Life as an Online MSSA Student Info Session

View all blog posts under Information Session

Want to know what it’s like to be a student in our Online Master of Science in Social Administration (MSSA, equivalent to MSW) program? Check out this previously-recorded information session in which our speakers will provide an overview of our Online MSSA program as well as information about the online learning environment and the daily routine of our students.


LaShon Sawyer
Director of Online Education

Lynee Urban
Program Coordinator – Student Support Services



Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us today for the Case Western Reserve University’s Mandel school online MSSA information session. We appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedules to find out more about this program. My name’s Lauren and I’ll be moderating this session today.

Before we begin, I’d like to cover a few housekeeping items. At the bottom of your console there are multiple application widgets that you can use. If you have questions during the webcast, you can click on the Q & A widget and submit your question. We’ll try to answer these at the end of the session but if we run out of time we’ll answer your questions via email.

If you have any technical difficulties today please click on the help widget. An on demand version of this session will be available later today or tomorrow and can be accessed using the very same link that was sent to you for today’s session. So if you’d like to re watch it you can use that very same link or you can forward it to anyone else that you think may be interested.

I’ll go ahead and introduce our panelists, our speakers for today. Our first speaker today is LaShon Sawyer. LaShon is the Director of Online Education in the Jack, Joseph and Gordon Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences here at Case Western.

In this capacity, she is responsible for the oversight of online course development and student engagement for the online program. In this position, LaShon utilizes over 21 years of social work and administration experience to maintain high standards for academic rigor, meeting the programmatic needs, and preparing future social workers to be change agents in their local communities.

Our second speaker today is Lynee Urban, Program Coordinator the the Online MSSA Program. Lynee has a BA in psychology and an MA in inner city studies education and has been working in the student support role within the field of higher education for eight years now. Her goal is to provide the best possible support to students in their pursuit of higher learning.

I’ll just give you a quick overview of the agenda before I pass it off to LaShon. She’s gonna start by talking us kind of an overview about the online MSSA program and the curriculum. Then she’ll talk to you about your MSSA team. Next LaShon will talk to us about an MSSA student schedule, give us a peek into the online learning experience and talk about the traits of a successful MSSA student.

Following our speakers today we’ll have a Q & A session to answer any of your outstanding questions, so make sure you enter those questions into the Q & A box if you have any during the session.

So, without further ado, I will hand it off to LaShon.

LaShon Sawyer:

Thank you and I just want to take the time to welcome everyone to this webinar. We’re gonna start out talking about the curriculum in the online format. The online format is divided into three key areas. Each student will participate in two of these three key areas: foundation courses, I’m sorry, each student will participate in three key areas. Foundation courses are, the foundation courses are typically for students that come in without a BSW and they’ll participate in those courses. This gives you a journalist overview of social work practice and its generalized to many different areas of practice for social workers.

In the advanced courses, students select their concentration or their areas of specialization and those courses are more focused and targeted on that population.

We have both foundation and advanced standing students that come in and the BSW students begin at the advanced level courses. Students that come in without a BSW or have a BSW that is more than seven years old will begin courses at the foundation level. A student coming in at the foundation level can expect to be in the program for eight semesters. That’s typically two and a half to three years. Students with advanced standing or with an approved BSW can come into the program and can anticipate being in the program for six semesters or approximately two years.

With the online format, students are able to select three specializations. Community practice for social change, focuses on macro-level concerns for social work. Individuals in this concentration may have an interest in working in a legislative office, working with advocacy groups that may want to change legislation or community policies at a high level. Or they may work with an agency such as the Red Cross but they coordinate services for large groups of people.

There are two direct practice tracks. The first one would be children, youth and family. Individuals that select this specialization are interested in career paths that allow them to work with youth of all ages or working with a combination of youth and their family components. Typical jobs that relate to this area may be someone working in child welfare, hospital settings, or someone who may work directly with a particular youth age group.

