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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Bogo, M., Lee, B., McKee, E., Ramjattan, R., & Baird, S. L. (2017). Bridging class and field: Field instructors’ and liaisons’ reactions to information about students’ baseline performance derived from simulated interviews. Journal of Social Work Education, 53(4), 580–594. doi:10.1080/10437797.2017.1283269

In order to prepare foundation year MSW students to enter the field, one university has implemented a model that uses simulation and practice theory during the first semester. This allows for a teaching team member to complete a baseline assessment of student skills. The first-year students bring this assessment of their strengths and weaknesses to their field supervisor at the beginning of the placement in the second semester as part of a delayed-entry field education model. The authors of this article reported on a study done at the university that explored field supervisors’ experiences with receiving information about foundation year students’ baseline competencies at the beginning of placement.

The study participants consisted of both field supervisors as well as faculty liaisons, and their experiences were recorded in one-on-one interviews. Five different themes emerged from these interviews: confusion about the technicalities of the student assessment, the assessment’s usefulness as a “jumping off point,” requests for additional assessments, ambivalence about the innovation, and recommendations for improvement. One of the implications of the study was that changes were made to harmonize the language used in the student assessment to mirror the language in the common field competency evaluation. The complete study findings and their implications for field education programs are discussed in more detail in the article.

Smith-Osborne, A., & Daniel, K. (2017). Concurrent infusion of integrated behavioral health practice into social work field and classroom instruction. Journal of Social Work Education, 53(Suppl. 1), S17–S26. doi:10.1080/10437797.2017.1290564

In recent years, many scholars and practitioners have identified Integrated Behavioral Health (IBH) practice as one of the major trends shaping the future of social work. In response to more resources being funneled to encourage IBH within various health care settings, social work schools are starting to implement the IBH model of care in their curricula.

The authors described several different activities of their university’s program to introduce IBH content into classroom and field. During the 4-year case study, 127 graduate and undergraduate students completed training on a manualized IBH intervention which some of them then utilized in screening and brief IBH counseling at their field placement sites. Others were involved in an interprofessional IBH-infused education project or attended a stipend-designated IBH-infused course allowing them to utilize IBH content in team role plays and patient simulations. Findings relating to the case study and these activities were reported in detail in the article.

Although providing practical experience in IBH may be challenging in some regions, the authors asserted that IBH curriculum infusion can be successful, especially if educators search for less traditional IBH primary care settings as IBH field placement sites. Some examples of sites given included hospital-based co-located primary care and mental health clinics, well-baby clinics, school clinics, and homeless shelters. These less traditional IBH settings, if recruited and developed, could provide experience to students who otherwise tend to have little exposure to interdisciplinary teams, as suggested by the study.

Theobald, J., Gardner, F., & Long, N. (2017). Teaching critical reflection in social work field education. Journal of Social Work Education, 53(2), 300–311. doi:10.1080/10437797.2016.1266978

The authors of this article described their process of teaching critical reflection to Australian social work students in their final year of the program. They noted, first, that social sciences have held varying views of what critical reflection means. Some disciplines think of critical reflection as the capacity to think conceptually and systematically, some avoid the word “critical” because of its judgmental connotation, and still others use it to refer to an openness to different perspectives and research-based knowledge. Instead, the authors emphasized their use of the concept of critical reflection to refer to critical social theory and the analysis of social structures and power relationships.

The authors taught a three-phase workshop on critical reflection skills embedded in a field education course and discussed four cases demonstrating students’ learning and experiences. One student, working with an Aboriginal woman reluctant to engage with social services, reflected on her white, middle-class background where Aboriginal people remained invisible and “othered.” Using critical reflection, this student became conscious of her initial feelings of fear and suspicion towards the client, perhaps reflecting recent shifts in social policy relating to Aboriginal people in Australia. The student was then able to appreciate the complex societal factors in her client’s history that may have contributed to her reluctance to work with social services. Lastly, this student reflected on her desire to challenge stereotypes and advocate differently for Aboriginal clients in her future practice.

In conclusion, the authors asserted that their students’ reflections demonstrated an ability to identify internalized assumptions based in social or organizational culture, and to connect these assumptions to changes in understanding or behavior. Specifically, students noticed the influence of dominating neoliberal perspectives and the role of power relations in shaping clients’ lives. The students demonstrated a greater complexity in thinking and a desire to make associated changes in practice. The four student examples are described in more detail in the article.

Wood, L., & Moylan, C. (2017). “No one talked about it”: Social work field placements and sexual harassment. Journal of Social Work Education, 53(4), 714–726. doi:10.1080/10437797.2017.1283270

Motivated by a lack of recent research on sexual harassment in field placements, the authors explored social work students’ experiences, perceptions, knowledge, and training received prior to and during field placement. The authors were not only interested in the rates of sexual harassment experienced by students in field placements, but also in the amount of preparation and support that students received in order to handle instances of sexual harassment in a setting that is their “primary introduction to the practice of social work” (p. 714).

Forty schools with Council on Social Work Education accredited undergraduate and graduate social work programs participated in the study. 535 students, most of whom were at the graduate-level, completed the survey. Students answered questions about their experiences of sexual coercion, unwanted sexual attention, and gender harassment, and who, if anyone, they told about an incident. Focusing the study on training and support the authors had crafted additional questions that assessed students’ attitudes and knowledge about sexual harassment in social work field placements. Specifically, the students were asked whether they think sexual harassment is a problem in field placements, whether their MSW or BSW program prepared them for safety, and if they knew who to contact should they experience sexual harassment in their field placements.

55% of the students in the study had experienced sexual harassment in their field placement and very few pursued any formal reporting avenues including program staff and faculty. The authors noted that these findings are mostly consistent with prior studies. Although sexual harassment was commonplace in field placements, only half of the respondents reported receiving training on sexual harassment. Importantly, those who had received training were more likely to say that they felt prepared by their program for safety relating to the issues of sexual harassment. The authors discussed implications of these findings to social work education including the potential for additional training for students, supervisors, and faculty.