Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Field Education: Student and Field Instructor Perceptions of the Learning Process

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Field Education: Student and Field Instructor Perceptions of the Learning Process

Article excerpt

QUALITY FIELD INSTRUCTION is a critical component of social work education; however, the ability to provide quality field instruction does not necessarily develop naturally from social work training or from subsequent years of practice. It requires the learning of new skills (Bogo, 1981; Larsen & Hepworth, 1982). Recognizing this, social work education programs have taken responsibility for teaching field instructors about field instruction through structured seminars (Abramson & Fortune, 1990), field meetings, and written materials about the role of the field instructor (Wilson, 1981). What has not been taken on as effectively, even in these venues, is the preparation of field instructors to move beyond the pragmatics of "getting the job done" to a more in-depth examination of their choice of differential teaching strategies (Rogers & McDonald, 1992, p. 167). Wanting to move past this point of pragmatics, Rogers and McDonald developed training for field instructors that focused on teaching them to think critically about how they could prepare social work students for their professional roles. These training sessions did indeed increase the participants' ability to think critically about field instruction, but the authors concluded that "(F)urther research must be undertaken to determine whether they can operationalize that ability ... with a practicum student" (p. 175).

The study reported in this paper expands this line of inquiry by focusing on the field practicum as an experiential learning environment. Jarvis, a major theoretician in the field of adult learning, describes experiential learning "as the process of creating and transforming experience into knowledge, skills, attitudes, values, emotions, beliefs, and senses" (Jarvis, Holford, & Griffen, 1998, p. 46), and suggests that "different approaches to knowledge might produce different learning processes" (Jarvis, 1987, p. 19). The central aim of this study was to learn about learning in social work field education from the perspective of the primary stakeholders, students, and field instructors. This was done using the initial stage of a research project designed by Peter Jarvis (1987) in which he asked adult participants to reflect on, discuss, and diagram a learning experience. Based on his view that Kolb's model "provided a clear foundation upon which future researchers can build in order to achieve an even greater understanding of learning per se" (p. 18), Jarvis used the Kolb Learning Cycle (Kolb, 1984, 1985) as a starting point for his research on adult learning. This study focuses on how field instructors and students actually experience "learning" in the practicum, rather than on what we think field instructors need to know about how to teach students in the field. The ultimate goal is to develop greater clarity and depth about the learning process in order to better prepare field instructors to engage in critically determined and thoughtful teaching of students, as well as better preparation of students for learning in the practicum.

Review of the Literature

According to Goldstein (2001), one of the essential questions in social work education is "how does the student make the transition from the abstract to the real?" (p. 6). His answer, simplified, is that "... experiential learning and its major context, the practicum, are the integral components of the whole of education for professional practice" (p. 7). Kolb's Learning Cycle (Smith & Kolb, 1986), which is a model of experiential learning, draws from the work of Jung, Piaget, Dewey, and Lewin. It is based on the assumptions that people learn from experiences, as well as from books, and that people learn differently. For example, Carl Jung's concept of styles and their role in adult development through higher levels of experiential integration and Kurt Lewin's work, which emphasized the immediacy of experience in learning, are conceptual roots that distinguish Kolb's theory from other theories of the learning process. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.