The other direct practice concentration is the mental health with adults specialization. This track is focused on learning materials and course content that relate to being able to assist individuals that may have mental health diagnoses and may need additional individual group or community support. This concentration also focuses on being able to not only provide service and intervention, but learning the tools and the skills in assisting someone in identifying the appropriate diagnoses.

Each student, whether they are coming in at the foundation level or the events level, will participate in field education as a requirement to complete their degree. Field education is an opportunity to take what you learned in the classroom and apply it hands-on in the actual field setting. The field sites are selected by you and one of the field advisors from the field department team. You identify areas of interest and the field advisor works with you to identify the best agency in your community to meet you career interests.

Each field site must be approved before any student can start their field site. Students coming in at the foundation level will expect to do 1,050 hours during their time in the program. Students begin working on field sites and field hours during their first semester in the program and they continue taking a field course each semester until they complete the necessary hours assigned for each course. Students that come in at the advanced level should expect to complete 900 field hours at their field site. It’s important to note that students participating in field should expect to do 10 to 12 hours a week at their field site each week and that includes having one hour of supervision.

Now I’m gonna move into who is a part of your support team here at MSSA. The faculty is a key component of your success here at the school. Not only are they providing you with the course content to provide you the career opportunities that you’re pursuing, but they also are here to support you in understanding the course work or if you may face any difficulties or challenges that may come up along the way. I encourage everyone that comes to our program to reach out to faculty and establish a good working relationship with them. As soon as you have any questions or concerns about the school or the course content, that you reach out to a faculty member.

Some of the areas of expertise that our faculties members work with, we have faculty members that are interested in geriatrics. We have faculty members that are interested in working with dual diagnoses populations, and we also have faculty members that are working in local communities to address systemic issues that the members of that communities are facing.

In addition to faculty support, there’s many supports that are available to students online and all of these offices listed on the screen are housed here on campus. These services are readily available to all online students. Each office is aware that we have online students and they use technology and other supports to reach out and engage with students to provide different needs. These services can be accessed directly by the student or you can work with faculty members and designee here at the school to receive referrals to any services that you may be interested in.

Another key component of your success team is your field faculty advisor. This is an individual that will work with you to identify your field placement and this is also an individual that will stay with you ongoing throughout your time in the program. He or she will support you, answer any questions that you may have about your field experience and she will also oversee your experience in making sure that your field experiences are best lined up with the career interests that you have, and that you gather all the opportunities and experiences that you need in field to be marketable and successful in your future career endeavors.

Although the names are similar, a field supervisor is different than a field faculty advisor. As I mentioned before, the field faculty advisor is here on campus and they are an academic who teaches you and guides you through your field experience. The field supervisor is the individual that works at the agency. They are not on faculty here at the school, but they are employees of the agency where you may do your field placement. They give, they address your day to day concerns and questions, and provide you with weekly supervision. This is an individual that also will assist you if you have any questions or concerns or crisis situations that may come up during your field experience.

Another important part of your support team is Lynee Urban, and she’s on the call and she’s gonna speak to you in few moments. But Lynee is available to work with you and provide additional support and answer questions that you may have and I wanna turn it over to Lynee, and she can explain more about her roles and the support that she provides.

Lynee Urban:

Thank you so much, LaShon. Hello everyone. As LaShon said, my name is Lynee Urban and I’m the Program Coordinator for the Online MSSA Program. As you apply to the program and you’re working with your enrollment advisors to apply and eventually become accepted, I sort of receive the baton from the enrollment advisors and I start working with you as soon as you confirm your acceptance into the program. And, I work with students all the way from that point until they graduate.

Some of the things that I send communication about are registration information, live session information, and textbook info. And then I like to make a lot of proactive outreach via phone and email to all the students in the program regarding their time management and organizational skills because these are two important skills that are necessary to be successful in the program. And part of my proactive communication is to make sure that if students are in need of any university support that I can direct the students to the appropriate contacts.

