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.

Bogo, M. (2015). Field education for clinical social work practice: Best practices and contemporary challenges. Clinical Social Work Journal, 43(3), 317-324. doi:10.1007/s10615-015-0526-5

Bogo utilizes current and historical literature to outline a methodology based on empirical research and best practices as to how to best foster a dynamic, abundant, and creative environment for student learning in social work’s “signature pedagogy.” Field education, Bogo points out, is one of the most researched areas of social work curriculum. However, field educators communicate an inability to effectively translate the research on best practices to the field for students. The field is ostensibly the environment in which the classroom curriculum is translated into real world application and social work practice. Bogo states that the multi-layered and “complex nature” of social work practice often results in difficult application of classwork curriculum to the clinical setting and vice versa. Bogo discovers and highlights some of the best practices and best translation of said practices to field education. Her first ingredient is concentration on the environment in which field education takes place. An organization’s unique identity translates to unique knowledge to bestow upon a student in the field. Bogo takes care to note that consideration should also be given to students, as they are privy to the most current practices and newly acquired student knowledge can be applied with renewed energy to an organizational setting. Bogo highlights that a supervisor should foster a collaborative relationship in order to help the student grow a professional sense of self. Bogo relies on social learning theory to introduce an “observe and debrief” forum wherein a student observes the supervisor in session. Another factor is multiple abilities to practice with clients in order to create connections between learning and a student’s practice. In addition, it is important that supervisors have the opportunity to observe the student en vivo practice. Bogo introduces a notion that supervisors should understand their own professional practice theories in order to outline them for student learners. Bogo wishes that more faculty-based instructors would act as liaisons between the institution and the supervisors in order to translate evidence-informed practice to the student. Bogo repeats articles that call for a wide range of student exposure to case management, advocacy, and alternative working systems. Finally, Bogo relies on social learning theory and implementation science to insist students have access to feedback, coaching, and rehearsal. Bogo further outlines challenges to quality field education and calls for the need for structural change to move field education and practice forward.

Bogo, M., Lee, B., McKee, E., Baird, S. L., & Ramjattan, R. (2016). Field instructors’ perceptions of foundation year students’ readiness to engage in field education. Social Work Education, 35(2), 204-214. doi:10.1080/02615479.2015.1123689

The authors elucidate their research methods examining how field instructors in one North American cohort react and think about students’ readiness in field. Through semi-structured interviews and online surveys, field instructors gauged their reaction to students’ performance in the objective structured clinical examination (OSCE), and reflected on their thoughts about students’ ability to aptly perform in the field. This study also aimed to examine bridges between class and field and to understand instructors expectations and perceptions of MSW students. Furthermore, the authors wished to understand field instructors’ apprehension to work with and supervise foundation year students. Information was gathered through a lab evaluation summary (LES) of students through interviews and analysis of role-plays including the OSCE. This information was used as a basis for interviews with 18 field instructors as to their perceptions of the students’ readiness for field. Students were introduced first with their LES evaluations to their field instructors. Field instructors shared the students’ responses to having an information summary be a first introduction. Field instructors found that students had much anxiety in regards to sharing their summaries. In the field, instructors found that students were more nervous about interviewing than assessment. Furthermore, the study found that field instructors could display an ageism bias against younger MSW students, calling them “babies.” Upon meeting, field instructors commented that the information summary was a solid starting point for a relationship with the student and could be implemented into their field-learning plan. The reflection process on the LES and OSCE helped with relationship building between field instructors and students. The information summary also helped supervisor and student identify areas of anxiety for the student and how to help ameliorate the nervousness students feel as they practice in the field setting. Students’ reflection on the information summary led to a supported understanding of the areas of weakness and growth in the skills students needed to improve. The authors conclude that, in hard-pressed field environments, instructors may not have the time to help students contain their anxiety. Therefore, a conclusion is reached that educational institutions should help students develop self-regulatory skills for anxiety in the field. The authors suggest that more research needs to be done in the field in order for students to master one of the Council on Social Work Education’s standards of “cognitive and affective processes that include the social worker’s critical thinking, affective reactions, and exercise of judgment in regards to unique practice situations” (p. 213).

Healy, J., Tillotson, N., Short, M., & Hearn, C. (2015). Social work field education: Believing in supervisors who are living with disabilities. Disability & Society, 30(7), 1087-1102. doi:10.1080/09687599.2015.1076379

The authors acknowledge that disabilities, or people living with disabilities, may be a hard term to define. People living with disabilities in this article’s context means those marginalized in society; with poverty, exclusion, and constant struggle as they often are not seen as equal to the abled. They point out that the social model of living with a disability is experiencing exclusion in an environment that disables the person. People with mental, intellectual, physical or sensory restraints may struggle to participate effectively and fully in culture, society, the workplace, and with access. The authors focus on the social model and outline the increased need for field supervisors with disabilities to be a larger component in the field supervisory workplace. They note that the social model allows people to slough off a disabled label in the workplace, and to not have their disabilities dominate their professional identity. The article outlines a series of conversations in regards to disabled supervisors’ feelings, wishes, and relationships within an inquiry group. The extensive conversations gathered as research found specific themes emerged: what is student supervision, formal versus informal supervision, opportunities to supervise, experience of supervision, expectations, role modeling, and assumptions. In conclusion, the authors admit that their research cohort was limited to a few social workers within a particular group, though their conversations yielded salient findings and can be applied throughout social work field placement.

