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.

Colvin, A.D., & Bullock, A.N. (2014). Technology acceptance in social work education: Implications for the field practicum. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 34(5), 494-513. doi:10.1080/08841233/2014.952869

The authors explore how innovations in information and computer technology (ICT) have been accepted and integrated by varying degrees into social work field education. The authors initially discuss how the use of technology in field education can be viewed as a threat, opportunity, or both. The authors examine the determinants associated with ICT acceptance in social work field education using the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM). Finally, the authors suggest a theoretically based direction for the development of a technologically supported field practicum environment.

While there are numerous studies of how ICT has been incorporated into the overall social work curriculum, the authors found no published studies that specifically focus on blending ICT into field education. The authors found few studies that explored the factors impacting technology acceptance behaviors by field educators. This gap in the literature prompts the authors to use the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) as a theoretical framework to determine an individual’s acceptance or rejection of a new technology. The TAM, which was developed by Fred David in 1986, postulates that technology adoption behavior is an outcome of an individual’s affective response to, or attitude toward, a technological innovation. The TAM demonstrates a relationship between perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, behavioral intention to use, and actual system use. The authors propose the specific factors that challenge the acceptance of ICT in the field of social work include perceived computer self-efficacy, computer anxiety, intrinsic motivation to use new technology, and professional boundaries. The authors give multiple examples of these challenges throughout the article, perhaps the most striking example being that the majority of social work educators are between the ages of 55 and 64, with very few social work educators under the age of 35. Research indicates that younger social workers had significantly higher levels of confidence working with new technology than their older colleagues, which may impact decisions regarding integrating ICT into social work education courses.

After exploring the numerous challenges associated with integrating technology into field education, the authors examine the opportunities ICT provides. The authors argue that ease of use has increased dramatically, with newer and faster systems operating with simple applications. The authors are also excited about the potential of using iPads and FaceTime to conduct virtual site visits, perhaps as a supplement to more traditional field practices. In addition to ease of use, the authors suggest that the usefulness of ICT is perhaps its greatest strength, allowing for increased productivity, organization, and connection with others. Ultimately, the authors argue that since the present-day student population have certainly embraced ICT, it is equally necessary for field educators to utilize ICT in developing new and innovative field education practices.

Hearn, C., Short, M., & Healy, J. (2014). Social work field education: Believing in students who are living with a disability. Disability & Society, 29(9), 1343-1355. doi: 10.1080/09687599.2014.935296

This research article presents a qualitative collaborative co-inquiry into social work students living with a disability. The phases of inquiry involved the co-authors becoming immersed and engaged in their actions and experiences, collecting and discussing research articles and related materials, having conversations about current work practices in field education, and then exploring how to ensure an approach of believing in ability when assessing students for potential field practicums.

Several important themes emerged from this inquiry, the first being a reflection on the meaning of living with a disability both from a personal and societal construct. Another theme is providing equal access for students living with a disability, not just in environmental aspects such as wheelchair ramps or parking, but navigating the disabling environment of a university as well as disabling attitudes about abilities. The article also explored the barriers that students with disabilities face, including the student’s own apprehension about what will be expected at field placement, students being identified to field placement agencies as having a disability rather than given the opportunity to self-disclose, and field educators’ and supervisors’ assumptions about what the students can and cannot accomplish. Students living with a disability spoke about being offered a limited range of field practicum options, and often these options were within organizations that served clients with disabilities.

The authors also explored the importance and process of building the self-esteem of students with disabilities by focusing on the students’ abilities and using these identified abilities to develop other skills. It was noted that comparisons between students living with and without a disability should not occur, as they are often damaging. This cooperative inquiry identified the importance of seeing the person first and any biological variation, disabling environment, or societal attitude last. One recommendation from this collaborative process is that all students should be placed in practicums that support their career path, rather than relying on assumptions about ability. It is also recommended establishing a trusting environment that allows students to achieve progressive goals, ultimately leading toward the goal of the successful completion of field placement. The authors suggest that students living with a disability should be actively involved in all phases of placement, from locating a placement to reviewing it. Finally, the authors feel that collaborative inquiry continues with regards to field education and the belief in students living with a disability.

