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.

Vindegg, J., & Smeby, J. C. (2020). Narrative reasoning and coherent alignment in field placement. Social Work Education, 39(3), 302–314.

A key element in the learning and development of a social worker is the field placement. A student’s field placement is a space in which they are able to integrate what they are learning in the classroom with the work they are doing with clients, populations, and programs. Despite the emphasis that social work programs place on the importance of a field placement, at times the significance of a field placement and the training it provides is challenged. Therefore, Vindegg and Smeby (2020) aimed to “explore the understanding of field placement further as a significant pedagogical approach in social work education” (p. 303).

Participants included 50 students who attended a three-year/six-semester Bachelor of Arts program in social work at a Norwegian university. Students participate in a field placement for nine weeks during their second semester and then again for twelve weeks during their fifth semester. Within two weeks of starting their field placement, students are expected to complete and present to their training teacher at the university a learning contract that lists their personal expectations, experiences, and learning requirements. The aim of the learning contract is to bridge a gap between theories and practices learned in the classroom and the field placement. The learning contract consists of three specific learning objectives: theoretical knowledge, practical skills, and personal competence (i.e., values, attitudes, and responsibility). Data for the study was drawn from the participants’ learning contracts, reports from the field placement, and a focus group interview, which consisted of nine students and occurred the year following the completion of placement.

Overall, results indicated that all three learning objectives (theoretical knowledge, practical skills, and personal competence) are developed both within the classroom setting and in the student’s field placement. This overall result emphasizes that the field placement is an essential component to the learning and development of future social workers. In regard to each individual learning objective, the study found that the development of theoretical knowledge was largely impacted by field placements. Students were able to turn theoretical perspectives, which are typically abstract in the classroom, into more embodied, tangible concepts that develop into the use of narrative reasoning when working with a client in the field. Additionally, practical skills training was easily transitioned from a learned application in the classroom to a necessary tool in the field placement. Lastly, the field placement enabled students’ personal competence to flourish as they developed their own values, attitudes, and responsibilities, and applied what they learned about social structures and power in the classroom to in-person clients who are actually experiencing the impact of these structures and power.

Based on these findings, the authors suggest success in further discovering how field placement has a significant pedagogical role in a student’s social work education. Moreover, through the participants’ storytelling, researchers were able to see how the students were able to connect and integrate what they learned in the classroom to the field. Once in the field, all knowledge that was learned in the classroom transitioned from a theoretical, pragmatic understanding to narrative reasoning, which authors identify is particularly key to the development of a future social worker.

Bogo, M., Sewell, K. M., Muhamud, F., & Kourgiantakis, T. (2020). Social work field instruction: A scoping review. Social Work Education, 1–34.

Field education has been viewed by graduate students, supervisors, and field instructors as the most crucial component to a student’s learning experience. It provides the opportunity for students to integrate their classroom knowledge into their social work practice and identity. To help promote the integration between theory and practice, experienced social workers are hired to teach the values, skills, and ethics of social work to students. These professionals are known as field instructors.

Due to the critical nature field education has on a social worker’s development and the integral role a field instructor has in field education, Bogo, Sewell, Mohamud, and Kourgiantakis (2020) aimed to provide an overview and understanding of contemporary field education. By utilizing a scoping review framework, researchers reviewed 80 articles over a 6½-year time period in an attempt to reveal the best practices and principles in field instruction. Based on the empirical literature published between 2013 and 2019, researchers were able to examine the topics and aspects of field instruction that have developed over the past 6½ years. While researchers spent time synthesizing articles that report components of field education including the experiences and models of field education, and reviewed the design methods of each study, the results that may be of most interest are the emerging best practices and principles for field instruction. To help synthesize these emerging best practices and principles, researchers identified the following themes: preparation of students, field instructor/student relationship, process and structure, and learning activities.

According to researchers, the preparation of students relies on the field instructor. Preparation may include stating the purpose and process of instruction, addressing expectations, and encouraging students to express to their instructor their needs as developing social workers. One can posit that by encouraging students to express their needs to field instructors a collaborative relationship can develop. This is essential, as Bogo et al. (2020) reported that the field instructor/student relationship is a component of best practices and principles. Students reported in multiple articles that an approachable and emotionally supportive field instructor helps develop a reciprocal relationship of learning and sharing of experiences.

Additionally, the best practice of developing processes and structure is reported to be helpful in developing a collaborative relationship. Bogo et al. (2020) highlight that a formal, regular session with instructors provides students with a space to feel that they are collaboratively developing their learning plans with instructors. Structured sessions also provide students with a space to reflect and process concerns they may have. Lastly, Bogo et al. (2020) identify learning activities as a best practice for field instructors to incorporate into their teaching. Activities such as reflective discussions and shadowing field instructors reportedly enhanced the development of students’ professional identity and skill attainment.

While Bogo et al. (2020) acknowledge the fact that structural factors impact field education, they suggest that the overarching themes of preparing students, having a collaborative field instructor/student relationship, utilizing processes and structure, and incorporating learning activities are four of the best practices and principles in contemporary field education. Despite these discoveries, the researchers encourage the community to continue studying ways to improve and support field instruction.