Maynard, S. P., Mertz, L. K. P., Fortune, A. E. (2015). Off-site supervision in social work education: What makes it work? Journal of Social Work Education, 51(3), 519-534. doi:10.1080/10437797.2015.1043201

The authors outline challenges in social work agencies to offer effective supervision to MSW students. Various reasons a supervisor may not be able to offer supervision include increased: workload, job demands, student needs, and time constraints. In response, the authors define innovative new constructs for agencies, such as off-site supervision. In this arrangement, a MSW student is assigned both an on-site task supervisor and a MSW-supervisor that might be in a different part of the organization or have no affiliation with the placement site. The benefit of off-site supervision is that it facilitates placements in less-traditional organizations in which there may be an alternative learning culture and unique interdisciplinary teams, instead of a social work specific environment.  Unique placements promote MSW and social work’s visibility in organizations and communities where degree-seeking candidates may be scarce. The authors note there may be barriers to off-site supervision, such as the lack of socialization of a student to the profession, though they are quick to cite research that indicates many students without on-site supervision viewed themselves as prepared for the social work profession as students with on-site supervision. Difficulties in collaboration and communication are arguments against using off-site supervision, as well as whether utilizing non-MSW task supervisors on-site undermines social work’s values. The authors cite a study wherein agencies that previously had no exposure to MSW-level workers valued their contribution and hired MSW’s after being on-site task supervisors to MSW students. Off-site supervision, the authors found, was valuable in field instruction if the students were “mature or strong,” agencies were invested in student learning, and the task supervisor and the MSW-supervisor had a positive collaborative relationship with multidirectional communication. The authors gathered data from think tanks from social work program staff and focus groups in order to update off-site information and attempt to construct a working off-site supervisory model for student learners. The authors further define their research methodology and data collection that spanned over eleven years; repeated patterns of meaning were sought from each. The authors found through their research that unsuccessful supervision of students had common themes, chief among them lack of socialization to the profession, lack of clarity around roles and expectations and lack of communication. The authors found that benefits to off-site supervision included a richer educational experience for the student, mutual support between the off-site MSW instructor and task supervisor, and the changing need of practicum resources. The authors suggest that a successful off-site supervision model includes planning and preparation, including expectations for members involved. Of thematic concern was that the student with an off-site supervisor would have a lesser educational experience in field. The authors conclude with a clear outline on how field departments can implement a successful collaboration utilizing off-site supervisors.

Parrish, D. E., & Oxhandler, H. K. (2015). Social work field instructors’ views and implementation of evidence-based practice. Journal of Social Work Education, 51(2), 270-286. doi:10.1080/10437797.2015.1012943

The article outlines the authors’ investigation into how much exposure and training non-field instructors and field instructors have in the familiarity and implementation of evidence-based practice (EBP). Throughout the state of Texas, a sample was gathered via an email list for the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Questions were asked via an online survey. The authors found that 43% of non-field instructors and 58% of field instructors reported knowing how to implement EBP for their clients. The percentages on this question were not statistically significant. Field instructors reported lack of feasibility and time in regards to implementing EBP. Still, differences between non-field instructors and field instructors were not found to be significantly different. Four separate subsets of questions were asked. The study had similar findings to previous research. However, the authors highlighted that there are areas of improvement in engaging field instructors’ use of EBP in the field with students; more than 40% of field instructors do not feel skilled in applying all the steps of EBP. Additionally, less than 40% of field instructors rely on research to guide their practice decisions. The authors note that time may be one of the reasons the EBP is not used more often, but without use, the skill of engaging in EBP will not be passed onto students. Access to information in order to implement EBP could also be a barrier to EBP use. The authors suggest universities allow field instructors access to their libraries in order to do research for EBP. The authors note that it was encouraging that field-instructors were not using EBP less than practicing clinicians or non-field instructors. For the future, the authors encourage more EBP field trainings in order to implement EBP into students’ field education.

Testa, D., & Egan, R. (2016). How useful are discussion boards and written critical reflections in helping social work students critically reflect on their field education placements? Qualitative Social Work, 15(2), 263-280. doi:10.1177/1473325014565146

The authors of this small cohort study utilized undergraduates in field placement as candidates to use critical reflection in an online discussion board medium. The study contacted and recruited students from a different campus than the researchers. A research assistant primarily recruited, gathered, and coded the qualitative data. The article indicates that, when used appropriately, critical reflection helps students elucidate values and ethics, theory, and practice. In an online forum critical reflection also serves as a supportive environment for students to express themselves and respond to peers. Though this small cohort study only included undergraduates in field placements in Melbourne, Australia, the possible implications for use of online discussion boards for peer student support and supervisor communication perhaps can be more widespread. Reflective questions guided students through the constructivist tradition to understand and perhaps change the students’ practice en vivo. The study concluded that peer support and access to support online was an important learning tool for their practice education. The study also highlighted the need for an emotionally and educationally safe environment for students. Furthermore, students normalized each other’s reflection and feelings and could reflect on peers’ practice as they also reflected on their own work.