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.

Asakura, K., Todd, S., Eagle, B., & Morris, B. (2018). Strengthening the signature pedagogy of social work: Conceptualizing field coordination as a negotiated social work pedagogy. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 38(2), 151–165. doi:10.1080/08841233.2018.1436635

In a climate where social service agencies are moving towards corporate models of accountability, the traditional field education model is coming under increasing pressure. The authors of this article argued that to re-center field education as a critical social work pedagogy, it is necessary to reconceptualize the role of field coordinators. Often, field coordinators and directors are thought of as administrative staff who handle the needs of others, matching students with agencies based on interest and supply. Nevertheless, these practitioners operate at complex intersections between universities and social services, and typically serve as students’ first entry-point to the profession. The authors proposed relational and critical theories as frameworks for re-examining the vital role of field coordinators within social work.

To conceptualize field coordinators’ work as grounded in relational and critical theories, the authors offered the case illustration of a third-year BSW student entering her first field placement. The student, who is of South Asian descent, became distressed after disclosing her disability in interviews with three different agencies that declined to offer her placement. With the field coordinator, she wondered if her intersecting marginalized identities were creating barriers to placement. The authors suggested that when informed by relational and critical theories, the field coordinator has an opportunity to support the student’s emotionally-laden experience and use the relationship for further learning. At the same time, the field coordinator is able to guide the student in critically reflecting on the power structures of the surrounding environment. In contrast, when the task of the field coordinator is reduced to an administrative role, coordinators might only focus on searching for additional placement agencies for the student.

While the administrative approach misses a pivotal opportunity for students’ learning, the authors noted that it is often a reality forced upon social work programs. The authors cited the Council on Social Work Education’s report Findings From the 2015 State of Field Education Survey: A Survey of Directors of Field Education on Administrative Models, Staffing, and Resources, that showed 15.6% of field coordinators are classified in an administrative role with no faculty designation and more than 40% of field coordinators are on annual contracts. The authors asserted that if field education is to remain central in social work, field coordinators should “play an integral role in program-level decision making and curriculum development” (p. 162). Additional implications, theoretical frameworks, and the complete case illustration are discussed in greater detail in the article.

Ayala, J., Drolet, J., Fulton, A., Hewson, J., Letkemann, L., Baynton, M., & … Schweizer, E. (2018). Field education in crisis: Experiences of field education coordinators in Canada. Social Work Education: The International Journal, 37(3), 281–293. doi:10.1080/02615479.2017.1397109

The authors investigated challenges in field education from the perspective of field coordinators in Canada. In 2013, the Canadian Association for Social Work Education formally identified longstanding issues in field education as a “crisis,” recognizing that social work education programs were growing at a pace that was unsustainable for the long-held practicum model of the profession. As one study participant expressed, “at our school, we have too many students […] we’re saturating the profession” (p. 286). While the opposing realities of growing enrollments and shrinking social service budgets had been known for some time, this study attempted to provide an in-depth exploration of the state of the Canadian “crisis” with the eventual goal of developing solutions to address challenges.

To explore challenges in field education from field coordinators’ perspective, the authors utilized a mixed-methods study design consisting of a survey and a focus-group phase. From both the survey and the focus-groups, four themes were developed for key challenges: social work practice contexts and realities, practicum shortages and saturation, practicum procurement and field instructor recruitment and retention, and expectations and workloads of field coordinators. Notably, the authors pointed to 81% of respondents agreeing with the statement that field education is reaching a saturation point and 93% identifying an issue with meeting student demands and expectations. Additional findings are discussed in more detail in the full article.

Jönsson, J. H., & Flem, A. L. (2018). International field training in social work education: Beyond colonial divides. Social Work Education: The International Journal, 37(7), 895–908. doi:10.1080/02615479.2018.1461823

This authors conducted a study of 24 social work students from Sweden and Norway completing their field placements in the “Global South,” countries such as Colombia, Indonesia, and Uganda. Students were required to engage in pre- and post-placement seminars in order to prepare to practice international social work from a critical and global framework. The authors constructed a mixed-methods study design to evaluate students’ ability to integrate their learning and to critically self-reflect on their experiences in a foreign social context.

A postcolonial theory, a theory that examines the mechanisms that produce inequalities in a global context, was utilized in the authors’ evaluation of students’ learning. It was theorized that without a critical framework integrated into the program curricula, students would be limited in their ability to engage in their international field placements outside of their West-centric narratives. This was illustrated by many of the students’ expectations of their international programs. As one student reflected, “I do not want to consider myself superior to people in [the country of field training], although they are far back in their development of social work” (p. 6).

In examining the impact of integrating postcolonial and critical theories in their program curricula, the authors aimed to understand four aspects of students’ experiences: intentions and expectations of international field study, pivotal experiences and learning, students’ assessment of the compatibility of their education with their international field setting, and students’ ability to self-reflect on their privilege and West-centric frames of reference. The authors concluded that while critical and global perspectives informing international field education can prepare students to challenge dominant power relations, there exists a need for further development of social work curriculum that promotes social justice beyond colonial discourses of inequality. A complete discussion of findings and implications can be found in the full article.