Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit


Completion of first year of the program

Teaching organisation

4 hours per week with additional time required for research.

Unit rationale, description and aim

Social Workers assess and respond sensitively and analytically to complex human problems within a social context. To promote social change, problem solving and the liberation of people to enhance wellbeing. The Special Studies unit focuses on this aspect of learning by providing students with the opportunity to select a practice topic that they find important, interesting and challenging. Students will undertake an in depth analysis of the knowledge and research evidence that informs that area of practice and to argue a position on social work best practice in this field. 

The overarching aim of the Special Studies unit is to develop students ability to construct a practice question, locate and critically analyse the current knowledge and evidence that informs the area of inquiry and apply the findings to a social work practice context. This scholarship and critically reflective work prepares students for evidence-informed professional practice.  

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Critically evaluate and interpret research and scholarly literature in the selected area integrating policy and practice dimensions (GA4; GA7); 

LO2 - Formulate and present a project report of practice implications in relation to the selected area (GA7, GA8);

LO3 - Understand and apply the essential role of values in the practice of social work, incorporating the values of a commitment to the dignity of the human person, social justice, respect for human rights, and a commitment to non-sexist, culturally responsive, and anti-oppressive practice (GA5, GA9).

Graduate attributes

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA7 - work both autonomously and collaboratively 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


On successful completion of this unit, students should have developed their ability to:

GA2 - Sound understanding of and commitment to social work values and ethics to guide professional practice

GA5 - Ability to review, critically analyse and synthesise knowledge and values and apply reflective thinking skills to inform professional judgement and practice

GA6 - Ability to apply research knowledge and skills to understand, evaluate and use research to inform practice and to develop, execute and disseminate research informed by practice.

GA8 - Ability to work with diversity and demonstrate respect for cultural difference

AASW Practice Standards (2013)

The following table sets out the broad relationship between the Learning Outcomes, ACU Graduate Attributes, AASW Graduate Attributes and the AASW Practice Standards

Standard/Attributes/CriteriaLearning Outcomes

4.3 Understand the role of research and evaluation in obtaining and generating new knowledge for practice


4.4 Understand and articulate how and when theories, knowledge bases and knowledge sources inform practice


4.2 Understand and articulate social work and other relevant theories and concepts

4.4. Understand and articulate how and when theories, knowledge bases and knowledge sources inform practice.

6.1 Effectively communicate with a diverse range of people



While the content will vary according to the students selected area of study a number of generic topic areas include:

  • Social work theories that inform the selected area of study

  • Social work values and ethics that inform the selected area of study

  • Appropriate contextual knowledge and evidence 

  • Evaluating and synthesising literature; report writing; oral presentation skills; ethical issues.

The population groups may include the aged; children and young people, culturally and linguistically diverse populations; LGBTQI; people experiencing homelessness; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities; people with illness and/or disability, people with mental health issues, families. Practice contexts may include any field of practice including health, corrections, disaster recovery, domestic violence; international social work, practice in rural and remote communities. Specific issues may include catholic social teaching and social work, spirituality and social work or human rights and social work.

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

Teaching and learning strategies include advanced research seminars in intensive workshop format and individual consultation sessions with the lecturer in charge of the unit. These strategies reflect respect for the individual as an independent learner. A major strategy is students’ engagement with the literature regarding their selected topic. Students will be expected to take responsibility for their individual topics and to participate actively within class activities. This unit comprises 24 hours of face-to-face learning and teaching (or online equivalent) and 12 hours of individual consultation timeslots with the lecturer (face to face or online). The prescribed attendance requirement is deemed necessary to achieve the intended learning outcome in addition to a minimum of 114 hours of independent study.

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment tasks in this unit are designed to support the development of individual student projects. The first assignment task, a concept paper needs to provide an outline of the student’s proposed project. The feedback received on these initial ideas will inform the next stage in the development of the project. The second assignment, a 10 minute presentation, targets LO3, the ability to demonstrate advanced oral and presentation skills.  The audience, fellow students enrolled in the unit, will be encouraged to provide verbal and written peer feedback and time will be scheduled for questions and discussion.  The final assignment, the project final report, allows students to demonstrate their skills in LO1, 2 & 3, that is the ability to critically evaluate and interpret research and scholarly literature in the selected area integrating policy and practice dimensions, and demonstrate advanced analytical and written skills by formulating report of practice implications in relation to the selected area of social work practice. The final assignment also provides students with the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding and application of essential role of values in the practice of social work, with a particular focus on their chosen practice context. 

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Concept Paper – Enables students to outline their proposed project, in particular their area of inquiry, the research question/s and theories that will inform the analysis of knowledge and evidence, the sources of this evidence and the social work contexts in which the analysis will be applied.


LO1, LO3

GA4, GA7, GA8

Class Presentation: Enables students to succinctly present, in 10 minutes, a brief synopsis of their areas of inquiry and one implication for social work practice that has emerged. 



GA4, GA7, GA8

Project Final Report: Enables students to present a formal report which presents the questions that have informed the inquiry, an analysis of the knowledge and evidence, the theories that have informed the analysis and the implications of the findings for an area of social work practice.


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA4, GA7, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

Aveyard, H. (2010). Doing a literature review in health and social care: A practical guide (2nd ed.). UK: Open University Press.

Rose, G. (2014). Visual Culture, Photography and the Urban: An Interpretive Framework, available at:

Carey Jewitt (2012). An Introduction to Using Video for Research, National Centre for Research Methods, available at

Kilburn, D (2014).Methods for recording video in the classroom: Producing single and multi-camera videos for research into teaching and learning, National Centre for Research Methods Working Paper, available at:

Derry Sharon, J. (2007). Guidelines for Video Research in Education: Recommendations from an Expert Panel, available at:

McInnis-Dittrich, K. (2005).  Social work with elders a biopsychosocial approach to Assessment and intervention (2nd ed.). California: Pearson Education.

Pack, M & Cargill, J. (2015). (Eds) Evidence discovery and assessment in social work practice         Hershey, PA : Information Science Reference

Pulla, V., (2013) Environmentalism and Social Work- A critical Essay. Rural Society: Vol. 22, Work and Environment, pp. 263-268.

(Free download from)

Pulla, V. (2014). Grounded Theory Approach in Social Research. Space and Culture, India, Vol 2(No 3), 14-23.    

(Free download from)

Ryan, M., & Sheehan, R. (2009). Research articles in Australian Social Work from 1998-2007: A content analysis. Australian Social Work. 62(4), pp525-542.

Vaughn, M., Howard, M., & Thyer, B. (2009). Readings in evidence-based social work. Newbury Park, California; Sage.

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