Pedagogies Informing Social Work Field Education


In the USA and Australia respectively, field education is being debated as the signature pedagogy or as a distinct pedagogy within social work education (Asakura, Todd, Eagle, & Moms. 2018; Bogo, 2015; Boitel & Fromm, 2014; Earls, Lanison, & Wynee 2013; Egan et al., 2018; Gurung, Chick, & Haynie, 2009; Holden. Ferrell, Barker. Rosenberg, & Kuppens, 2011; Schulman, 2005; Wayne. Bogo, & Raskin, 2006; Wayne, Raskin, & Bogo, 2010). In the cunent pressured political and economic climate, the quality of field education has been identified as a cause for concern in the UK, Australia, Canada, and the USA (Ayala et al., 2017; Cleary, 2018; Finch, 2015). and change is needed to ensure its future development and sustainability (Ayala et al., 2017; Bogo, 2015; Crisp & Hosken, 2016; Hay et al. 2018; Vassos, 2019). So, it is timely to examine the pedagogy of field education, with “pedagogy” broadly understood as the theory and practice of teaching (Charfe & Gardner, 2019) and to offer suggestions for its future direction. This chapter presents two epistemological influences for the unique way they can inform field education pedagogy. While they reflect separate positions, they are also complementary. These are the role of “not knowing” in learning for practice and also Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing. A brief summary of how we see contemporary field education sets the background for the main discussion.

Teaching and Learning in Social Work Field Education

Captured in the adage “learning by doing”, field education in Australia has always been integral to the higher education curriculum in social work and other professional practice disciplines, including medicine, nursing, psychology, and law (Higgs, Barnett, Billett, Hutchings, & Trede, 2012). The social work placement provides diverse “real world” learning opportunities for students that are “pivotal in developing work-ready graduates” (Howard, Johnston, & Agllias, 2015, p. 20), so that by graduation, students can articulate and demonstrate a foundation understanding of what it means to be a social worker (M Bogo, 2015). Social work students consistently identify field education as the most memorable component of their degree course (Barton, Bell, & Bowles, 2005; Garthwait, 2008; Smith, Cleak, & Vreugdenhil, 2015), and identify it as critical (Gursansky & Le Sueur, 2012; Wayne et al., 2010). It is also noted as a neglected area of research (Shardlow cited in Lishman, 2012).

Field education pedagogy comprises positivist and interpretivist as well as critical epistemologies ranging from attainment and assessment of specific competencies to enabling student critical and self-directed learning (Anastas, 2010; Cleak & Wilson. 2019; Garthwait, 2008; Lishman, 2012; Stagnitti, Schoo, & Welch, 2013). Field education is different from academic classroom-based social work pedagogy as delivery primarily occurs in the industry sector rather than at the university. Classroom-based learning facilitates critical thinking and analysis through lectures, tutorials, long form academic writing, and absorption of social work knowledge, as well as the acquisition of interpersonal skills (Anastas, 2010; Lishman, 2012; Ramsden, 2003). Placement learning heavily relies on the apprenticeship model, also called the voluntary agency-based model (Anastas, 2010: Bogo, 2015; Cleak & Wilson, 2019; Lishman, 2012), where the student is required to draw upon an extensive range of teaching and learning approaches and strategies, including social work supervision, written and oral reflection on-practice and in-practice, learning about self-in-practice, practice observation, and the successful completion of a wide range of social work practice tasks, for example, interviewing, case recording, and research (Cleak & Wilson, 2019; Gardner, Theobald, & Long, 2018).

The Australian stirdent placement is guided by eight learning outcomes identified in the AASW Practice Standards (2013) and the Australian Social Work Education Accreditation Standards (ASWEAS, 2020), which reflect social work values articulated in the AASW Code of Ethics (2010). These learning outcomes cover domains including building empirical, theoretical, and practice knowledge, developing specified skills and using practice methods, critically reflecting on ethics and values in practice, learning to articulate and monitor self-talk and assumptions, thinking critically about the application of social justice values of social work, and finally, reflection on one’s own capacities and values through completion of practice activities. Identified activities provide the medium for students to plan and engage with their learning and to demonstrate their performance against agreed leanring goals (Cleak & Wilson, 2019; Gardner, Theobald, & Long, 2018; Stagnitti et al., 2013).

Over and above the available repertoire of teaching and learning approaches and strategies, social work field education has the aim of facilitating student demonstration of what Gurung et al., (2009) call “the disciplinary habit of mind”, (p. 4), a notion akin to that of professional socialisation (Schulman, 2005) that encourages students “to think, to perform, and to act with integrity” in the discipline (Schulman, 2005, p. 52). Social work field education seeks to facilitate more than the simple acquisition of skills in students (Eraut, 1994; Brookfield, 2000; Cleak & Wilson, 2019; Fook & Gardner, 2012; Freire, 1972; Giles, Irwin, Lynch, & Waugh, 2010; Trevithick, 2012). Field education stimulates a process of becoming a social worker that facilitates both knowledge-informed practice

Pedagogies and Social Work Field Education 59 and social worker identity formation (Barretti, 2014; Humphrey, 2011). There is current debate and development of competency (Bogo, 2015) and capability frameworks (AASW, 2019; BASW, 2018; Taylor & Bogo, 2014; Wiles, 2017) that is adding to this knowledge base.

We now examine the pedagogical intentions of field education: facilitating student integration of knowledge with practice and social work identity formation. We then consider two epistemological influences that prepare students to engage with “not knowing” and to promote Indigenous epistemologies in field education pedagogy.

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