All Volume 2.1 | Spring 2012

Field Learning in Online Social Work Programs

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Are you a skeptic about online social work degrees that offer solely web-based course work? Skeptic or convert, a growing number of social work schools are embracing the online education trend by offering web-based MSW and BSW degrees. The Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) website lists several accredited online BSW and MSW programs. Differing from programs which require residency and some face-to-face class time, these programs are fully online and have no residency requirement.

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Council on Social Work Education’s Field Council Spring 2012 Update

We are delighted to contribute to the Field Educator! The Council on Field Education (COFE) is a council of the Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Commission on Educational Policy; membership and leadership appointments are made by the President of CSWE for three year terms beginning in July of each year.

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Recent Articles of Note

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. Whenever possible, we have provided links to freely available fulltext articles.

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Book Review: Achieving Competence in Social Work Through Field Education

With the introduction of CSWE’s 2008 Education and Policy Standards, field education’s role in social work education gains new vitality as we integrate competencies throughout the curriculum and field education. Now we are able to determine the practice behaviors that, when measured, will reflect achievement of the specific competency for our on-going program and quality assessment. Measuring students’ professional practice abilities in the field has long been challenging; social work schools have designed a variety of evaluative tools that may or may not have provided an accurate performance review. In addition, with the promotion to competency-based education, the 2008 CSWE educational standards made a clear statement that “in social work, field education is the signature pedagogy…, the central form of instruction and learning in which a profession socializes its students”(CSWE EPAS, 2008). This statement promotes classroom and field learning as equally important for student learning and integration of theory and practice in social work.

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From the Editor

Welcome to the second issue of the Field Educator! In our first six months, we are pleased to have begun to fulfill our mission to promote knowledge exchange within the social work field education community. Many people have read not only the first issue of the journal, but also the regularly updated blog and news reports and we have had many enthusiastic responses. We have made outreach to field educators in other countries and to other professionals whose training involves internships. In this issue, we have representation in the “Practice Digest” section from field educators from social work schools and from their affiliated agencies. There are articles about special populations in field placements: veterans, bilingual students and students with mental health disabilities. Different forms of supervision will be described, including online field instruction and motivational interviewing in supervision. There are also descriptions of competencies in a macro setting for the LGBT community and a field placement in a large hospital. The “Students Speak” section includes an article about the intern’s “first impression” in an agency, and one about a “perfect placement” in a dialysis unit.

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$1000 Prize for Excellence in Field Education Research

The Simmons School of Social Work and the Field Educator announce an annual award to promote excellence in field education research. A $1,000 prize will be granted for an outstanding research paper on social work field education. The first winning paper will be announced at the 2012 Annual Program Meeting (APM) of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and published in the fall 2012 issue of the Field Educator.

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Call for Papers

The “Field Scholar” is the section of the Field Educator devoted to the publication of formal, scholarly articles on theory and research in field education. “Field Scholar” is issuing a call for theory and research papers on a variety of subjects. These subjects include best practices in field instruction, measures of competencies in field, school-agency collaborations and innovative approaches to challenges in field education. These articles will be reviewed for rigor and relevance by members of a panel of noted field educators from the US and abroad; the list of consulting editors can be found in About Us.

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The Anatomy of an Internship

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At the heart of every MSW internship is a sincere desire to contribute to the future excellence of our profession. An internship that provides a rich and supportive learning environment is most beneficial. At the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, we have aspired to create a well-considered placement process and a multi-layered internship experience. Our design gives interns the benefit of a primary assignment, allowing for mastery; a secondary experience set, allowing for exposure to multiple practice environments; and a series of monthly intern meetings, offering education and support. The experience culminates with practice interviews and program evaluation.

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Conducting Macro-level Work in a Micro-focused Profession

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Social work students who are interested in macro-level work face unique challenges in applying social work’s educational objectives to their field placement. Macro-level social work addresses systems that govern, impact and sometimes control our lives; it looks at an entire community as the client, identifies key areas for change, and works with community members towards solving those problems. We are concerned that few social workers are formally trained in macro-level work; this includes the vast majority of existing practitioners – both social work faculty and the social workers supervising students at field placements. The language of the core competencies specified by the Council on Social Work Education’s Educational Policy (EPAS) tends to concentrate on the micro-level social worker: “evidence-based interventions designed to achieve client goals”; “collect, organize and interpret client data”; “assess client strengths and limitations”; “develop mutually agreed-on interventions”; “help clients resolve problems,” etc. This language suggests that practice with individuals or family-client-systems is given higher priority than macro practice. Translating core competencies into macro-level practice objectives that can be measured and evaluated is not always easy, and takes considerable discussion on the part of the field supervisor, the student and the field instructor. How would this be applied, for example, to a student who wanted to learn how to change organizational culture to better serve constituents?

