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.

Bessaha, M. L., Solis, C. L., Franks, C. L., Yoon, H., Dualeh, D., Monroy-Caceres, H., . . . Rodriguez, E. (2018). Social work in higher education: Internships in opportunity programs. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 38(4), 417–430. doi:10.1080/08841233.2018.1500412

Field education is considered to be an important aspect to the development of competent social workers. It offers interns the opportunity to learn and develop hands-on experience and knowledge while serving individuals within their communities. Despite the essential role field education plays in the growth of MSW candidates, there is a limited amount of social work internships in certain settings. One such setting is higher education, which the authors consider an oddity given the similar values and missions of social work and higher education. The authors of this article aim to describe the benefits of “merging social work within higher education, relating a model for the advancement of future social work internships in higher education as a well as [their] experiences in introducing a social work internship in a higher education opportunity program setting” (p. 418).

The City University of New York (CUNY) John Jay College of Criminal Justice (JJC) Percy Sutton Search for Elevation Education and Knowledge (SEEK) Department offers a model on how to implement social work internships within a higher education program. Therefore, authors of this article analyzed JJC SEEK’s model to achieve the aim of this study. Highlights of the social work internship program include Preliminary Action Items, which involves the selection of interns and a two-part interview process, and the Development of Innovative Programming and Processes, which breaks off into three sub-divisions. These divisions are Support for Interns, such as weekly individual supervision and group supervision, Intern Responsibilities, including 5-10 students on their caseload and facilitating student support groups, and Program Development by Interns, which entails creating student success curriculum and creating outcome data reports.

The authors report that this model offers positive program outcomes within the higher education setting, such as academic improvement of students whom participated in groups developed by social work interns, as well as social work interns deciding to continue practicing social work in other higher education settings. However, the authors note limitations to this model, including potential dual relationships and issues with confidentiality given the fact that the social work interns were typically close in age to the students on their caseload. The authors note that funding and sustaining the efforts made in developing this model is key for future direction.

Domakin, A., & Forrester, D. (2017). Putting practice at the heart of the social work education: Can practice skills be reliably graded by different markers in child and family social work contexts? Social Work Education: The International Journal, 37(1), 66–77. doi:10.1080/02615479.2017.1379478

In the United Kingdom, observing social work students within their practice setting has been an aspect of social work programs for many years. In doing so, practice educators have the opportunity to examine and assess the student’s practice skills while they are engaging in clinical work. However, the authors of this article report that a systematic method for evaluating observations of a student’s practice skills within their clinical setting has yet to be established. Moreover, the authors note that graded assessments of a student’s performance within their practice setting is often avoided in social care professions due to the difficulty in obtaining “consistency between the variable contexts and requirements of real practice encounters” (p. 67). Therefore, through the use of the Frontline program, a program established in England that leads to social work qualification specifically for child and family practice, authors of this article investigated the reliability of grading students within their practice setting.

In regard to the graded observations, students are observed seven times. Observations are graded by an Academic Tutor as well as a Consultant Social Worker (CSW). The CSW has a dual role of practice educator and case manager working alongside students and is therefore familiar with the families the students work with. Students are tasked to record their seven observed sessions with the informed consent of the families in session. CSWs are physically present during the session and grade the student based on observations made while in session. In contrast, Academic Tutors base their grading on observations made from recordings of the sessions. The grading rubric is based on five key practice skills that research suggests is necessary for child and family social work: clarity about issues/concerns, relational capacity, purposefulness, elicitation of intrinsic motivation, and child focus. Each skill is worth 20% and written feedback is provided to the student.

A random sample of 30 recordings of observations out of 726 were chosen to conduct research for the purpose of this article. Findings suggest there is an acceptable level of reliability of inter-rater agreement when grading practice skills within a child and family social work setting. However, authors note that CSWs (practice educators) tended to give higher grades. Researchers suggest that this finding could be due to the on-going relationships students and practice educators have that can often times be “both complex and emotionally charged” (p. 74). The authors suggest future research should explore these challenges, including how practice skills may be graded in different clinical settings and how to achieve greater inter-rater reliability.

Okuda, K. (2018). Learning through meaning making: Applying job crafting in field learning. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 38(5), 470–485. doi:10.1080/08841233.2018.1520779

Students entering MSW programs often have ideas of what social work is and what type of field placement they will have. Once in their field placement, some students begin to compare their preconceived ideas and expectations of what it should be like to what it actually is. A common complaint that develops is that their placements are not clinical enough. The author of this article explains that field placements are chosen based on institutional expectations and program requirements. While many institutions spend a considerable amount of time trying to place students in settings that best fit their interests, students “play a key role in their educational experiences by making learning their own” (p. 471). Therefore, to help with this process, the author suggests that students utilize job crafting in order to help them engage in the process of meaning-making in their field placements.

Job crafting helps individuals find personal meaning in their current work “by reinterpreting their roles and tasks and focusing on one aspect of their work that is particularly meaningful” (p. 475). In relation to MSW students, the author explains that by implementing job crafting, their perceptions about their field placement can change, allowing the students to engage in the meaning-making process and reframe their notions about their placement (i.e., not being clinical enough) into a more rewarding experience. Through the use of a composite case study, the author demonstrates the use of job crafting. The author describes how job crafting transformed an anxious foundation-year student from demanding a new field placement due to her current assignment being “not clinical enough,” to finding meaning in her role at the agency and value in her work. The author explains limitations surrounding the use of job crafting, such as the inability of job crafting to solve all student issues as well as the lack of a control group to offer a comparison.