In addition to faculty support, and also student support, students often find that they make connections and find support from their peers that are in the program with them. Everyone that enters the program at a certain semester, enters as a cohort and when you are a traditional student or an advanced standing student, you’ll enter and you’ll take certain classes with your cohort members. And then starting in your second semester you’ll actually be branched into courses with cohorts that came in a semester or two prior to you. So, your first semester is fantastic that students are able to make connections with their cohort members and then starting in the second semester moving forward, students find that they’re able to make connections with students that have been in the program a little longer. And these students are always able to look to these previous cohort members for suggestions, advice, and guidance.

I’d like to talk a little bit about the qualities of a successful online MSSA student. I love this photo. This photo is actually one of our very first graduates from the online program, and I know that she embodied all of the skills and the characteristics that were necessary to be successful. Our online students really have to be self-motivated and self-driven. In one of my conversations with a student about three weeks after she started, she compared being in the online program to, sort of, having a work from home job where you could yes, be at home, perhaps in your pajamas, doing the responsibilities and the things that were necessary for classes; however, there were deadlines that you have to stick to. There are requirements that have to be met and it requires motivation and discipline to not be forced by any instructor or classmates in a classroom to do everything that’s required.

So, in addition to being motivated our students must be organized. Every student takes an academic course and a field course at the same time and sometimes the assignments in both of these courses are on different days of the week or they fall on the same day. So it’s important that students utilize their resources and their skills that will be able to help them keep up with the assignments and the due dates for both of the classes that they take each semester.

A lot of our students, before they start the program, will go out and buy either a huge calendar or an old school planner where they can take all of their assignments that are listed in the learning management system in their classroom and put them into a planner that helps them stay organized and keeps them on track with all the assignments that are due.

Our students also must be adaptable because the structure of the program with an academic course, that starts every eight weeks, every course will be different from the course before it. So, students will find that while they’re just getting adjusted to the requirements of a certain course, there’s another course that will come eight weeks later that will be completely different. And, so, students that are able to adjust and adapt quickly to the differences in the academic courses will be very successful. And then we also want to make sure our students feel comfortable and confident in advocating for themselves.

One of the key things that I’ve learned in my position as a program coordinator from LaShon and other members of the student support team, is that everything our students experience in the program is supposed to be related to social work and that includes students advocating for themselves. Because if our students can’t learn to advocate for themselves in the program, how are they supposed to learn how to advocate for their clients?

So, in addition to all of these characteristics listed on this slide, we also put a lot of priority and significance in self-care. There will be a lot that will be demanded of you as online MSSA students. You will have to be students in your academic and field courses. You’ll have to be interns in addition to all of the outside responsibilities that you’re going to come into the program with. Being parents, or family members, being full-time employees, and so we really want our students to learn and prioritize being able to take a step back every once in a while and taking care of themselves.

We have one-week breaks in between each semester. During winter break we have two weeks off. I always encourage our students to schedule some time during the breaks to really reenergize themselves and do something just for themselves so that they can come back in the next semester and feel refreshed and motivated to get started again.

I’ll talk a little bit about the MSSA schedule now. Generally speaking, all of our semesters are 16 weeks long and within the 16 week semesters we have two eight week terms. Your academic courses will always be eight weeks long, back to back and underneath those two academic courses within a semester you’ll have a 16-week field education course. You can expect definitely for some classes, a lot of classes, to spend about 20 to 25 hours per week just on your course work. Our classes, a lot of our classes also have mandatory live sessions. And again, this varies and depends on the course. Some courses don’t have any live sessions and a few of our courses have weekly live sessions.

As I stated at the beginning, I have the live session information that I try to send out to students between three to four weeks prior to the start of a new term, a new academic course. And so, having that information prior will give you the time and the opportunity to prepare your schedule so that you can attend the live sessions. And as LaShon stated earlier, you will spend about 10 to 12 hours per week in your field internship.

I mentioned our learning management system a few minutes ago and if any of you are familiar with online courses or have previous experience, you know that the learning management system is the platform that online programs use for students to actually go into classrooms and do their coursework. Moodle is the learning management system that we use and within Moodle you’ll find all of your course room information, your discussion forums, etc. I’d like to take a few minutes right now to show you our learning management system, so that you can just have a glimpse into what our learning management system, Moodle, what it looks like.

