Staying current with scholarship enriches the work of field educators: it teaches us innovative ways to solve perennial field problems, suggests new readings for field seminars, keeps us abreast of current debates in social work education, and even inspires us in our own writing on theory and research. “What We’re Reading” presents our brief summaries of the findings of recent publications in field education. Our emphasis is on implications for practice. Readers are encouraged to suggest articles or books for future review.

Lewis, L. A., Kusmaul, N., Elze, D., & Butler, L. (2016). The role of field education in a university-community partnership aimed at curriculum transformation. Journal of Social Work Education, 52(2), 186-197. doi:10.1080/10437797.2016.1151274

Masters in Social Work (MSW) curricula is determined by universities and governing bodies, which too often exist independently from the communities in which they are situated. Given that social work is dependent on field work, this presents a paradox, as field placement sites play a critical role in educating students. In this article the authors address this dilemma through proposing a “university-community partnership,” broadly defined as any effort in which universities and their communities are mutually involved. In reviewing the professional literature, the authors found that any existing literature on university-community partnerships describes the benefits and challenges to these relationships, rather than outlining how these partnerships might be formed. The implication of this is that the significance of university-community partnerships for the social work profession has been thus far overlooked.

The advantages to university-community partnerships include strengthened universities and communities and opportunities for social change, research, and new perspectives. Barriers include a lack of practitioner time, awareness of best practices, and the uneven distribution of power in these relationships. The remainder of the article describes a pilot program aimed at the development and implementation of a trauma-informed and human rights (TI-HR) perspective in an MSW curriculum. The change process began with a retreat in which working groups developed the TI-HR curriculum, and community agencies and field sites were eager to participate and to contribute to the knowledge base related to a TI-HR perspective. The article ends on a hopeful note, with a discussion of further results and recommendations on how to overcome challenges in future partnerships.

Matthew, L. E., & Lough, B. J. (2017). Challenges social work students encounter in international field placements and recommendations for responsible management. Journal of Social Work Education, 53(1), 18-36. doi:10.1080/10437797.2016.1246268

Although many parallels exist between social work practice and international development, social workers have thus far remained largely absent from the international stage. The authors of this article search to better understand why this gap persists between these congruent human-centric professions. The authors begin with examining social work education, suggesting that while students’ field placement is an ideal opportunity to introduce future social workers to international practice, this rarely happens. In 2012, only 1% of U.S.-trained BSW students and 0.9% of MSW students held international field placements. Using a scoping review method, the authors searched seven databases and compiled a list of twenty-four studies that shed light on why so few students are placed abroad.

A description outlining each of the twenty-four studies is provided, including: the name of the study; nature of placement; research aim; design or approach; sample; and data collection methods, followed by an analysis of all studies. It became apparent that universities attempting to place students internationally faced nine major challenges, sub-categorized into personal and institutional challenges. Personal challenges included: students’ language and communication barriers, cultural value differences, culture shock, and struggle with identity. Institutional challenges included: inadequate pre-departure training, insufficient support and supervision during placement, poorly developed international field education structure, differences in conceptualizations of social work practice, and inadequate re-entry assistance.

These challenges are described in the spirit of aiding universities interested in globalizing their field placements, rather than forecasting dire outcomes for international field placements. On the contrary, the authors found that many students report that their time abroad was conducive to personal and professional growth, and hence conclude the article with five recommendations for universities that hope to grow their international field placements. These recommendations include: improve pre-departure preparation for international placements, strengthen language competency, enhance student support and supervision, strengthen reentry and debriefing, and strengthen standards of practice for international social work field education. If universities implement these recommendations and begin to place more students in international field sites, then perhaps social work will also expand to international development circles, overall furthering social workers’ reach and impact.

Matthieu, M. M., Carter, L., Casner, R. W., & Edmond, T. E. (2016). Training outcomes of field instructors in the evidence-based practice process model. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 36(5), 477-489. doi:10.1080/08841233.2016.1242524

Social work has historically been slow to incorporate evidence-based practices (EBP) into practice; critics point out that this pacing discredits social work as a profession. The authors of this article found that social work practitioners report a lack of education, time, and knowledge on how to research EBP as reasons for this disintegration. The authors cite a recent sample of social workers, marriage and family therapists, and psychologists in which it was found that approximately half had little or no exposure to EBP.  In searching for solutions, the authors note that much social work education occurs in the field. They suggest that field instructors, if trained on EBP, have the potential to be instrumental in bridging the evidence-based world of academics with practice, and hence could be key to advancing social work.

In 2008, Washington University trained a cohort of social work field instructors and task supervisors in the EBP process model. After recruiting field instructors, the cohort attended a one-day interactive skill-based training on EBP that complimented their students’ MSW curriculum. The training reviewed the EBP model and provided an applied skills training module designed to increase educators’ familiarity, attitude, and intentions with EBP. Using pre- and post-test surveys, the authors found that after completing the one-day training, field supervisors showed improvement in all three areas of the EBP process, as well as a positive attitude towards EBP and an interest in applying EBP in the future. While this study is limited in its design, most notably in its lack of translation to student learning, initial results suggest that it is possible to successfully train field instructors in the EBP process in a time-sensitive manner, and provided this, improved field education may be central to advancing social work education.

Thampi, K. (2017). Social work education crossing the borders: A field education programme for international internship. Social Work Education. Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/02615479.2017.1291606

In today’s rapidly globalizing world, the need for international social workers (uniquely recognized for their sense of cultural humility) is on the rise. Yet, curiously, remarkably few schools of social work have responded by placing students in international field placements. When placements are offered, efforts tend to be poorly coordinated and ultimately fall short, potentially discouraging a future international presence. International field placements, while scant, have increased in the last two decades and are expected to continue to increase, making addressing these challenges more critical than ever to ensure that international social work practice is successful. This article focuses on the importance and challenges of international social work education.

International field placements inherently carry more risk, as universities are less able to guarantee a safe host environment for their students. Students must learn to adapt quickly to non-western environments and extreme, often emotionally difficult, circumstances without the supports found at home. The Dehli School of Social Work led a workshop for faculty development in which a useful framework of field work training was developed, organizing training into four phases: 1) Orientation Phase, 2) Placement Phase, 3) Exploration-Assessment-Action Phase, and 4) Evaluation Phase. The addition of a “Pre-Placement Phase,” was added in by the authors, who then detail each of the fives phase in great length. The intent is that this framework can be used to aid in placing future social worker in international internships. The article then discusses the implications for social work education, research and practice, and suggests that, despite the challenges, there are enormous benefits to international field placements. These benefits are not only for interns, but also for the agencies they serve and the universities they attend. The article concludes with a general call for universities to integrate and promote international social work field placement as part of their curriculum.