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Online Supervision of Field Education

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Social work degree programs have many reasons for adopting internet technology to support classroom and field education. Many social work programs draw students from large geographical areas. Traveling to campus from remote locations places significant economic burden on many students, especially in an era of shrinking incomes and increased transportation costs. Offering online degree programs enables these geographically isolated students to remain in home communities for their social work education, and often results in a more comprehensive regional distribution of social work professionals (Ives & Aitken, 2008). Other programs have developed online MSW and BSW degrees as an alternative to the traditional academic schedule, particularly for students already working in the profession. In some communities, proprietary universities reach out to these students, offering online degree programs that compete with those located in state-supported universities. In many of these markets, state-supported and private university-based MSW and BSW programs are pressured to develop online degree programs in order to remain competitive, relevant, or simply to keep their doors open.

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Motivational Interviewing and Field Instruction: The FRAMES model

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Motivational interviewing is defined as a “client-centered, directive method for enhancing intrinsic motivation to change by exploring and resolving ambivalence” (Miller & Rollnick, 2002). In supervision of staff, the ultimate goal is to improve an organization’s efficiency by increasing productivity, decreasing employee stress, vicarious trauma and burnout, and reducing clinical negligence and malpractice. In supervision of interns, the major focus is on meeting the intern’s learning needs and on developing competent practitioners. Motivational interviewing in supervision maximizes focus and positive change by developing action plans and addressing ambivalence toward change. Motivational interviewing uses a guide toward change called FRAMES; the acronym stands for Feedback, Responsibility, Advice, Menu Options, Empathy and Self-Efficacy.

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Is Field Placement Ready for Bilingual Students?

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Students with second-language skills are sought after in a variety of field education settings, from agencies whose clients have limited English proficiency (LEP) to agencies which serve LEP clients only occasionally. Potential contributions of bilingual students are recognized on multiple levels. As a profession, social work promotes cultural competency and supports second-language proficiency as one way of increasing access to services for clients. On a community level, these students will soon become social workers with the ability to reach out to underserved populations. For agencies, the contributions of social work students with foreign language skills can facilitate work with a wider variety of LEP clients. For social work programs, students working with LEP populations bring firsthand knowledge of non-English-speakers’ experiences, especially regarding the issue of immigration, into field seminars and practice classes.

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Preparing to Serve Those Who Served Us

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With the passage of the Post- 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, commonly known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, military personnel and veterans are enrolling at an unprecedented rate in institutions of higher education. This influx is creating a new generation of veterans who are transitioning from combat to classroom (Selber, 2012). Just as the wave of veterans who took advantage of the first GI Bill after World War II changed the face of higher education, universities today are beginning to understand the need to address the impact of the growing number of veterans who are accessing their educational benefits (Herrmann, Hopkins, Wilson, & Allen, 2009). Universities across the nation are reporting increases in enrollment of veterans by as much as 200% annually (Herrmann, et al., 2009). Over 2.2 million veterans have served in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and have now returned home, which has contributed to this increased enrollment (Veterans for Common Sense, 2011). With projected troop draw-downs in theatre, and reductions in forces across services due to budget limitations, universities should expect the influx of veterans to continue. Because this population of new students is supported by financial aid, universities may be welcoming these new students and engaging in active recruitment.

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Student Mental Health and Field Education

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Over the years, our School of Social Work has had a number of students who unexpectedly shared serious mental health challenges that included suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, substance use, and trauma histories. As social work educators, we were concerned with how these experiences were contributing to students’ challenges with attending class and practicum, completing course work and succeeding in practicum settings. We struggled with how to balance our professional roles and boundaries, our concerns for the students’ privacy and safety, and our responsibilities to other students, field agencies, and current and future social work clients. Here, we review articles about the prevalence of students with mental health challenges in higher education, explore the challenges that both students and field educators experience when addressing mental health issues in the practicum setting, and discuss implications for social work education. This article represents one school’s response; it is only a brief introduction into this very complex issue, but we hope that it will serve as a springboard for further discussions and empirical assessment.

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Making a First Impression

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I was eager to make a good first impression at my first-year internship at Year Up in Boston. Year Up is a national program designed to close the “opportunity divide” between available corporate jobs and the five million young adults with only a high school diploma. 18-to-24-year-olds join a one-year training program that offers “hands-on skill development, college credit and corporate internships” (www.yearup.org). Students attend classes and workshops on professional behavior; social workers are available to consult with students during lunch and classroom breaks. Each social work intern is assigned to one floor of the program and works closely with the teacher on that floor.

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Field Education at Its Best

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When I was working on my MSW, I read a statistic that would not let go of me, “Nearly 40% of patients on dialysis had diabetes.” I began to wonder what dialysis was like and how a person who struggled to manage one chronic illness would now cope with a second chronic condition. I sought an experience that would complement my interest in helping people with chronic illness to manage their disease and engage in their care. My prior experience had been with diabetes education and support. Now it was time to go to the next step. I asked our field coordinator if she had any contacts with dialysis clinics and whether I could do my second year MSW field placement there. She had never had a student do an internship at a dialysis clinic, but was open to the idea.

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