It might take just a couple seconds for the screen share to pop up on your screen and hopefully, if it’s populated on your end by now, you should see that we are at the home page of Moodle, which is our learning management system. If you take a look at the top tabs here, we have a home tab, a community tab, and a few other tabs that students find very useful. But on the home screen of the learning management system, Moodle, you’ll find a site news section and community wall section. And I actually like to use both of these sections of Moodle to relay very important information that is relevant and related to the students in the program.

When you scroll down beneath both of these sections, this is where you will find immediate access to the courses that you are currently in, and that you previously completed. I’ll just back up to this section in a moment, but I want to scroll down a little bit further to show you some other sections of Moodle on the homepage, including the upcoming events section which lists all of your assignments that are upcoming for your courses. And, if any of your instructors or any of your classmates want to send you a private message via Moodle, it’ll appear here. And at the bottom here are just some other course categories and an administration section.

Jumping back up under the active courses section, when I give you access to Moodle and I place you in your courses, the courses will appear right here in the middle of the home screen. And you can go ahead and click on the title of the course to be taken into the classroom. This is what our classroom looks like. Here you’ll find the title and the section of the course and when you scroll down a little further, you find the general sections of the course including the syllabus, course overview and office hours, the assignments point distribution section. When you scroll down a little further under the general discussion area, this general discussion gives you a place, sort of like a general discussion area where you can interact with your classmates. The instructor announcements is a very important and significant area for students because this is where the faculty members and the instructors for the class go to provide updates and important information to the students in the course.

Then if you scroll down even further, you’ll see that each of these modules represent all of the readings, activities and assignments that students will have to do every week. If you notice, you have access to every module for your academic course and also your field course looks similar. You have access to every assignment and every reading that is due every week. So what is fantastic is, our students can go at the start of a class into module one, week one, expand it. They can look at all of the activities and discussions and assignments that are due for the week. And then for some of our students who, for organizational purposes want to look ahead and work ahead, they’re able to look ahead to the next week and just take a look to see what they have coming up.

Scrolling back up in the classroom, if you take a look on the right-hand side there are some really valuable tools, including the grade book. This is where students can go, this is where you can go to look at the grades that you receive on your assignments and also the feedback that your instructors give.

This is a great section, the calendar section is great because it displays the days that you have certain major assignments that are due.

Skipping back to the home page, the community wall and the community section are just really valuable areas where students can congregate to be able to interact with each other. This is the area that I use to post some more informal and casual things. Any information that I come across that I think would be motivating or helpful for students, this is the area that I typically post it in. Then, the community section also gives students an opportunity to create groups. I would strongly suggest that students use this section to communicate with each other.

I’d just like to show you one last thing. I clicked on the My CWRU tab, and this launches the launch pad section of the website. This just gives you some quick links and some access to university-based resources and information.

Okay, so that’s all I have and I will turn the presentation back over to Lauren.


Great, thank you, Lynee. I’m going to get us back to our presentation here. It may take a second to buffer again, so just hang tight. We are now going to go through a couple of the important upcoming deadlines. So, for our fall term, which starts Monday, August 29th our deadlines are coming up here in the beginning of July. So, we’re about a month out from these deadlines. The application and the field education questionnaire is due Friday, July 1st. So the field education questionnaire is for traditional students only.

The field education proposal is a document that’s done for students who are advanced standing or have an approved BSW and their deadline is Friday, July 15th for their proposal. But all applications are due for all students Friday, July 1st.

I’m gonna put up our contact information here. If you are interested, if you have questions, you wanna know more about the program, you wanna start an application, anything that you need from us, our enrollment advisors are here to answer your questions anytime. So, here’s the phone number and their email address so you can contact them anytime.

At this point, we are gonna move forward into our Q & A session. So if you have not already entered your questions into the Q & A box on your screen, please do so. We’re gonna go through as many as we can here in about the next ten minutes or so. I’m gonna also leave up our contact information while we go through the Q & A just in case you need it.

