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Volume 08, Issue 1

Fall 2011

From the Special Editor
Marna Burns, Ph.D.
Imagine that you are about to start your 10:00 a.m. job skills group. Your clients meet you at a virtual hotel lobby in Second Life so that they can role play greeting guests, booking rooms, and describing hotel services….in Spanish.

Or, imagine that you are working with returning veterans who suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The grant you wrote has provided funds for the newest generation of computerized virtual desensitization. Today you are taking a tour of the virtual battlefield scenario designed from the experiences of one of your clients. You put on the helmet interface to experience all the sights and sounds of an urban war zone while your heart rate, blood pressure, galvanic skin response, and respiration are measured and recorded.

Next imagine that you meet the family scheduled for a 1:00 therapy session. You send out an IM (instant message) to remind them all to choose an avatar that matches their mood today, then click “walk” on your notebook screen to move your therapist avatar into the secure on-line world that your agency has created. Counseling here is secure and HIPAA compliant.

Finally imagine that you have been assigned to a committee at your educational institution that has the task of developing standards for measuring digital literacy among your Human Services students. For this academic year you will focus on podcasts, digital storytelling, and Prezi presentations, but you are still discussing specific outcomes measures.

Do these scenarios sound like glimpses into the future? Like something from 10-15 years from now? Or at least from 5 years from now? If you think these are examples of what our future holds for the field of human services, then you are mistaken. These scenarios are not from the imagined future; each one of them is possible right now, today, with current technology available to all of us. Now…just imagine what will be possible in 5, 10 or 15 years.

Technology and Human Services…what will it look like in the future? For that matter, what will it look like in 5 years? We all sense that the speed at which technology is advancing is accelerating, but we may underestimate just how quickly that acceleration is occurring. “An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense “intuitive linear” view. So we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate)” (Kurzweil, 2001).

For our field this acceleration of technology means many exciting opportunities to serve clients more efficiently, but also, for most of us, it also means devoting much more time and effort to learning how to use these new opportunities. This special issue is an introduction to the topic of technology as it applies to Human Services. In the article on SNPMIS by Messer and Porter you will read about the advantages of a holistic database for the special needs children of U.S. military men and women. This database goes far beyond what we have considered record keeping in the past, including outcomes measures, service coordination, and parent education. In Spears’ article on Human Services education in virtual worlds, you will learn about new educational tools, such as immersive experiences, and develop an understanding of telepresence and co-presence—advantages of virtual learning environments over traditional distance-learning formats. Finally, if you are one of the many Human Services professionals who did not grow up with laptops, iPhones, and notebooks that are not the three-hole punch variety, then Burns’ article on adapting to virtual reality will serve as an introduction and a gentle desensitization to this new technology.

Kurzweil, R (2001). Accelerating Intelligence. Retrieved from


SNPMIS: A US Military Program for Special Needs Children by Brian Messer, MA and Connie Porter, Ph.D.

Human Services Education in Virtual Worlds by Ami Barile-Spears, PhD.

Adapting to the Virtual Environment by Thomas Burns, Ph.D.

Web Resource Spotlight by Susan Cramer, Ph.D.
Have you ever lost your computer files? Did you leave them at home and need them at the office? Are your files and the office but you are on the road? Keeping track of one’s files when work expectations have expanded to anywhere any time and one may work on a variety of different machines and/or devices becomes a challenge. In this Web Resource Spotlight I would like to highlight two useful tools — Evernote and Dropbox. Both are located on the web, hense the term virtual locker, allowing you to have access to ideas and files whereever you have a connection to the web.