The Field Educator, an online journal produced by the Simmons School of Social Work, promotes knowledge exchange among the social work field education community.

Past Issues

The Field Educator online journal is published twice annually. To get notified when a new issue is published, subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

Volume 11.2 | Fall 2021

Letter from the Editor

Letter from the Editor: Celebrating One Decade

Fall 2021 marks a decade of publication for Field Educator. In 2011, the journal’s first editorial focused on common challenges for social work field educators: economic pressures, tensions between the service needs of agencies and the learning needs of students, and the newly added CSWE requirement for competency assessment. Field Educator, the first journal fully devoted to social work field education, pledged to tackle these challenges. Have we carried out our pledge?

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Field Scholar

Striving, Surviving, but Not Thriving:
Mental Health Trainees Adjusting During COVID-19

Abstract

COVID-19 has introduced mental health professionals to unprecedented levels of distress. Mental health trainees have also experienced considerable transitions in their work, school, and personal lives; however, few studies have investigated the impacts on their wellbeing. This brief, qualitative study surveyed two focus groups consisting of mental health trainees to elicit their perceptions and experiences of adjusting during the onset of COVID-19. Two key themes emerged: “Striving and Surviving,” and “Not Thriving.” These themes represent the spectrum of adjustment profiles the trainees reported. Implications for the training of mental health professionals and support of their wellbeing are discussed.

Keywords: mental health trainees; COVID-19; practica; social work students

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Field Instructors’ Perceived Benefits of and Barriers to Student-Led Field Research Projects

Abstract

Research demonstrates a chasm between the instruction of practice-informed research and research-informed practice in field education. Drawing on surveys, this study explores the perceived benefits of and barriers to student-led field-based research projects among social work field instructors at a private university in southern California. Key benefits identified included improved service delivery and professional connections between research and practice, while key barriers included lack of time and limited employer reward for supporting student research. Field instructor training, field visits, and student preparedness were noted as beneficial supports to enhance research–practice collaborations between community agencies and social work programs.

Keywords: field-based student research projects; field instructor perceptions; benefits and barriers to field-based research

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Field Instructors as Professional Gatekeepers: A Qualitative Study of Gatekeeping Influences

Author’s Note: This article is based on doctoral dissertation research completed by the author on a stakeholder analysis of a baccalaureate social work program. Results of the full stakeholder analysis were published in the winter 2019 issue of the Journal of Social Work Education. A second article, published in the spring 2019 issue of Field Educator, presented new findings on field instructors’ experiences supervising practicum students with challenging behaviors. This article offers additional findings specific to field instructors and their perspectives on professional gatekeeping. Only data pertaining to gatekeeping in field education were included in the analysis reported here. No results or data are duplicated in the three manuscripts.

Abstract

Field instructors play a significant role in students’ social work education. Professional gatekeeping is an ongoing process of evaluating students’ competence and professional suitability. Gatekeeping responsibility often falls to field instructors during practicum. In this exploratory qualitative study, 13 social work field instructors acknowledged an obligation to be professional gatekeepers when they supervised practicum students. Field instructors described four primary considerations influencing their performance of gatekeeping activities: identification with multiple field instructor roles, ethical obligations as a professional social worker, commitment to their students, and support from the university. Findings may be used for training and supporting field instructors.

Keywords: field education; professional gatekeeping; student supervision; social work practicum; field instructors

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Practice Digest

More Than Bubble Baths and Burnout: Advancing a Provider Resilience Model in Field Seminar

Compassion fatigue and vicarious traumatization can result from continual exposure to trauma, violence, and marginalization, as experienced by both clients and social workers. The pervasiveness of these issues and their consequences throughout the social work field makes discussion among students, faculty, and field instructors essential with students entering the profession. Field seminar courses, which examine real-world social work practice through the lens of the student field practicum, offer a key venue for these crucial discussions of compassion fatigue and vicarious traumatization. Further, the traditional view that self-care provides a sufficient antidote for burnout may oversimplify the experiences of social work students and may miss opportunities to encourage students to reflect critically on the individual, community, and systemic factors that contribute to compassion fatigue and secondary trauma in social work practice. Discussing experiences of moral injury in practice and adopting a pedagogical model that enhances social work students’ resilience in challenging practice landscapes may also encourage more honest, inclusive, and equitable conversations in the classroom. This article examines the pivotal role that field seminar courses can play in advancing discussions beyond self-care by prompting students to reflect critically on their experiences and build strategies for resilience as emerging social workers.