So, the first question we have here looks like this question I think Lynee is probably best answering. What makes up most of the coursework? Is it essay, test, what makes up most of it?

Lynee Urban:

So, the coursework definitely varies depending on what the actual course is but, a lot of the course content or the coursework in the classes are reading and writing intensive. We do have a few classes that might have quizzes but for the most part, students are asked to demonstrate what they are reading that week, based on writing. So, based on discussion posts and major paper assignments that are due throughout the term.


Great, thank you.  Our next question is for LaShon. LaShon, this student is asking, are all faculty members located locally in Ohio, or are they located across the country?

LaShon Sawyer:

That’s a good question. The majority of our faculty members are located locally, however, we strive to provide course content with individuals that have areas of expertise. In that regard, we do work with instructors and have faculty members that reside outside of the Cleveland area.


All right, thank you.  Our next question is for Lynee. This is asking, they have a laptop, but they’re wondering what other items they need to participate in the program and what computer operating system do they need?

Lynee Urban:

So, in addition to having a computer or laptop, you definitely make sure that you have access to fast and reliable internet service. Then for the courses that require live sessions, you want to make sure that you have a headset and a reliable webcam that can come attached to your laptop or your computer. We have students in the program that use both operating systems, both Windows and MAC. It’s whatever you’re comfortable with. And then we also have our IT, our help desk that’s available 24/7 to assist students that are in need of any assistance or have any questions on how to use and access certain information depending on the operating system they have.


Great, thank you.  LaShon, can you clear up this question about the difference between an MSSA and MSW?

LaShon Sawyer:

Sure. Each school of social work, they are able to identify by the title of their degree and our program, being 100 years old, at the time they described it as a master’s of social science administration and because of that legacy we have held onto the MSSA. What is important to note that whether someone has an MSW, an MSA, some schools offer an MS or an MA in social work. All schools that offer these degrees must be accredited by CSWE. And Case Western is accredited by this body. Accreditation is important for students when they go to apply for licensure after their degree in their individual states. So whether a school offers an MSW, MSSA, or other classification, what you wanna look at is, is that school accredited so you’ll have the full opportunities to be licensed in the state that you wanna practice.


Okay, thank you. LaShon, this next question is also for you. Is it expected that all of the student’s fieldwork be completed at the same institution or agency?

LaShon Sawyer:

Yes, we encourage students to maintain the same field placement because students are accruing hours at 10 to 12 hours a week. Some other schools have students participate and they accrue 20 to 25 hours per week but because the number of hours per week is much smaller, it provides a much more meaningful experience. It allows an individual to fully emerge themselves into the community and culture of that agency and continue to develop and enhance their skills as they move through the program.


Okay, this next question is for Lynee. How many students are in a cohort and how many students are enrolled in each eight-week course?

Lynee Urban:

Yeah, that’s a great question. The cohort sizes, they vary depending on when students are starting. Typically, our most popular semesters that students enter the program is the fall semester and we tend to see our biggest cohorts come in, in the fall. We’re anticipating a really large cohort this upcoming fall semester but previously we had about, I believe we had about 69 students start in our previous fall semester. That includes both the advanced standing and the traditional students and we find that in each cohort, the cohort kinda breaks up depending on whether or not you’re traditional or advanced. Our traditional student cohort is bigger than the advanced student cohort. So, all of your classes in every eight-week course, we try to create enough sections of the course so that there aren’t too many students per instructor. I think that we like to keep the size of each section to be no bigger than about 15 students.


Great, thank you. LaShon, this student is asking will there be any times that we are required to come to campus?

LaShon Sawyer:

No, we do not have a residency component to the program. So many of our graduates, the first time they come to campus, is for the commencement ceremony that they choose to participate.


Thank you.  Lynee, this next question is asking are there any team assignments?

Lynee Urban:

Yes there are. There are courses that require group work and group assignments. Typically, the instructors put together the groups at the beginning of the course and then the students are expected to take it upon themselves to meet virtually. One of the platforms that we encourage students to use is Adobe Connect, which is the same platform that students use to attend their live sessions.


