSW thesis had to adapt, this project evolved throughout my time in the SCDS residency. The support of my peers in the program – who brought different perspectives and insights – ensured that these changes didn’t feel discouraging. Rather, my flexibility seemed to grow; my project changed into something that I felt best met the needs and expectations of everyone at McMaster, and I felt open to the possibilities of integrating more elements of DS as I worked on it. 

What I produced (and continue to adapt, as I write this) is a cross-boundary, interdisciplinary online medium aiming to consolidate resources for student health and wellness at McMaster University. Underpinned by my own experiences as a student and as a teaching assistant, I wanted to create a digital platform where information about these resources and supports were readily available to anyone who might be searching for support.

Image description: A screenshot of an Avenue to Learn site page. Heading at the top reads “Table of Contents.” Underneath the menu heading on the left side of the screen is a list of tabs, including “immediate safety,” “physical health,” “mental health,” “substance use,” and “disordered eating/eating disorders.” The text underneath the immediate safety tab reads “Please note that available services related to immediate physical safety are offered by or partner with Hamilton Police Services (or your local police service) and/or McMaster Security Services. Please consult other tabs (e.g. mental health, violence, etc.) for crisis lines that offer anonymous chat options.
Image description: The side menu tab on the Avenue to Learn page has various topics that, when clicked on, expand to include sub-tabs. For example, under the “Mental Health” tab, there are sub-sections with resources for “crisis/emergency,” “counselling,” “peer support,” and “resources.”
Image description: When you engage with each “sub-tab,” the links to each resource’s website expand to include text information about each service. For example, when you click on the “Indigenous Student Supports/Services” sub-tab underneath the main “Supports for Black, Indigenous, and Racialized Folks” tab, links and information about the service becomes available.

Not only have I learned so much about the amazing work happening on and off campus through developing this site, I also feel that this platform makes visible the processes and logistics of getting and giving support. While optimistic, I think that this site could contribute to de-stigmatizing and de-mystifying student resources and supports so that everyone on campus feels that they know where to go when they might need it.

What I hope readers can take away from this blog post is that you don’t have to be an expert in digital scholarship or technology to be successful in this residency. My project didn’t necessarily read as a traditional form of DS. In fact, my peers in the program had vastly different projects that creatively imagined what DS can look like. It can truly be whatever you want it to be, and it can create a sense of community that defies the boundaries set out in non-digital forms of scholarship. 

In short, just because you can’t seem to figure out how to format an image on a word doc doesn’t mean that digital scholarship isn’t right for you. Take it from this technologically clumsy social worker: go for it.

Many thanks to Emily, Theresa, Andrea, and Linzey for their edits and support. And to the entire SCDS 2020/21 cohort – you are all amazing!

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