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You Can Do Both: Faculty as Field Supervisors

Introduction

In a profession that emphasizes the importance of setting boundaries and avoiding dual relationships, it is typically not advised for a faculty member to also serve as a student’s internship supervisor. The mere mention of dual relationships in social work practice often invokes thoughts of crossing boundaries and unethical behavior. However, in this article we present a model in which such relationships are encouraged, and argue that it may enhance student learning experiences. Now more than ever, schools of social work are managing a scarcity of resources, where cutbacks and budgetary constraints are an unfortunate reality. Additionally, demands on students’ lives are often overwhelming, and the need to find flexible options for student learning, specifically field internships, is critical. The purpose of this paper is to present a model in which faculty at a school of social work also serve as supervisors to MSW interns. The article provides case examples and important components to consider when creating this type of internship experience.

The primary method of providing field education in social work practice is through the field instructor–student relationship (Bogo, 2005). In most cases, this occurs between a supervisor and a student at the agency at which the internship takes place. In 2012, we developed a program that aims to address barriers that prevent students from persisting in college. Drawing on the literature that suggests the importance of one supportive individual in a college student’s life, and the relationship of this support to college persistence, we developed a program that pairs students with peer mentors to help provide the emotional and social support and referrals needed. Given the vast number of students seeking support through this program, the program partnered with the school of social work to provide BSW and foundation-year MSW students internship opportunities to work with college students. These interns receive supervision from a MSW faculty member who is also one of the founders of the program. Over the years, this role of faculty-as-supervisor has presented students with incredible learning opportunities, and also with particular challenges. Before establishing this dual relationship, it is important to consider these challenges.

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Triumphs and Travails of Building a Fully Online Social Work Field Evaluation System

Introduction

A key challenge for schools of social work is developing an evaluation system that meaningfully assesses student professional competencies, is user friendly, and cohesively integrates the educational contract and evaluations. In this article, we describe the process undertaken within our school of social work to overhaul our Master of Social Work (MSW) program field evaluation system. The timing of this overhaul coincided with our school’s implementation of the new Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS), which were first introduced in 2015 (CSWE, 2015). Because aligning our field education materials and processes with the new EPAS standards would take considerable effort, we used this as an opportunity to improve the field evaluation system as a whole. This two-year, iterative process engaged a field advisory committee of field instructors, MSW students, field staff, and faculty members in conceptualizing the materials, refining the content, and guiding the functionality of the new online and integrated system that was built by the faculty members. This article describes the triumphs and travails of building the new system. This case study will be useful to other MSW programs looking for innovative ways to update their field protocols to comply with CSWE requirements and upgrade their evaluation systems in a resource-constrained environment.

Field education is a signature pedagogy of social work education (Wayne et al., 2010). Within the field component of their curricula, social work programs accredited through CSWE are required to assess nine competencies based on specific student behaviors. Students engage in field assignments and activities that are used to assess student performance on these behaviors. In the overall MSW curriculum, each competency must be assessed in two different ways, with one assessment based on “demonstration of the competency in real or simulated practice situations” (CSWE, 2015, p.18). This requirement is often met by assessing the competencies in field education using end-of-semester field evaluations.

As Hitchcock and colleagues (2019) note, a vital responsibility of field education departments is to manage data effectively. These data include agency information, student placements, timesheets, performance evaluations, and other aspects of field education. Field education departments must decide on a practical and efficient way to manage these data. One option is to purchase a commercially available platform. There are many platforms to choose from that vary in functionality as well as cost (for a more detailed discussion, see Samuels et al., 2020). In this article, we focus specifically on student performance evaluation rather than other functions (e.g., student/agency placements).

The main advantages to using a commercial platform are usability and integration. These platforms offer a single hub to collect and manage information that is available to multiple stakeholders (e.g., students, faculty, field instructors), and offer options to customize features to the school’s data needs. The drawbacks of these systems are the amount of time and expertise needed to select a platform and the costs associated with acquiring and maintaining the system. Making a good software decision involves researching different products and considering IT capacity and legal issues with the school (Samuels et al., 2020). Software platforms, especially ones that have more desirable features and allow greater flexibility, can be prohibitively expensive. Many platforms charge fees per student or per user (e.g., student, field supervisor, advisor), and some companies also charge annual maintenance fees. These extra fees can be financially burdensome for students and for schools that have budget constraints.