Great, thank you.  This next question is about field placement, so LaShon I think this will be for you. Do you have any examples of field placements in the community practice for social change track?

LaShon Sawyer:

Sure. Many agencies that provide direct practice services also have departments and programs that someone with the community practice track can do. So, it’s not just about the services that an agency is best known for. Many of our agencies provide both of these services and if you think about most social service agencies, they can provide direct practice services, but they also have to do the fundraising, community outreach, and advocacy efforts to support the population that they may serve. And that can happen in their marketing departments, their development departments or some agencies have advocacy departments. So, a direct practice agency can serve for students that are interested in all three concentrations.

The other type of agency that may also provide a good experience for someone with interest in community practice for social change are the larger agencies like, United Way, Red Cross, hospital systems. These agencies, these entities also have many times dedicated personnel that work directly with the community. Also, legislative offices also have social work interns in their offices. An agency that’s focused on fair housing or fair wage, or other systemic issues may be a good place for a field placement.


Thank you.  Lynee, this next question asks how early are students able to access classes? Three days prior? 24 hours prior? How does that work?

Lynee Urban:

That’s a great question. Our goal is to make sure that students have access to their upcoming classes the Thursday afternoon prior to the start of class which will always begin on a Monday. So, that will give students a nice long weekend to be able to log into the classroom, to take a look at the syllabus, and to take a look at the modules and get an idea and a feel of how the coursework is going to be in the class. I think this question is great because when I give students access to their class in Moodle, I always send a follow-up email afterward just encouraging students to take time during that weekend, prior to Monday to go into the classroom and take a look around. So that they can use that time to organize their schedules and prepare for the coursework.


Thanks, Lynee.  This next question is for LaShon. It’s asking about financial aid. Can you talk a little bit about the scholarships and who are considered for those and just generally about financial aid that’s offered for the program?

LaShon Sawyer:

Sure, I can talk in broad strokes about financial aid but often times I defer people to the financial aid office for specific questions. But in regards to scholarships, there’s a pool of money available each incoming semester for new students and it is merit-based scholarship. So, completing the application and providing transcripts, and making sure that you have a strong application definitely impacts your ability to receive scholarships. We try to provide as many scholarships as we can and the amounts vary based on merit.


Okay, great. Thank you.  LaShon, can you also just give a quick overview of how the terms are set up. So, the student is asking when is the next cohort after this one in the fall? So just the general schedule of how the school, when the intakes are?

LaShon, can you hear me?

LaShon Sawyer:

I’m sorry. I was on mute. I was talking away.  Case Western follows a semester schedule so we have three semesters each year. We have a fall semester, a spring semester, which typically begins in January, and then a summer semester which typically begins in May.


Great, thank you. I think we have time for just another question here. So the last one that I’ll ask is for Lynee, for people who are used to working in the Blackboard system, do you know how much different that would be from Moodle? Or how hard that would be to learn?

Lynee Urban:

It’s not a hard transition from Blackboard to Moodle. I don’t have personal experience with Blackboard but I’ve heard some other students that made the switch, that navigating and learning how to navigate around Moodle was a little bit easier than navigating around Blackboard. Moodle is a user-friendly system and so, if you find that you’re comfortable, that you’ve grown accustomed to navigating Blackboard, it’ll take just a little adjustment to figure out what the differences are in Moodle. But, Moodle is a user-friendly system.


Great, thank you.

Okay, well, if we did not get to your question I apologize. We had a lot of great questions today so we will follow up with you via email to make sure all of those get answered. Again, we appreciate your time today. We appreciate you learning more about the program and we hope you found all this information very valuable.

Thank you to Lynee and to LaShon for presenting today. Again, our contact information is on here. You can follow the link in the resources list that’s on the left-hand side on your console. There’s a link there to make an appointment with an enrollment advisor to talk about applying and there’s also a link to our website and you can download our program brochure right there too. So, thank you again and we hope you have a great rest of the day.