Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Field Education as the Signature Pedagogy of Social Work Education

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Field Education as the Signature Pedagogy of Social Work Education

Article excerpt

THE 2008 EDUCATIONAL POLICY and Accreditation Standards of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) identities field education as the signature pedagogy of the social work profession. "Signature pedagogy is a central form of instruction and learning to socialize students to perform the role of practitioner--it contains pedagogical norms with which to connect and integrate theory and practice" (CSWE, 2008, p. 8). The term was first coined by Lee Shulman (2005b), who explains it as characteristic forms of teaching and learning used in a particular profession. These forms of teaching serve the purpose of preparing students in the profession's fundamental ways of thinking, performing, and acting with integrity. The CSWE recognition of field education as the profession's signature pedagogy arguably elevates its importance and status in social work education. However, a close examination of Shulman's (2005a, 2005b, 2005c) criteria reveals areas of congruence and disparity between the way he defines signature pedagogy and the implementation of field education in social work education. This article examines his criteria of pervasive and routine activities, public student performance, peer accountability, adaptive anxiety, and accountable talk. It argues that the use of signature pedagogy in its fullest sense could strengthen the effectiveness of social work education.

Signature Pedagogy in Related Professions

In the past decade, the Carnegie Foundation's Preparation for the Professions Program, has provided 2- and 3-year studies of the art and science of education in five professions: medicine (Whitcomb & Nutter, 2002), law (Sullivan, Colby, Wegner, Bond, & Shulman, 2007), nursing (Benner, Sutphen, Leonard, & Day, 2010), engineering (Sheppard, Macatangay, Colby, & Sullivan, 2008), and the clergy (Foster, Dahill, Golemon, & Wang, 2005a, 2005b). These studies identified the ways in which preparation builds professional understanding, skills, and integrity so that graduates are prepared to meet their responsibility to society (Shulman, 2005b). Shulman's discussion of signature pedagogy reflects observations drawn from these studies.

Each study drew data from direct observation of the actual teaching and learning experiences of students, focus groups, and intensive interviews with faculty members and students. In addition, the researchers reviewed teaching materials and evaluation methods. Numerous schools participated in the study of each profession, supporting the conclusion that signature pedagogies are not unique to individual educational programs. Rather they are replicated throughout programs in each profession and across local and regional boundaries.

A detailed review of these studies is beyond the scope of this article. However, it is noteworthy that a systematic process of research on teaching and learning practices was undertaken to identify distinctive educational pedagogies. Furthermore, in their analysis these education researchers critically examined both the strengths and limitations of the dominant pedagogical practices in their particular profession. The application of signature pedagogy to law, medicine, the clergy, and nursing, the four professions that interface with social work, is illuminated here.

In the study of legal education, the Socratic case-dialogue method of teaching is highlighted, especially in the first year. This approach results in students learning to "think like a lawyer" (Sullivan et al., 2007, p. 5), despite their wide-ranging academic and social backgrounds. The authors conclude that the case-dialogue method develops students' analytic capacity to understand legal processes, to see both sides of legal arguments, to sift through facts and precedents, to use precise language, and to understand the applications and conflicts of legal rules (Sullivan et al., 2007). These legal education researchers also note what is not taught, or not given emphasis: how to use legal thinking in the actual practice of law, and the development and integration of ethical and social skills with legal analytic thinking. …

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