A second option for schools of social work is to develop their own field education evaluation system in-house. To do so, schools typically work with their IT department to develop and maintain the system. Two major advantages of this innovative approach are customizability and cost. The evaluation system can be built from the ground up to fit the specific needs and requests of the field department. Even if the school has to cover the cost of IT staff’s time to develop and maintain the system, this is usually much cheaper than the per-user fees and annual fees that schools of social work are subject to when purchasing commercial platforms. There are some drawbacks that come with these advantages. For instance, schools need to have access to the technical expertise to develop the system, and capacity within the field education department to manage it effectively.

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Conversations

The Conversation: Library-Based Internships

Editor’s note: This issue’s Conversation features an interview by Diane Zipoli, MSW, with Leah K. Lazzaro, DSW, and Ralph G. Cuseglio, DSW, about the partnership between their school and their local library. Leah K. Lazzaro is the assistant dean of the School of Social Work at Monmouth University, and from 2015 to 2020 was the school’s director of field and professional education. Ralph G. Cuseglio is an assistant professor at Monmouth University. Diane Zipoli is an assistant director for field education at Simmons University.

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What We're Reading

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.

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Kudos

Kudos: Barbara Coats, AM, Retiring After 28 Years at Jane Addams College of Social Work

Following graduation from the University of Chicago with a social work degree in 1975, Barbara Coats began her career in social work, which included positions in medical and psychiatric social work. In 1993, her love of students, community, teaching, and learning brought her to the Jane Addams College of Social Work (JACSW), where she remained for 28 years until her retirement on June 30, 2021. Prior to becoming the director of field education and community partnerships, Barbara served in the College as a field liaison and the director of the BSW program. As field director, Barbara focused on engagement within communities of color in Chicago, and made it a priority to cultivate field sites where students could have opportunities for learning the skills and knowledge needed for organization and community macro practice.

Barbara’s commitment to the mission of Jane Addams, and to ensuring that students truly understood the importance of social work and their role as social work students, is legendary. Upon her retirement there were numerous accolades, with the following two comments capturing them all. “Barbara is amazing! She stands out in my memory as such a wonderful source of support and insight” and “Barbara is a compassionate, strong, and bold leader—inspiring my own career into field education! The ripple effect she has had on generations of social workers and the impact on social justice is immeasurable.” Barbara has left large shoes to fill and a huge hole in our hearts. Our loss is a gain for the communities and projects to which she will now have more time to devote herself. Congratulations Barbara! We wish you well, and you will truly be missed!

News & Notes

A Remembrance: Marion Bogo, MSW

The world of social work education lost an icon this fall when Marion Bogo died on September 28, 2021. For Field Educator, the loss is deeply felt. In the early days of the journal, Marion helped to guide discussions about how best to position the journal to have the greatest impact on field education. She was superbly strategic in her thinking, and, as was characteristic for Marion, she shared her insights generously, and was always warm and enthusiastic with her encouragement.

In the broader community of social work educators, Marion played a leadership role, nationally and internationally, in challenging us to investigate our assumptions about learning and the assessment of learning. Questions she kept on the front burner included:

  • Why isn’t there more direct observation of students?
  • Why do we rely on process recordings and student self-reporting to inform field instruction?
  • How do we account for field instructor bias in the assessment of student learning?
  • What is the evidence that the current model for student attainment of competency is the most effective?
  • How do we create authentic and substantive learning and assessment structures?

Marion was dedicated to a new way of delivering social work education, grounded in a moral imperative to use the most effective means possible to educate the next generation. We will remember Marion not only for her extensive and groundbreaking scholarship on simulation-based teaching and learning, the use of OSCES, and the concept of a holistic approach to assessment, but also for her warmth, sagacity, and unwavering commitment to improving social work education. No matter her fame and acclaim, Marion was accessible, welcoming, humble, engaged, and full of spirit, and she valued the opinions of others—always listening so intently to ideas. Field education has lost its rudder, and we, her admiring colleagues, have indeed lost a friend.

Simmons

The Field Educator is an online journal published by the Simmons School of Social Work that promotes knowledge exchange among the social work field education community. Learn more about Simmons SSW »