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. Whenever possible, we have provided links to freely available fulltext articles.

Averett, P., Burroughs, C., & Carwan, L. (2012). Getting “Tillerized”: Traits and outcomes of students in a rural community field placement. Journal of Social Work Education, 48 (1), 75-91.

This qualitative study describes the experience of three BSW students and four field educators in Tillery, a placement in rural North Carolina affiliated with an area-wide health committee. Although many social work students do not seek macro placements, these students succeeded in the Tillery placement because they were open, flexible, self-directed “mavericks.” They reported that the setting improved their teamwork with others, their differential use of self, and their attunement to their clients’ values. They were able to connect classroom learning to their practice, and believed that they were well prepared for a generalist approach, including direct practice, community organization and policy planning.

Grant, C., Barring, V., & Lake, S. (2011).What’s in it for us? Making the case for inter-professional field educational experiences for social work students. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 31, 570-593.

Implementing an inter-professional agenda among health care professionals, important as it is, faces several barriers. These barriers include a fear of “deprofessionalization” or domain infringement, conflicting values, and role insecurity. Little has been articulated regarding the benefits of inter-professional collaboration. This article describes the experience of thirteen BSW students and one MSW student participating in the Interprofessional Rural Program of British Columbia (IRPbc). The first benefit for the students was deeper appreciation of social work role and values, of the shared responsibilities of other professionals, of the importance of multiple perspectives and of the sources of support from inter-professional work. In addition to enriching the students’ experience, inter-professional training helped to educate other professionals to the value of social workers’ ecological perspective, understanding of group process and conflict resolution, cultural competence and commitment to social change. The authors challenge field educators to develop internships where social workers can regularly collaborate with members of other professions.

Kahn, J., & Holody, R. (2012). Supporting field instructors’ efforts to help students improve writing. Journal of Social Work Education, 48 (1), 65-73.

The authors describe how ideas from the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) movement can help field instructors improve interns’ writing in field placements. The primary concept of WAC is that writing to learn is more important than learning to write. Several recommendations are offered to field instructors. Require writing from the beginning of placement, like written agendas and questions for supervision. Provide examples of “good enough writing” and teach language appropriate to the setting. Prioritize expectations: lower for informal pieces like process recordings and higher for formal case records and court reports, which may require revisions. Attend to substantive problems rather than surface errors, and select appropriate interventions. Avoid conflating writing problems with other student performance problems. The authors also urge schools of social work to require an explicit assessment of writing in field education, and to provide workshops to help field instructors problem-solve issues around student writing.

Lyter, S. (2012). Potential of field education as signature pedagogy: The field director role. Journal of Social Work Education, 48 (1), 179-188.

In light of the assertion that field education has been named the “signature pedagogy” of social work education, the author surveyed online 159 social work field directors (FD) and 150 deans/directors (DD) about the role, function and status of the field director. The two groups agreed only on the need for field directors to have practice credentials and to pursue research. FDs were more likely than DDs to see a need for improvement in the role, status and function of the Field Director position. FD’s were less likely than DDs to believe that FD input is sought in key decisions. FDs were also less likely to see the university as according them salaries, respect and privileges equal to other faculty. BSW level field directors were more likely than MSW field directors to be tenured or tenure-track and to have job security, and less likely to see gaps between themselves and the administration. The author suggests three potential strategies: elevating the status of the field director position, assigning field director responsibilities to a faculty member and advancing the partnership of the field director and dean/director.

Sowbel, L. (2012). Gatekeeping: Why shouldn’t we be ambivalent? Journal of Social Work Education, 48 (1), 27-44.

Higher enrollment rates and decreased gatekeeping present a serious problem for social work educators, especially in field. The author reviews the literature on gatekeeping and suggests several factors involved in social work educators’ ambivalence around gatekeeping. Although courts have supported academic institutions that follow due process in terminating students, field and academic faculty continue to fear litigation. One problem is the lack of clarity in criteria for unsuitability, especially in the areas of mental health problems/emotional instability and of incompatible ethics. Recent efforts to improve evaluation methods and protocols are crucial, as imprecise measures can result in unfair termination of students. In addition, social workers, especially field instructors, experience conflict between their educative and clinical roles–between their need to prevent individuals who may potentially harm clients from entering the profession and their commitment to the strengths perspective and the values of acceptance and self-determination. The author offers several suggestions to manage ambivalence around gatekeeping: familiarity with legal issues like the ADA; open communication among all parties; clear dismissal policies and procedures; improved evaluation methods; and consultation to field instructors around evaluation. She recommends a definition of student suitability based on commitment to basic social work values like nondiscrimination, and ongoing dialogue about the innate contradictions involved in gate-keeping.

Tam, D., & Coleman, H. (2011). Validation study of a gatekeeping attitude index for social work education. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 31, 505-522.

The authors used Hartman and Wills’ 1991 Gatekeeping Attitude Index to survey all field supervisors from a BSW program in Canada; 188 responses were used. Responses revealed that the field supervisors indicated strong attitudes toward gatekeeping on 9 out of 14 statements in the index. Weak attitudes toward gatekeeping were indicated on 5 items; for example, only one quarter of the sample indicated that they would prevent an inadequate student from entering the profession. Extensive testing of reliability and validity produced less than satisfactory results, leading the authors to recommend further work on scale modification to improve the psychometric properties of the index. They also recommend broadening the sample of social work educators to explore their definitions of and attitudes toward gatekeeping.