Pack, M. (2014). Practice journeys: Using online reflective journals in social work fieldwork education. Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 15(3), 404-412. doi: 10.1080/14623943.2014.883304

This article examined the transition from a paper-based reflective journal to an online reflective journal in fieldwork practicum sections in a Bachelor of Social Work program at Charles Darwin University (CDU), Australia. This program was uniquely positioned to begin utilizing online journals, as students in CDU’s social work program have the option to study online with block taught intensives, in the classroom, or in combination through blended delivery. The author piloted two sections (third and fourth year students) of the BSW program using online journals. Students were instructed to post monthly reflections regarding their field practicum on the online platform ‘Blackboard’ that would be shared only with their fieldwork educator. Fieldwork educators read and provided feedback on the entries within a week of receipt, and students were advised that posts would be graded as ‘complete’ or ‘incomplete’. It was suggested that students should reflect on events from field placement that were: surprising, interesting, hard to deal with, troubling, confusing, and/or fantastic. Once students identified an event that triggered reflective thinking, students were advised to record what happened, contributing factors, thoughts about next steps or what they would have done differently, social work theories of practice that apply, and anticipated and actual consequences. The research found that there were significantly different themes between third and fourth year students’ writings. Third year students often mused if they were working in the ‘right’ field, and wrote about achieving a work-life balance, interpersonal dynamics, and feelings of increasing competency. Fourth year students frequently wrote about topics that arose in clinical supervision, such as their relationships with their supervisors, having too much or too little to do, administrative questions, and reflections on interpersonal dynamics. The author noted that the shift from paper-based journals to online journals seemed to contribute to increased student engagement and depth of reflection. Other contributing factors included the timely and sensitive feedback from field educators and establishing a climate of safety and trust between the student and field educator. Further considerations include issues of assessing the quality of journal postings, the balance between giving regular feedback and avoiding personal intrusion, and how the quality of the relationship between the instructor and student may impact reflection.

Wertheimer, M.R., & Sodhi, M. (2014). Beyond field education: Leadership of field directors. Journal of Social Work Education, 50, 48-68. doi:10.1080/10437797.2014.856230

The authors provide a conceptual model of the field director’s leadership beyond the primary role of designing, implementing, and evaluating field education to optimize student learning. The authors suggest that this model should include leadership in the curricular, programmatic, and institutional levels. The authors conducted an exploratory survey to identify the degree to which field directors have input making social work curriculum and program decisions and in operationalizing an academic institution’s community engagement mission. The survey also sought to identify factors influencing field directors input in these domains and to assess field directors’ self-perceptions of being valued in their field director role and as contributors in the three leadership areas. The survey was sent via email to 615 field directors from BSW, MSW, and in–candidacy programs listed on the CSWE website in April 2010. Out of 284 responses received, 258 completed the survey for a response rate of 42%. The survey questionnaire consisted of both Likert-type and short-response items divided into five sections: demographic information, curriculum input, program input, institution input, and self-perception of value statements. Overwhelmingly, survey respondents were female, served in faculty positions rather than administrative/staff positions, had an MSW as the highest degree earned, and worked in public institutions. In the domain of curriculum input, the results demonstrate that field directors typically serve on BSW and MSW curriculum committees (73.7% and 73.9%, respectively), but tend not to serve as curriculum chairs. More than half of respondents indicated that they felt that they have input most of the time in six out of seven curriculum areas. In exploring field directors’ input around 14 program areas, more than 50% of respondents reported they have input most of the time in 9 of the 14 areas. The areas with least input by field directors are: funds for research/scholarship, program finances/budget, part-time classroom instructors, social work student groups, and external funding impacting field. When asked about their role within the larger academic college and/or university, 63.1% of field directors served on college committees and 56.1% served on university committees. Only 18.1% of field directors eligible to serve as college-wide committee chairs and 13.6% eligible to serve as university committee chairs actually did so. When asked about their self-perception of value on a 5-point Likert scale from most of the time to never in four areas, the majority of field educators (72.3-74.2%) felt valued most of the time as field directors, as contributors to social work curriculum, and as contributors to the social work program. 47% of participants felt valued most of the time as a contributor to the university’s role as an engaged community partner. The survey data supports three structural variables affecting the field educator’s leadership, which are the position as a faculty member versus an administrative/staff member, the position as a tenure-track versus non-tenure track, and, if a school has an administrative team, membership on that team. Limitations of this study include its 42% response rate and the survey as a self-report measure. The authors offer further suggestions for expanding the role of field director from an administrator of field education to a leader in social work education.