Revisiting Field Education Standards

By Raskin, Miriam S.; Wayne, Julianne et al. | Journal of Social Work Education, Spring-Summer 2008 | Go to article overview
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Revisiting Field Education Standards


Raskin, Miriam S., Wayne, Julianne, Bogo, Marion, Journal of Social Work Education


THE SOCIAL WORK LITERATURE has identified the many issues, concerns, and challenges that underlie the social work field education system (Frumkin, 1980; Globerman & Bogo, 2003; Jarman-Rhode, McFall, Kolar, & Strom, 1997; Lager & Robbins, 2004; Raskin, 1983, 1994; Rogers, 1995; Sheafor & Jenkins, 1982). It has been argued that changes to agencies, universities, and student bodies have made it difficult for many schools of social work to provide consistently effective field education programs that meet the current accreditation standards (Wayne, Bogo, & Raskin, 2006). This article contributes to the ongoing dialogue about ways to conceptualize, develop, and evaluate field education programs that would better educate our highly diversified social work student population.

The Need to Define Outcomes and Examine Accreditation Standards

The framework and foundation of field education remain largely unchanged since the inception of social work education in the early 20th century. In spite of contextual changes social work educators continue to seek ways to reinforce the status quo with increasingly prescriptive standards that formalize existing practices. It is time to assess their effects (Reisch, 2006). These standards are based more on tradition and the widespread assumption that they reflect the necessary components of quality field education than on evidence of their effectiveness. This article examines the historical development, rationale, and implementation of selected field education accreditation standards and identifies areas of needed change.

Field education directors have worked hard to deal with challenges to field education while working within the current framework required by the 2001 Council on Social Work Education's (CSWE) Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS). Responses to calls for radical restructuring are met with opposing responses. Some welcome the call for action (Bogo, Raskin, & Wayne, 2002). In private conversations with the authors, many colleagues expressed fear that the identification of weaknesses in current field education approaches would result in minimizing field education in the context of an increasingly scholarly, rather than experientially driven, academic environment. It is the authors' intention and belief that a critical examination of the status of field education can lead to measures that will increase its effectiveness for all students. The authors share the profession's historical commitment to the value of education that prepares graduates for the practice of social work and that goes beyond mere knowledge about the profession. The integration of agency-based practice experience into the educational process is an effective way to achieve such an outcome. Higher education theory and research continues to support this view (Bonwell & Eisen, 1991; Bruner, 1976; Dewey, 1966; Kolb, 1984; Meyers & Jones, 1993; Renner, 1999; Royce, 2001; Schon, 1987).

In an ideal world the development of all aspects of social work education programs would be based on widely accepted and clearly articulated educational outcomes that offer evidence of effectiveness (Gambrill, 2001). In studies of methods to evaluate educational outcomes for field education, researchers found both specification of learning objectives and evaluation tools to be variable and inexact (Alperin, 1996; Kilpatrick, Turner, & Holland, 1994). In contrast, national competencies for social work have been articulated in the United Kingdom, and schools of social work design their curriculum, including the field component, within this framework. More standardized approaches to the assessment of student learning are predicated on the clarity of educational outcomes.

The competency approach has been criticized for its tendency to break complex professional characteristics into discrete and atomistic behaviors, and for losing sight of the holistic nature of practice and qualities of professionalism such as judgment and analysis (Kelly & Horder, 2001; Skinner & Whyte, 2004).

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